He’s poised to follow in his late father’s prodigious footsteps by playing a youthful Tony Soprano in forthcoming crime drama The Many Saints Of Newark.
And in a new interview, Michael Gandolfini – whose father James brought the iconic character to life in HBO’s The Sopranos – revealed that portraying a young Tony in the upcoming origin story allowed him to ‘feel closer’ to his dad.
Michael, 22, told The Face magazine in a new interview: ‘Letting myself feel that connection to my dad is really great. It’s there and it’s real, and seeing people moved by it means so much to me. It’s so special that I got to do this.’
Main man: Michael Gandolfini, 22, has revealed that portraying a young Tony Soprano in The Many Saints Of Newark allowed him to ‘feel closer’ to his dad
The Sopranos started its six-season run in 1999 and the show’s lead James died suddenly from a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 51.
Michael admitted in his interview that he ‘distanced himself’ from the series when his father starred in it, adding that auditioning for The Many Saints Of Newark never ‘crossed his mind’ initially as he ‘didn’t know anything about this character, this world. I want to be my own actor and my own young man’.
He added that he was worried he may audition and not land the role, explaining such an outcome would have been ‘so painful’.
As for what Soprano fans can expect from a younger Tony, Michael told the outlet that he strived to bring ‘the beautiful emotional stuff’ his father kept inside to the forefront.
New role: Michael’s serendipitous casting as Tony in The Many Saints Of Newark set to make him a household name when the film goes on general release on October 1st
The boss: Dad James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano for nine years before The Sopranos finally ended in 2009. He died suddenly from a heart attack in 2013 at the age of 51
The young actor added that he was ‘grateful’ to have been previously protected from the show, but insisted he was ‘so proud’ of his dad.
Before filming, Michael watched all six seasons of the show back-to-back, sometimes speeding through an entire one in a day.
‘It was Sopranos 24/7,’ he said, adding that he even ate cannoli every night in a bid to feel more Italian.
Michael – who has just two more semesters until he graduates university – split his time between New York and New Jersey growing up, before going to school in LA.
In the interview, Michael joined rising stars including model Iris Law, siblings Herbie and Ray Howard and TikTok personality Bella Poarch in the magazine’s fashion edition.
The move represents another positive step in his career, with his serendipitous casting as Tony in The Many Saints Of Newark set to make him a household name when the film goes on general release on October 1st.
According to the film’s director Alan Taylor, 62, Michael even raised the subject of his late father – who died when he was 14 – over dinner.
Getting involved: Michael joins rising stars including model Iris Law, siblings Herbie and Ray Howard and TikTok personality Bella Poarch in this month’s fashion edition
‘We all had dinner one night,’ Taylor told Empire. ‘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.”’
Taylor said ‘there wasn’t a dry eye in the house’ after Michael’s statement about James, who passed away while the two were on a vacation to Rome on June 19, 2013.
Michael told the outlet that taking the role of young Tony Soprano was ‘probably the toughest decision [he’s] 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,’ he said. ‘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.’
The prequel focuses on the budding mafia boss as a youth amid the unrest of the 1967 Newark riots, and tensions between the African-American and Italian-American communities.
Michael, who has previously been seen on The Deuce, The Boy, the Dog and the Clown, and Youngest, said that the softer sides of the iconic TV character are illustrated during his formative years.
Old times: The actor (pictured right with co-star Joe Pantoliano in The Sopranos) died of a heart attack in Italy when Michael was 14
‘My dad’s character had all this beautiful sensitivity underneath this aggression,’ Michael told Empire. ‘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.’
He joins a cast that includes Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Cory Stoll, Billy Magnussen and Alessandro Nivola.
The Face is available to buy from Tuesday September 7th.