Released this week after extensive delays, The Many Saints of Newark plunges us back into the gritty world of The Sopranos, the award-winning HBO series that ran from 1999 to 2007.
Here, series creator and film screenwriter David Chase introduces us to a young Tony Soprano as played by break-out star Michael Gandolfini, who inherits the role from his late-father James.
However despite what the trailers will have you believe — this isn’t his story.
Read more: Where are the cast of The Sopranos now?
Instead, Chase and director Alan Taylor shift focus onto Dickie Moltisanti; the much-talked-about yet-never-seen father of Tony’s cousin Christopher, played by Michael Imperioli in the show.
While The Sopranos teased certain elements of Dickie’s life (he mentored young Tony while his father was in jail before fathering Christopher and dying young), little else is known about this key figure in the Sopranos universe, finally brought to life by Alessandro Nivola.
Over the years, Chase has made no secret of the fact that he poured much of himself into the creation of Tony — however he’s not so sure Dickie is cut from the same cloth.
“How much of me is in Dickie? They say that every character you write is part of you but I would say not too much,” admits Chase, speaking ahead of the movie’s 22 September debut.
“I don’t think Dickie is as intelligent or as schooled as Tony,” he added. “Tony came up in the 60s. Psychotherapy took over and America became a psychoanalysed country, as he complained in the pilot. Drugs had hit and other kinds of mental experiences had hit - and Dickie didn’t have that. Dickie didn’t grow up in the suburbs with a good school system,” explains Chase. “I think that makes a difference.”
Watch a trailer for The Many Saints of Newark
Meanwhile, Nivola viewed the character as a much more conflicted and emotional take on the traditional gangster trope usually seen in mobster movies. “All of the violence that he perpetrates in the movie are crimes of passion, unlike most mob characters, including Tony, where there are so many cold, calculated murders that are all business,” reasons Nivola.
“It’s born out of pain. These are eruptions of rage that he can’t control and after, he tends to be snapped back to some reality and left with the horror of it. That’s really the source of his moral confusion which David Chase grappled with in his story.”
Chase saw these elements reflected in Nivola’s performance: “He’s very conflicted,” agrees the mastermind behind the series and its prequel movie. “Alessandro played [Dickie] much more worried than I ever saw him.”
As mentor to 17-year-old Tony Soprano, Dickie becomes a much-needed confidant and family friend to this budding Mafia kingpin. To ensure his on-screen relationship with the 22-year-old Gandolfini was as authentic as possible, Nivola was keen to put in the work:
“We’d get together once a week and have lunch and shoot the shit,” he reveals. “Over time, we developed a really easy rapport with each other. I think partly we were bonding over the fact that we had the pressure of these roles - because he was assuming this iconic character that his father played and all of the emotional baggage of that and I was being offered this opportunity of a lifetime after a long career in movies. The feeling that we were both aware of the stakes was bonding,” says Nivola.
“By the time we started shooting, I really felt a filial affection towards him.”
The Many Saints of Newark is in cinemas now.