Though his father starred in one of the most influential and critically acclaimed TV shows of all time, Michael Gandolfini never watched The Sopranos before he was cast as young Tony in the upcoming prequel film The Many Saints of Newark.
“The funny thing is, before the audition, I had never watched a minute of The Sopranos,” Gandolfini tells Esquire in a new profile in its September magazine. “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.
It was an intense process, as Gandolfini tells Esquire. He was alone watching his dad, trying to memorize and recreate the mannerisms of this character that James had created. There were two scenes in particular that really hit him hard while watching his dad.
“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,” Gandolfini says. “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.”
Though he could be a hardass, a towering mob boss, Tony Soprano was always at his most intimate and loving at moments with his children. And unlike any of us who watch the show and see a powerful leader of organized crime, Michael Gandolfini sees his late father.
The feature-length Sopranos prequel The Many Saints of Newark is due out in 2020.