Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, is stepping into his father’s shoes in the upcoming Sopranos prequel film The Many Saints of Newark. But for the 21-year-old actor, preparing for the role of Tony Soprano wasn’t a piece of cake. As it turns out, Gandolfini had never even seen The Sopranos when he auditioned for the role. In order to get inside the character’s head, he recorded four hours of Tony’s dialogue and listened to it on repeat.

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Gandolfini detailed his audition preparation in a recent interview with Vanity Fair. He explained that he never saw an episode of The Sopranos because James “didn’t want me to see Tony Soprano—the violence, the angry, the mean,” Gandolfini said. “Of course I was on set and would visit him in his trailer, but I had never watched the show ... I never knew Tony Soprano. I only knew my dad.”

Without any previous knowledge of Tony Soprano, Gandolfini gathered as many of his spoken lines as he could. “It was really hard to watch my dad. I recorded four hours of his monologues with [Dr.] Melfi and walked around New York with them constantly, constantly, constantly playing in my ear,” the actor stated.

Gandolfini observed that Tony Soprano had a "beautiful vulnerability underneath and this rough exterior,” and that he wanted to show audiences a “creative, hopeful, kind, curious kid get whittled down and formed” into the character we know today.

One might think that Gandolfini was born to play the role of young Tony Soprano, a character which his father famously originated. But he’s confident that Sopranos creator David Chase didn’t just cast him for the novelty of it. “I had this unspoken trust that David [Chase] wasn’t going to cast me if there was even a shred that this isn’t going to work,” Gandolfini shared.

The Many Saints of Newark arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on September 24, 2021.

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