Michael Gandolfini is looking back on late father James Gandolfini’s legacy as Tony Soprano while stepping into his shoes as young Tony in the upcoming prequel film The Many Saints of Newark. The 22-year-old actor opened up in a new interview with Empire about embracing his father’s most iconic role, calling it “probably the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
“You know, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to walk out of this feeling like I’d grown in terms of my feelings towards my dad. I just wanted to be the best actor I could be, portraying Tony in the way David wanted, scene by scene. I didn’t think about my grief because… well, I would have s— the bed,” he admitted.
The actor also opened up about how his depiction of The Sopranos character differs from his father’s interpretation. “My dad’s character had all this beautiful sensitivity underneath this aggression,” Gandolfini explained. “This version of him is the reverse. His curiosity and sensitivity comes first. He’s not a gun-wielding gangster. He’s a kid who gets whittled down and pulled in.”
The Many Saints of Newark follows a young Tony in a coming-of-age story taking place during a time in Newark’s history filled with gang violence and racial tensions. Sopranos fans will recognize younger versions of characters like Junior (Corey Stoll), Livia (Vera Farmiga), and Paulie Walnuts (Billy Magnussen), but the first trailer largely centered around Tony’s bond with his uncle Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola). Also starring in the film are Michael Imperioli, Jon Bernthal, Leslie Odom Jr., Michela De Rossi, John Magaro, and Ray Liotta.
The movie’s director, Alan Taylor, added to Empire just how emotional it was for Gandolfini to reprise the role originated by his father. “We all had dinner one night,” he said. “At one point, [Michael] stood up and said, ‘I want to thank everyone for doing this because it was a chance to say hello to my father… and goodbye again.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.” The Many Saints of Newark premieres in theaters Oct. 1.