Many Saints of Newark director Alan Taylor says he and Sopranos creator David Chase knew it was risky to cast Michael Gandolfini as the young Tony Soprano, the role brilliantly played by his father, James Gandolfini.
What if Michael Gandolfini seemed more like the adult Tony of the HBO series than the 1970s teenager of its film prequel? What if he just wasn’t good? What if it was too painful for him to play a character so associated with his father, who died of a heart attack when Michael Gandolfini was just 14?
In the end, Taylor says, casting Michael Gandolfini turned out to be one of the best decisions on The Many Saints of Newark.
“It was one of the few things I didn’t fear or doubt the entire time,” Taylor says in the latest MovieMaker podcast, which you can check out on Apple, Spotify or above. “It was certainly one of the riskiest things, in a way, that we did, but it was also, funnily, the thing I probably did with the most confidence.”
We spoke to Taylor in August, before a wave of warm reviews for Michael Gandolfini for his smart and understated-yet-charismatic performance. In his young Tony, we can imagine the head of a crime family, but also a scared little boy — just as we could with his father, on the six seasons of The Sopranos.
Michael Gandolfini got the job after auditioning for Taylor and Chase. And they soon knew they had made exactly the right decision.
“The night before we started shooting, the cast got together the first time we went to dinner, and Michael was meeting everybody for the first time, and he stood up and said, ‘I just want to thank everybody for giving me a chance to say hello to my father again, and goodbye again.’ And like everybody’s just—punched in the heart. And it was so clear that it was the right thing to do, and karmically the right thing to do.”
The Many Saints of Newark, directed by Alan Taylor, is now in theaters and HBO Max.
Main image: Michael Gandolfini as teenage Tony Soprano and Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti in New Line Cinema and Home Box Office’s The Many Saints of Newark, a Warner Bros. Pictures release, directed by Alan Taylor.