THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK, opening this week, is sort of a prequel to HBO’s beloved drama series "The Sopranos." Overseen by series creator David Chase, the new movie focuses on the exploits of Richard "Dickie" Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), father of Christopher Moltisanti (played in the original series by Michael Imperioli), and in particular looks at the relationship between the Italian mafia and African American gangsters (led by Leslie Odom, Jr.) in 1960s Newark, New Jersey.
With a broad scope that combines real-life historical events with characters from the series (played by incredible actors like Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen and Verga Farmiga) — along with a coming-of-age tale for a young Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini’s son Michael Gandolfini — THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK is an impressive, utterly engrossing mob movie. It was a thrill to hear from the cast, along with director Alan Taylor (another veteran of the original series), about what it took to bring THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK to life.
Michael Gandolfini said that, at first, he was hesitant about stepping into the world of "The Sopranos," which was made famous by his father. "I initially thought, 86 hours of Tony Soprano. Isn’t everybody going to be sick of Tony Soprano? What else is there to say?" Gandolfini admitted. "Yet, like a real person, there’s a lifetime of things to say because every year in someone’s life is different and I was surprised in David’s script by how different Tony was. The prospect of this being its own thing, a stand-alone movie, and simply being a great mob movie is incredibly exciting."
For Alessandro Nivola, who has co-starred in big movies like FACE/OFF, JURASSIC PARK III, and AMERICAN HUSTLE, THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK was "the biggest opportunity" he ever had as an actor. "To take on a role that was nuanced emotionally and psychologically as this was. It was thrilling. I felt like, as is true of the characters in the show, he’s somebody who is grappling with his own emotional response to his acts of violence and isn’t equipped with the sophistication about his own psychology and emotional life. And how that slowly starts to see him unravel," Nivola explained. "The chance to do that in a movie of this kind of scale, with the provenance of that series, was a hugely exciting thing for me."
Ray Liotta plays two roles in THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK (we won’t spoil how that happens) and had never been on the television series, despite his status as one of the most iconic performers in mob movie history. As it turns out – he very nearly was in the original cast. "David Chase did come up to me maybe two or three years into their series. He was interested in me playing one of the parts. At the time, it just wasn’t the right thing," Liotta said. But he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. When THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK presented itself, Liotta jumped at the opportunity. "This didn’t come to me by any stretch of the imagination, it was something that I actively went for," Liotta said. He flew himself to New York and met with Chase and Alan Taylor. "I don’t think they had me in mind at all. But I really wanted to work with David Chase. And luckily everything worked out," Liotta said.
Director Alan Taylor, who directed nine episodes of the show (including the penultimate episode "The Blue Comet"), wasn’t sure he’d ever return to "The Sopranos." "When we finished it, I knew David wasn’t going to go back to a sequel because he’d have to explain what happens in the diner scene," Taylor said, referring to the infamously abrupt ending of the series. (About which Chase still refuses to elaborate.) "And I didn’t know there was a project in the works until David called me and said, ‘There’s a script, do you want to read it?’ I knew we would go back in time instead of forward in time and I knew he had some curiosity about that time in Newark and the unrest that was happening. This gave him a chance to dig into all of that with characters we already know and love."
Leslie Odom, Jr. is most excited for people to finally see Taylor’s work on the biggest screen possible. "I’m excited for people to take the ride. First and foremost, it’s entertaining. It’s a popcorn movie," Odom, Jr. said. "I hope people go to theaters, get their popcorn, and enjoy it the way it was intended." We do too.
Watch our full video interview with the cast of THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK:
THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK opens on October 1!
All images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.