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James Gandofini’s son stars in ‘Sopranos’ prequel, playing young Tony Soprano

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Michael Gandolfini is not only following in his late father’s footsteps as an actor generally, but he is playing a younger version of James Gandolfini’s best-known role.

In “The Many Saints of Newark,” the newly released and much-anticipated Sopranos prequel movie, Michael stars as Tony Soprano in his teenage years.

New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano is, of course, the character immortalized by the elder Gandolfini in the much-revered, David Chase-created HBO series that ran from 1999 to 2007.

The prequel, which was co-written by Chase and directed by Alan Taylor, premiered on Friday on HBO Max and in theaters and has been met with very mixed reviews, which is probably unsurprising given the challenge of matching up to the high-standards of original subject matter.

An interesting side note is that Michael Gandolfini, 22, apparently never watched the TV show until he was up for the prequel role. He was just 14 when his dad, then 51, tragically died of a heart on June 19, 2013, while visiting Rome.

“The experience of watching (the series) for the first time was very emotional. But once I sort of had gotten that out, it mostly was I was there to do a job and be the best actor that I could be,” Michael Gandolfini said, according to Reuters. “And that was my goal and my mission, and if I walked away feeling like I did that, then I succeeded.”

Michael was 20 when the film was in production.

Gandolfini added that he leaned on his fellow performers in the production “100 percent — it was nothing but enjoyable every day because of the cast and crew, and I learned so much as a young actor. It was a great gift.”

Gangster Christopher Moltisanti (actor Michael Imperioli), killed off by his uncle Tony in the original series, narrates the two-hour movie — in the context of the film — from the grave. The film’s main character is mobster Dickie Moltisanti, Christopher’s dad, portrayed by Alessandro Nivola, who is Tony’s crime mentor. In addition to younger versions of characters familiar to Sopranos fans, the film also introduces several new ones.

According to director Taylor, Michael “did a tremendous amount of homework to get his character down, and I think it has worked out.”

Although reviews continue to roll in, the movie currently has a modest 58 percent audience score on the Rotten Tomatoes website and a 6.7 user rating on IMDB.

Breitbart’s John Nolte has described “the Many Saints of Newark” as a perhaps ungodly “crushing disappointment.”

And with regard to the the younger Gandolfini’s performance, “I’m sorry, but Michael has none of his father’s charisma or pathos and definitely none of the simmering menace his father carried around like a grenade with its pin already pulled. Never for a moment did I believe this kid would grow up to be the somber and morose bull that was Tony Soprano.”

ABC News reviewer Peter Travers, who also found the overall film wanting, had a different take about the young actor’s performance: “Michael Gandolfini, adds a resonant touch that is incalculably funny and touching. Teen Tony is a blank page and young Gandolfini catches him in the compelling act of inventing himself.”

Chase has just signed a new contract with HBO, so for better or worse, more Sopranos-related content may be on the way.

 

Robert Jonathan

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