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The Sopranos Movie's Michael Gandolfini on the Painful Process of Filling His Father's Role

James Gandolfini's son will play young Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark

Liam Mathews

Talk about some big shoes to fill. Michael Gandolfini, the 20-year-old son of late actor James Gandolfini, is playing a teenage version of Tony Soprano, his father's iconic character from The Sopranos, in the upcoming prequel movie The Many Saints of Newark. He talked to Esquire about the painful experience of watching The Sopranos for the first time to study his father's performance.

James Gandolfini died in June 2013 at 51 of a heart attack, when Michael was just 14. Michael was born in 1999, the year The Sopranos premiered, so he was a little kid when the HBO drama was on the air. He didn't watch the show until he auditioned for The Many Saints of Newark, the '60s-set prequel written by Sopranos creator David Chase and screenwriter Lawrence Konner and directed by Alan Taylor that's coming to theaters in 2020.

"The hardest part of this whole process was watching the show for the first time," Gandolfini told Esquire. "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."

Everything to Know About The Sopranos Movie, The Many Saints of Newark

He shared two moments from watching the show that crushed 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," Gandolfini said. "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."

No pressure, Michael Gandolfini is only trying to do justice to arguably the greatest sustained TV acting performance of all time while continuing to process the death of his father. No pressure at all. But maybe there's a genetic component to being good at acting? Before The Many Saints of Newark, Gandolfini will be seen in Season 3 of The Deuce, which was the first role he ever auditioned for. The Deuce's third and final season premieres September 9.

The Many Saints of Newark is scheduled for theatrical release on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020.

Michael Gandolfini

Michael Gandolfini

Dimitrios Kambouris, Getty Images