For years, The Sopranos has remained, untouched, as the greatest series ever to grace the small screen. Beginning in 1999, 87 episodes over six series elevated troubled mobster Tony Soprano to bonafide icon status, and the HBO series cleaned up at the Emmys and Golden Globes over its eight-year run.
So far, the show’s creator, David Chase, has always steered clear of making either a sequel or prequel series – after all, why mess with perfection? And following the death of James Gandolfini - who played the eponymous Soprano – in 2013, it seemed that any chance of extending the TV brand was buried alongside him.
But in 2018, as the 20th anniversary of the launch of the show rolled around, news got out that there was going to be a return to New Jersey, with a prequel film penned by Chase called The Many Saints Of Newark.
The choice of a prequel, rather than a sequel, is a clever one. After the ambiguous ending of The Sopranos – was Tony really whacked in the diner with his family? (Chase inadvertently revealed two years ago that it was indeed a “death scene”) – it meant a sequel, without its main star, was highly unlikely ever to be received well. Instead, a prequel, focused around a young Tony, allows for scope of understanding what made him into the man he was and allows for further artistic license set in a brand-new historical time frame. Cannier still, if done well, it allows for a whole new audience to pick up a story, even if – unthinkably! – they’ve never seen the original series.
We’ve got a bit of a wait before we get to see the new Italian-American mafia worlds that Chase is currently dreaming up, but as of this moment, here’s everything we know about the production so far:
What’s the big idea?
The action will jump back to the Sixties in Newark, and will be set around the time of the Newark riots (1967) when poverty and unemployment levels were high, police brutality was rife and racial tensions in the city spilled out into the streets.
Within this historical drama will be our young mob: Tony Soprano (played by Gandolfini’s actual son, Michael Gandolfini) and what appears to be one of the other main characters, Dickie Moltisanti, the father of the older Tony’s protege, Christopher. If you remember from the original series, Christopher knocked off the cop who murdered his dad in the ‘70s, and, after holding on to the murderous resentment for 20 years, chose to assassinate Det. Lt. Barry Haydu on the day he retired from the police force. A true long-game revenge.
According to Deadline, this plot will “provide an entry point into a look at the mob’s origins in the turbulence of racial tensions between African Americans and Italian Americans in Newark, NJ at that time”.
Geek level fact: the title of the sequel, The Many Saints of Newark, comes from the translation of the surname, Moltisanti, which means ‘many saints’. Another highly ironic touch from the writer, there.
Chase - who is writing the screenplay with fellow Sopranos colleague Lawrence Connor - expanded: “The movie will deal with the tensions between the Blacks and whites at the time, and Tony Soprano will be part of this, but as a kid.”
We’ll get a full examination of how living under the same roof as Tony’s mobster dad Johnny Soprano and his mum Livia impacted on his childhood, and why it also led him to a career in bumping off people for cash - and why he was so plagued with panic attacks as an adult (alongside all the casual murderings, of course).
The inspiration comes from the history of his hometown
Chase said he was “against the movie for a very long time, and I’m still very worried about it”, but that his interest was piqued in this particular moment in time, as his parents were from Newark, where the riots took place.
He added about his inspiration: “I was living in suburban New Jersey at the time that happened, and my girlfriend was working in downtown Newark. I was just interested in the whole Newark riot thing. I started thinking about those events and organised crime, and I just got interested in mixing those two elements...But the thing that interested me most was Tony’s boyhood. I was interested in exploring that.”
There’s already a stellar cast - and it’s being kept in the family
Michael Gandolfini recently revealed that he’d never actually watched his dad in his most famous role, so chances are he’s currently binging the entire series right about now. Handy, as it will have given him something to do while Covid halted filming of the production for much of this year.
He’s the spitting image of his dad, and he told Esquire in 2019 “it was a difficult decision” to take the role of Yung Tony. He added: “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. 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. I started having crazy dreams. I had one where I auditioned for David and I looked down at my hands, and they were my dad’s hands.”
Alessandro Nivola - who has appeared in American Hustle, Selma and You Were Never Really Here - will star as Dickie Moltisanti, while on-screen gangster lifer, Ray Liotta will be bringing his years of experience in the genre to the production again. Other talent also confirmed are Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga, Corey Stoll, John Magaro, Michela De Rossi and Billy Magnussen.
The styling of the film is set to be peak sleek
The director of the movie is the esteemed Alan Taylor, who is the talent behind episodes of epic series such as Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Deadwood and, what probably clinched him the role, The Sopranos. As well as some lush cinematography, we can also expect the mafioso-in-a-Fila-trackie look to be ditched for something altogether more refined.
Like Tony used to bemoan to his psychiatrist at the beginning of the series, the world of organised crime just wasn’t what it used to be. And this will again play a starting point for the look and feel of the film.
Chase told Deadline: “It is going to depict when it was good,” he said. “The mafia was very polished at that time, how they dressed and what they did. Those traditions were followed more loosely in the series. These weren’t guys who wore tracksuits, back then.”
When's it out?
Like everything else that was supposed to land in 2020, the release date for the film has been pushed back. Originally pencilled for September 2020, the premiere was originally bumped to March 12 2021. Now, though, Warner Bros has announced that The Many Saints of Newark will be released on 24 September 2021 – a year after its original release date. Unlike almost everything else that's been shuffled around, the Sopranos prequel's new release date isn't down to the pandemic (or, rather, not just down to the pandemic) but rather studio optimism.
Principle photography wrapped in late 2019, and though reshoots took place in September 2020 (see the set photos here), the film has been ready to go for a while now. Nor is it about holding the date for a wide cinema release – Warner Bros' new policy of simultaneous drops in theatres and on HBO Max means that the studio is less beholden to how many screens are open and which countries are in lockdown.
Instead, as Variety reports, The Many Saints of Newark release date has shifted for a second time because Warner Bros hopes for a strong awards run. An end-of-year arrival means the film can tour the festival circuit in order to build up steam for a tilt at the Golden Globes and Oscars. Perhaps that's hubris, but maybe – and we're certainly hoping – it means that David Chase and co might just have threaded the needle on this one. Either way – we've been waiting 13 years for a follow-up to The Sopranos. A few more months doesn't hurt, right?
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