Before this interview with David Chase – the creator of The Sopranos and the now co-writer and producer of its prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark – I had been told multiple times, “Hey, you know, he doesn’t suffer fools, you better be on your toes.” Look, no matter how long a person has been doing this job, there’s no way I can hear that and not feel anxious. And not to mention the whole, “Here’s the person who created one of your favorite television shows,” aspect. I do wonder if Chase’s “gruff” reputation is more a byproduct of the inherent style of doing an interview about a television show and having to be guarded — as interviewers were always digging for clues about what was coming next, as opposed to a completed movie in which we have seen the finished product. And, as opposed to The Sopranos, Chase does have to sell people a bit on this one. It’s not The Continuing Adventures of Tony Soprano, which a lot of people might be expecting and it’s clear Chase wants people to know that.
The Many Saints of Newark, directed by longtime The Sopranos director Alan Taylor, takes place in 1967, and then 1972. Its main character is Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), the father of Christopher Moltisanti, who, in the series, was heard about, but remains kind of a mystery. Set against the backdrop of the Newark riots and a budding gang war between Dickie’s crew and a Black gang led by Dickie’s old friend Harold (Leslie Odom Jr.), young Tony Soprano is very much in this film (played by Michael Gandolfini in the second half of the movie), but it’s more about the influence Dickie has on young Tony than about Tony himself.
Ahead, Chase takes us through what it’s been like making The Many Saints of Newark a reality. From the initial idea, to the marketing – which he doesn’t always see eye to eye with the studio on – to asking James Gandolfini’s son to step into his father’s shoes. Chase also talks about the phenomenon of younger people going back to watch The Sopranos, and the connection he makes to why younger people also do that with The Office. (Which is both very funny and very true.) But, first, in an interview a couple of weeks ago he had complained that Wikipedia has his birth name wrong. That it has it listed as David DeCesare, which is an old family name, but his birth name has always been David Chase. And he could never get it fixed. But, since that interview, it’s now been fixed.
First of all, congratulations on getting your Wikipedia page changed.
Yeah. Well, the movie will be good for something. So, if that’s the only thing that comes out of it, it will be good for me. Yeah. It used to drive me nuts!
I even checked it today. It’s still changed.
They’ve done it before. They’ve changed it before. Then they changed it back again.
So you’re not convinced it’ll stick?
Maybe this time. I mean, the reason I was upset about it was, for one thing, none of it was true! It made me appear like my family was ashamed of being Italian or something like that. That we’ve done the usual assimilation move.
Is there any other thing that’s been bothering you that you want to get off your chest? Because it seems like you have the power to get things done through your interviews.
I just got some off of the last few times.
But did they change it for the better? That’s the question.
I think if the Wikipedia page change sticks, it’s for the better. It makes you happy, so that’s good.
Yeah, no, it’s good. No, it’s just good that there’s no monkeyshines with my name. And those names, those were my names, my family names, and I should be proud of them. And I am. I asked HBO in the beginning, “Should I go back to our Italian family name?”
This movie reminded me of a lot of episodes of the series in that it left me wanting more. And I can’t stop thinking about it.
Wow. Well, that means a lot, I’m telling you. Because I always had this theory – not all the time and not completely – but that one of the reasons The Sopranos was successful was because it ended before an hour was up. So, in other words, yeah, people are wanting more because it’s not a movie. It feels like a movie, but it’s not a movie, because it’s only like 56 minutes long. So maybe that’s why people are so into it? But I also didn’t think that either. I also thought, “Well, it’s a good show, and they like it.” But now to hear you say that, that this movie makes you feel the same way, that really goes into my mental computer.
Well, first of all, there are plenty of hour-long TV shows I do not want more of when I’m watching it. But you said you had arguments with the studio about things that they wanted, because it puts butts in the seats. What do studios want?
But that’s not what New Line did with us. Making the movie, they were great partners, really. We did what we wanted. They had some suggestions, which were actually good ones, which some I followed and some I didn’t. But, creatively, they were really good partners. What I was complaining about was marketing. And marketing’s a different thing.
That’s what I was talking about.
You don’t want people getting an idea it’s a Tony Soprano origin story when it’s obviously not.
Marketing is marketing. These things are going to happen. But when you’re in the middle of it, you’re trying to fight your way through it.
I remember when the show ended, it felt like it was within like weeks there were already rumors of a movie. And if it would take place after or before the events of the series. Was your idea always to have this take place before?
I had some earlier kind of wisps of ideas. But yeah, once Lawrence Konner and I worked on this, this was the thing. It’s not like, wow, we’re not going to change it. But like I said, Toby Emmerich and all those guys over there were really good. They didn’t say, “Give him a dog to pet.” None of that stuff. Right? So it just was what it was. I want to say one more thing. We were talking about the marketing. This is really my first time with marketing a movie.
You didn’t have that with Not Fade Away?
I wish that there had been some marketing at all, and there wasn’t, and nobody saw it. So I really wasn’t familiar with a full-on major studio marketing campaign.
So I had to get adjusted to that and feel my way through it.
What was the biggest surprise?
It may be even how it differs from how HBO marketed your show back when it was on.
Look, like I said, marketing is marketing. It’s a commercial. I chose not to work in commercials. I’ve never been on Madison Avenue. Biggest surprise was just things that were emphasized that I didn’t agree with, but it’s all come out in the wash. And it’s gone come out well. I mean, we got into a thing where we’re working with each other.
Something you’ve touched on during your press tour is how you’re really surprised and delighted people in their 20s are now watching The Sopranos. It’s interesting that your show and a show like The Office came around right before the internet picked everything to death. And I know the internet picked apart the ending to The Sopranos, but that felt like looking for clues, as opposed to now that feels more like, “Here’s what the character should have done.”
Really? Oh, yeah?
Well, I think younger people are watching these shows and loving them because they’re free to kind of do things that you wouldn’t expect them to do and aren’t kind of governed by what social media might say.
Wow. That’s really interesting.
Maybe I’m wrong though. That’s why I want to ask you.
You said The Sopranos and The Office. And what I find interesting about that is both of those shows are about a group of annoyed, angry people.
Just trying to do their jobs and make some money.
Well, there must be something in that, that people see reflective of life or something that they want to see.
And aren’t getting from current things, apparently.
Yeah. Apparently. Yeah. That’s actually really interesting, those two shows.
That’s a really good point, just people going to work – very different ways of working – but experiencing daily annoyances.
I mean, I said that when we were doing the show. I said, “Everybody on this show is annoying all the time.”
That’s a good way to put it.
To the point of killing somebody in that show! But they were always annoying. Even if they weren’t involved with crime, they were annoying.
I keep thinking about Michael Gandolfini. I lost my dad four years ago to a heart attack. If someone came to me and said, “Do you want to step into the thing he was most known for? Would you take that on?” That’s really heavy. It is remarkable how great he is doing this, and I can’t get over it, because I don’t think I have the strength to do what he did.
It does take a lot of strength. It’s true. I think maybe I’m not that all keyed into that… but the way you express it, to step into your father’s masterwork? It’s pretty amazing.
And he knocks it out of the park.
Yes, he does. And he didn’t need a lot of help either. Alan directed, and there was no drama about it. He did the job for real.
You made what many people consider the greatest television show of all time. And you don’t seem satisfied with just having that. You have this white whale of a masterpiece movie…
I never said “masterpiece”…
Okay, I’m saying that part.
I said the movie.
Well, it seems like you’re disappointed with what got cut out of Not Fade Away. And now because of some family health issues you couldn’t direct The Many Saints of Newark. I feel like this is something that’s very important to you, to direct your big idea movie and have it presented to the world the way you wanted, which you haven’t gotten to do yet.
It is very important to me. It’s not necessarily a big idea. I went to film school. I didn’t go to “TV school.” And when I was coming up in the ’60s, film schools were just really starting. I mean, NYU had one, UCLA. And that’s what you studied, was film.
It’s that scene from Not Fade Away, where James Gandolfini says something like, “Oh, they have schools for making movies now. Ha ha.”
Right! Yeah, exactly, exactly. And what you studied was cinema, and it’s been a goal of mine to try to do that. I’ve seen so many amazing movies. We all have, amazing movies, that of course you want to get in the ring with that stuff and hope for the best. But in no way does that diminish my love for The Sopranos…
Oh, no, I didn’t think that…
Do I think, “Well, I was kind of halfway there”? Not at all.
I keep thinking about this. I always think of Silvio coming out of the coma right now, and people having to explain to Steven Van Zandt playing Silvio, what has happened over the last 14 years.
[Laughs] Well, Steven Van Zandt is fully aware! Too aware of what’s happened over the last 14 years.
That’s true. He is. But he’s a good actor. He could pretend he hasn’t heard yet.
No, I know. That’s a really good… That would be amazing. That would be amazing, really.
We are out of time, but I’m truly looking forward to watching this movie again…
Oh, my God.
It is like an episode, where I’m just like I just can’t stop thinking about it.
What can I say? It’s really touching. It’s really gratifying. Thank you for saying that and being so candid about it. I will think about that a lot.
‘The Many Saints of Newark’ opens in theaters and streams via HBO Max on October 1. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.