The Many Saints Of Newark might not be receiving the kind of critical acclaim that parent series The Sopranos traditionally got, but that’s not stopping late-night shows from booking the cast en masse. Last night, Stephen Colbert did two segments with the ensemble film’s lead, Alessandro Nivola (who revealed that he’d never watched the show), while last night saw Seth Meyers uncovering the fact that guest and Newark star Ray Liotta still, to this day, hasn’t sat down to watch more than a few episodes of David Chase’s landmark prestige TV mob drama. Meanwhile on Wednesday, Jimmy Fallon got a sit-down with Michael Gandolfini, who took on the role of Tony Soprano himself in Newark, playing the younger version of the future mob boss made famous by his father, James.
In his first-ever late-night interview, Gandolfini told Tonight Show host Fallon that he’d had some understandable reservations about stepping into his late father’s role as the high school-age Tony. “I want to be my own actor, my own person,” said Gandolfini, who has, indeed, already worked with acclaimed creator David Simon on The Deuce, among other notables. Still, the actor said that ultimately the opportunity was too good to refuse, citing not just Chase’s trust in casting him as “on of the greatest characters” in TV history, but the chance to work with Vera Farmiga, Leslie Odom Jr., Nivola, and Jon Bernthal for his decision. Plus, with Fallon showing off photos of Gandolfini’s breakout role in a high school production of Shrek, the actor clearly knew something about playing oddly sympathetic monsters. Not to scoff at a live-action Shrek (Gandolfini credits his turn in green for getting him his first agent), but that first crack at the Shrek makeup the actor was forced to endure (and present to children) is the stuff of nightmares. Think The Goonies’ Sloth crossed with Leatherface. Pleasant dreams, kids.
As for his father’s iconic turn as Tony Soprano, Gandolfini dropped the Liotta- and Nivola-sized bomb that he, too, had never seen The Sopranos when Chase asked him to audition. Of course, Gandolfini has better excuses for missing it than either co-star. For one, Michael Gandolfini was born on May 10, 1999, exactly four months after The Sopranos’ first episode aired on HBO. That means that, for the young Gandolfini, the blood- and profanity-drenched set was merely his “jungle gym” growing up, where Tony’s battles with depression, conscience, and rival mobsters looked like just “my dad eating a sandwich in a robe.” There’s a picture of toddler Michael watching filming while his track-suited dad and Edie Falco check up on him from the background that is equally sweet and melancholy after James’ shocking early death in 2013. Dealing with yet another late-night host aghast at the revelation that not everybody in the world has already binged The Sopranos several times over, Gandolfini calmed Fallon down by asserting that he did a quick catch-up on his father’s performance by watching the series before his audition. Well, the first season anyway—the guy’s got a life.