Michael Gandolfini, the son of the late actor James Gandolfini, is coming to terms with a twofold challenge: becoming his father's most famous character, Tony Soprano, while also grieving the tremendous loss of his dad.
The 19-year-old son of Hollywood royalty recently sat down with Esquire to discuss playing a young Tony in The Many Saints of Newark, the upcoming movie prequel to HBO's acclaimed series, The Sopranos. During the conversation, he revealed his father's thoughts on him following in his footsteps.
"Yeah, it was a difficult decision," Michael shares of taking on the role. Later, he added that he loved performing as a kid. He saw the musical Wicked and would regularly act out scenes from the play.
"I dressed up as the Scarecrow almost every night, and my dad would videotape me singing," he says. "As I got older, he wanted me to play sports. I felt that burden. I wanted to make him proud. And he said, 'Don't be an actor; be a director. They have the power.'"
Michael was born in 1999, the year that TheSopranos first debuted on HBO, lending him some degrees of separation from the show. So, when he agreed to tackle the program's central character in his formative younger years, he found himself discovering another side of his father, years after he died of a heart attack in 2013.
"The funny thing is, before the audition, I had never watched a minute of The Sopranos. I was just a kid when he was making it," he tells the magazine. "I would go to the set and ask him what it was about, and he'd say, 'Oh, it's about this guy who's in the mob and kind of goes to therapy.' The hardest part of this whole process was watching the show for the first time."
"It was an intense process. Because, as an actor, I had to watch this guy who created the role, to look for mannerisms, voice, all those things I would have to echo," he continues. "But then I'd also be seeing my father. I think what made it so hard was I had to do it alone. I was just sitting alone in my dark apartment, watching my dad all the time."
Michael also shares that when he decided to embrace acting, he had the time of his life. The experience also helped him begin to find closure concerning the loss of his father.
Michael also reveals that, while watching The Sopranos, some scenes in which Tony bonded with his kids understandably left a massive impact on him.
"There's a scene where Meadow comes home late at night, and he's sitting with a drink, and he's like, 'You know I love you, right?' That hit hard," he states. "The other one that crushed me was when he yells at A.J., and he gets a pizza to apologize, and he sits by his son's bed and says, 'I couldn't ask for a better son.' I just knew he was talking to me in that scene."
The Many Saints of Newark arrives on Sept. 25, 2020.