More than 10 years after The Sopranos ended its six-season run, the drama remains one of HBO’s most popular series of all time — so much so, in fact, that a prequel movie is now in the works. The film, The Many Saints of Newark, will show what life was like for crime boss Tony Soprano when he was still a teenager, and its still-growing cast list is honoring a few tried and true Sopranos traditions.
Now scheduled to hit theaters September 25, 2020, the film has assembled an impressive cast of fresh faces and familiar actors to tell the story of Tony Soprano’s rise to power.
Veteran actor Ray Liotta, who is best known for his turn as mobster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s seminal gangster flick Goodfellas, joined The Many Saints of Newark in late February in an unspecified role, Deadline reports.
Poaching Goodfellas actors is par for the course as far as The Sopranos is concerned. Lorraine Bracco, who co-starred in Goodfellas as Hill’s wife, Karen, played Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi on the HBO series. Michael Imperioli, who played Christopher Moltisanti on The Sopranos, had a brief but memorable role in Goodfellas as did Frank “Phil Leotardo” Vincent, Paulie Walnuts actor Tony Sirico, and more than 20 others.
Liotta never appeared on The Sopranos, although not for a lack of trying: Liotta was originally approached to play Tony’s rival, Ralphie Cifaretto, but the part ultimately went to character actor Joe Pantoliano instead.
True to its mobster roots, other The Many Saints of Newark cast members are keeping things all in the family. Michael Gandolfini, the 19-year-old son of The Sopranos star James Gandolfini, will take over the role that earned his dad three Primetime Emmys. “It’s a profound honor to continue my dad’s legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano,” Gandolfini told Deadline, which broke the news. “I’m thrilled that I’m going to have the opportunity to work with David Chase and the incredible company of talent he has assembled for The Many Saints of Newark.” James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano for six seasons, died in 2013.
The younger Gandolfini, who recently appeared on the HBO drama The Deuce, didn’t win the role on his name alone. According to Deadline, the young actor was discovered as part of an exhaustive audition process. Gandolfini won over producers, including Sopranos creator David Chase, with his “mastery of Tony’s mannerisms,” his resemblance to his late father, and his innate understanding of Tony’s character.
Gandolfini isn’t the only familiar name in The Many Saints of Newark‘s cast. In November 2018, Weightless and Disobedience actor Alessandro Nivola was cast in the role of Dickey Moltisanti, Tony’s uncle and mentor and father to Imperioli’s Christopher. Moltisanti never appeared in the series, as he was killed before the show’s timeline began, but he was referenced repeatedly as one of the primary figures who assisted Tony Soprano’s rise to power.
It was also reported this month that Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Conjuring) reportedly joined the project, along with The Punisher and The Walking Dead actor Jon Bernthal. The two actors’ roles in The Many Saints of Newark remain a mystery at this point.
Behind the camera
Chase teamed up with one of the show’s former writers, Lawrence Konner, to pen the script for The Many Saints of Newark. Together, the two Sopranos vets have written a story that takes place in Newark, New Jersey, during the 1960s, with Game of Thrones and Thor: The Dark World director Alan Taylor behind the camera.
“The thing that interested me most was Tony’s boyhood. I was interested in exploring that,” Chase told Deadline during an interview commemorating The Sopranos‘ 20th anniversary.
The Many Saints of Newark will see Tony get swept up in the race riots that plagued Newark in July 1967, which ultimately killed 26 people and injured hundreds of others. “The movie will deal with the tensions between the blacks and whites at the time,” Chase said. “I was just interested in the whole Newark riot thing. I started thinking about those events and organized crime, and I just got interested in mixing those two elements.”
The mob will play a big role in the film, too, although unlike The Sopranos, The Many Saints of Newark takes place during the mafia’s glory days. “The mafia was very polished at that time, how they dressed and what they did,” Chase said. “These weren’t guys who wore tracksuits, back then.”
The initial announcement of the prequel movie wasn’t entirely surprising. Chase told Entertainment Weekly in June 2017 that he didn’t want to remake or revive the series, but revealed he wasn’t opposed to revisiting it in some capacity. Specifically, he said he “could conceive of maybe a prequel of The Sopranos.”
With the project gaining traction, The Sopranos creator is set to produce the film, according to Deadline, in addition to co-writing it.
Early unconfirmed reports indicate that The Many Saints of Newark will feature younger versions of Tony Soprano’s parents, Giovanni (aka Johnny Boy) and Livia, who were played by Joseph Siravo and Nancy Marchand in the HBO series. Additionally, Tony’s uncle Corrado Soprano (aka Junior) may also be back; he was portrayed by Dominic Chianese.
“David is a masterful storyteller and we, along with our colleagues at HBO, are thrilled that he has decided to revisit, and enlarge, the Soprano universe in a feature film,” Toby Emmerich, chairman of Warner Bros. Pictures Group, said in a statement.
Updated on March 14, 2019: Added the release date for the film.