Michael Gandolfini Reflects on Stepping Into the Iconic Role of Tony Soprano on 'Fallon'

In 'The Many Saints of Newark,' out tomorrow, Michael Gandolfini plays a younger version of Tony Soprano, the character made a household name by his dad.

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In the eyes of many, tomorrow is a full-blown global holiday that should be commemorated by all businesses and institutions. Tomorrow, of course, is the day of The Many Saints of Newark’s release.

A prequel to David Chase’s The Sopranos, an irrefutable classic that maintains a grip on audiences to this day, the 1960s and 1970s-set drama sees Michael Gandolfini stepping into the iconic Tony Soprano role previously played by his late father James.

Appearing on Wednesday’s Tonight Show, 22-year-old Michael reflected on a pivotal high school play that helped him secure a manager, as well as the fact that he hadn’t seenThe Sopranos prior to the audition process for Newark.

The high school play in question saw Michael playing Shrek, eventually with the use of some truly impressive prosthetics, although school officials initially wanted a presumably cheaper version of the costume. That version, inadvertently, gave a far more disturbing undercurrent to the Shrek character.

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“I couldn’t see anything on stage and they would, like, have me run around and sing Shrek songs and I would run into walls,” Michael joked, adding that the play was “the first thing” that helped him get a manager. That manager, he said, then had him in auditions.

“And now we’re here,” he said.

Looking back on his time on the Sopranos set as a child, the actor detailed how unaware he was of the show’s impact in real time.

“The show was like a jungle gym to me,” he told Fallon. “That’s sort of what I knew. I had grown up on the set but set to me was, you know, being in my dad’s trailer. And Tony Soprano was no more than, like, my dad eating a sandwich in a robe.” 

Asked about the “full circle” moment of now playing Tony, Michael said it’s been “surreal” to know that Chase trusted him to play “one of the greatest characters.” As for any hesitancy in taking the part, Michael acknowledged the desire to carve out his own lane while also being initially unaware of the many layers of the Tony character.

“I thought, not only because I want to be my own actor [and] my own person, but also I had never seen the show so I didn’t even know what Tony was,” he said, noting that he’s since seen the entire series after beginning to watch the first season during the initial audition process.

Catch the full interview above. The Many Saints of Newark hits theaters and HBO Max on Oct. 1.

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