For Michael Gandolfini, the hardest part of starring in the upcoming Sopranos prequel, The Many Saints of Newark, was watching his dad, late actor James Gandolfini all the time so that he could give a better performance. James, of course, played the original Tony Soprano, the older version of the character his son reprised for the 2020 release.
“The funny thing is, before the audition, I had never watched a minute of The Sopranos,” the younger Gandolfini told Esquire. “I was just a kid when he was making it. I would go to the set and ask him what it was about, and he’d say, ‘Oh, it’s about this guy who’s in the mob and kind of goes to therapy.’ The hardest part of this whole process was watching the show for the first time.”
Gandolfini was just 13 when his dad died at 51, after suffering a heart attack during a family vacation. He describes the recent experience of focusing so much on his dad for so long as “intense.”
“Because, as an actor, I had to watch this guy who created the role, to look for mannerisms, voice, all those things I would have to echo,” he said. “But then I’d also be seeing my father. I think what made it so hard was I had to do it alone. I was just sitting alone in my dark apartment, watching my dad all the time. I started having crazy dreams. I had one where I auditioned for [Sopranos creator] David [Chase] and I looked down at my hands, and they were my dad’s hands.”
An interesting thing is that, while he was alive, James Gandolfini tried to steer his son toward sports and away from acting, something he did for fun as a kid. (James also advised Michael to be a director rather than an actor, because “they have the power.”) Yet it was the Emmy winner’s death that prompted Michael to seriously study the craft, following a friend suggested that it might help him work through his grief.
Michael’s now studying at New York University, and he also has a manager. His first audition earned him work on HBO’s The Deuce . Chase eventually called him about Saints, which is when he began watching his dad at work in his most famous role.
Gandolfini said there were two particular scenes that moved him.
“There’s a scene where Meadow comes home late at night, and he’s sitting with a drink, and he’s like, ‘You know I love you, right?’ That hit hard,” he told the magazine. “The other one that crushed me was when he yells at A.J., and he gets a pizza to apologize, and he sits by his son’s bed and says, ‘I couldn’t ask for a better son.’ I just knew he was talking to me in that scene.”
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