By JAKE COYLE, AP screenwriter
NEW YORK (AP) – Fate hangs over the characters in the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark”, but neither does its creator.
David Chase revolutionized television with his monumental crowd opera directed by James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, ushering in a new era of ambition on the small screen. But what Chase always wanted to do is make movies.
“That was my whole goal. It’s been like that all my life, ”says Chase, who nevertheless made his career on television (“ The Rockford Files ”,“ I’ll Fly Away ”) before creating“ The Sopranos ”. “Film, cinema. Film, cinema.
“There is something about television that will always have that kind of cheesy image for me,” he continues. “It’s all about publicity, I guess. That’s really all it was for how many years – a sales pitch machine. He will always have that feeling. But theoretically, the television set can transmit anything to you. Great stuff. Things people haven’t even dreamed of yet. But it was used for Pampers ads.
Since “The Sopranos” went black, Chase has directed a previous film, the underrated 2012 rock-and-roll tale “Not Fade Away,” a film that made explicit the connection between music and sound. movie theater. Now he’s back with “The Many Saints of Newark,” with the added irony that Warner Bros. ’cause. change in strategy during the pandemic, the film will air on HBO Max in addition to theaters when it opens on Friday. It’s tempting to quote “The Godfather III”: “Just when you think you’re out.
“When I was in film school in 1969, 1970, my friends and I would sit and get high,” says Chase. We were talking about, ‘You know someday, man, the movies are going to come into your house. Wouldn’t that be cool? ‘ Well, it’s not that cool. You better see them at the theater.
But big screen or not, why would Chase, 76, return to the world he so emphatically concluded? He appeared to be leaving “The Sopranos” at Holsten’s restaurant for good, a late “Sopranos” co-writer Matthew Weiner called the TV equivalent of smashing your guitar.
“I needed it,” Chase explains on Zoom. “I guess I personally needed it. I don’t mean financially. I just needed it. I wanted to work on something that I knew was going to be produced.
Fourteen years after Journey struck the final notes of “The Sopranos,” Chase returned to North Jersey – partly out of necessity, partly because he still enjoys writing these characters. “The Many Saints of Newark”, however, rewinds “The Sopranos” to the late 60s, early 70s in Newark, and a different generation of New Jersey mobsters.
There are a lot of familiar faces, albeit younger: Corrado “Junior” Soprano (Corey Stoll), Livia Soprano (Vera Farmiga), Silvio Dante (John Magaro) among them. But the main role is new: Alessandro Nivola in the role of Dickie Moltisanti, the mythical father of Christopher Moltisanti (here just a baby). Dickie takes teenage Tony Soprano (Michael Gandolfini, son of James) under his wing.
“The only advice David gave me when we started filming was, ‘Don’t mind what someone says about Dickie on the show because they’re all liars,’ Nivola says.
While there are countless connections and callbacks to “The Sopranos,” fans will likely be surprised at how much “The Many Saints of Newark” uncovers new narrative territory. It takes place against the fiery backdrop of racial unrest in Newark and the turmoil of the time. Leslie Odom Jr. co-starred in a central role.
“Lawrence Konner and I wanted to make a gangster movie. We didn’t want to do an origin story, ”says Chase. “I actually didn’t know what ‘origin story’ meant. I hadn’t heard the term before going into the marketing of this movie. “
After writing the film with Konner, Chase intended to direct before health issues forced him to call in “Sopranos” veteran Alan Taylor. Since directing several episodes of “Sopranos”, Taylor has moved on to shows like “Game of Thrones” and the big budget shows “Thor: The Dark World” and “Terminator Genisys”. world.
“It’s a certain state of mind, a certain set of questions, a certain attitude towards human psychology. It’s like all of the same things that drove the show are causing this movie, ”Taylor said. “The way I understand this whole movie is that each character tries to rewrite their destiny. Each character tries not to be the character they’re told they should be.
Perhaps most exciting about “The Many Saints of Newark” is how much it revives the narrative grammar of “The Sopranos”: a family sketched in an American context; an old movie (“Key Largo”) played momentarily in the background; the sometimes shattering musical queues. Chase and Taylor chose a soundtrack without sheet music, with Gil Scott-Heron prominently.
And while the film, like the series, is full of violence and genre conventions, there is still, in Dickie Moltinsanti and others, the existential melancholy of trying to break free from family DNA, to trying to outrun his own demons, trying – perhaps in vain – to find something worth holding onto.
“I read things that said ‘The Sopranos’ was getting darker and darker,” says Chase. “Did it? I don’t know. September 11 had happened, so I guess it got darker. I was talking with someone the other day who said maybe Jim had become darker as things went on. This may all be true. But the subject of the show is this: there is always a human connection and a human connection, even though it can be terribly thin. “
Chase had resisted begging for a “Sopranos” sequel for years, something that became near-impossibility when James Gandolfini passed away in 2013. He was never the nostalgic type. (Tony Soprano himself once said, “” Remember when “is the lowest form of conversation.”) Fashioning a prequel, however, Chase struggled to cast a young Tony Soprano until which he remembers that Gandolfini’s son, now 22, began to devote himself to acting.
After three auditions, Chase chose Michael Gandolfini to play a younger, softer version of the character his father made iconic. At that point, the decision seemed fatal.
“Being in this world, playing this character, it connected me to my father as an actor – actor to actor,” explains Michael Gandolfini. “Guess what he’s been through and understand a little more about what he’s been through for nine years, and he’s really proud of himself for that.”
For Nivola, the scope of the project only became clear after his hearing. His initial scenes were covered in the typical “Sopranos” secrecy, with names changed and no sense that Dickie was even the main character. This only came to Nivola a few weeks after meeting Chase and Taylor, when the script was emailed during a flight.
“By the time I landed I realized this was a much bigger deal than I thought,” says Nivola. “It was then that I realized that this was potentially the role I had been waiting for for 25 years of my film career.”
“The Many Saints of Newark” could spawn its own sequels. “Are you okay? I don’t know,” said Chase. He now finds himself surrounded and a little overwhelmed by the scenery of the small screen he helped build. Mostly, he doesn’t follow. The Queens Gambit, “but most shows don’t catch it, he says. Chase watches old movies on the Criterion Channel instead. Contemporary mainstream movies he sees them as just as” jerks. “
“Yeah, it’s good to see superheroes and that, but we live in a cartoon universe. Except that we are not, ”says Chase, who says he spent the presidency of Donald Trump glued to the television news. “There is something else going on that we don’t see. “
But it’s also clear that Chase still longs for the big screen, even though his chances have been few and far between. He is working on a screenplay that he would like to direct. He hasn’t quite made his peace with being forever identified with television. But he will take it.
“I mean, yeah. What are you going to do about it? “Said Chase.” It’s not the worst thing that has ever happened. “
Follow AP Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
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