“Everything We Know about … ” is Paste’s series of deep dives into the forthcoming projects we’re most excited about. Explore them all here.
How do you return from the Big Nothing? That’s been the central question any time the prospect of returning to the world of The Sopranos is floated. It’s hardly a spoiler by now to bring up the infamous cut to black that closed out the series. The ambiguity of that ending has long precluded any sort of sequel, and with James Gandolfini’s passing in 2013, it seemed that the dark, dark world of the Jersey mob would be taking a dirt nap forever.
But the wheels of time move interminably, and for series creator David Chase, the interest lies in turning those wheels backwards. In a 2017 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Chase said he would never return for a continuation of the series—but he would consider doing a prequel. “I could conceive of maybe a prequel of The Sopranos. I could never see [a return of the show] except as a prequel,” he said.
At the time, there was no such prequel in development. But earlier this year, Chase announced that he had sold a script for the prequel, working-titled The Many Saints of Newark, to New Line Cinema, and casting news has been trickling out since. So let’s take a look at everything we know about the Sopranos prequel, and see if we can’t figure out what’s coming down the pipeline.
The Many Saints of Newark seems to be focusing in on the people who were long gone by the time we got to know Tony and the guys. Set in the 1960s, the show looks to take place during the era of the Newark Riots, described by Deadline as “a time when the African-Americans and the Italians of Newark were at each other’s throats, and amongst the gangsters of each group, those conflicts became especially lethal.”
The ‘60s were the golden age of Johnny Boy and Corrado Soprano, Tony’s father and uncle, respectively. Tony’s father had passed by the time of the original series, while his uncle Junior (Dominic Chianese) played a major part throughout all six seasons. Dickie Moltisanti, the father of Tony’s nephew and right-hand Christopher (Michael Imperioli), is also set to appear. Moltisanti, Sr. is another dead father figure, and Christopher’s relationship to him is mentioned a few times throughout. The casting announcement for Dickie Moltisanti (more on that in a minute) describes him as “a charismatic but violent made man who falls in love with his father’s much younger bride, a recent immigrant from Italy.”
The film has no set release date, and it appears that production has not even started yet. In fact, the film has just announced its first star, so it may be a while until we see the Saints come to life on the big screen.
Disobedience and A Most Violent Year actor Alessandro Nivola has been tapped to play Dickie Moltisanti, and while that’s the only hard casting information we have so far, reports indicate that “other fan-favorite Sopranos characters will be seen in the film.” In the original series, a flashback to Tony’s childhood showed his father and uncle getting arrested. In that scene, they were portrayed by Joseph Siravo and Rocco Sisto, respectively.
Aside from the cast, The Many Saints of Newark looks to bring back a lot of the same players who worked behind the scenes to make The Sopranos the success that it was. Chase wrote the script with fellow Sopranos writer Lawrence Konner, who was nominated for an Emmy for his episode “Second Opinion.” Konner also wrote for the acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire, which was created by fellow Sopranos alum Terence Winter. Director Alan Taylor—who directed nine episodes of the original series, including fan-favorites “Kennedy and Heidi” and “The Blue Comet,” as well as credits on Game of Thrones and Mad Men—has also signed on for the project.
This may just be the Livia Soprano in us speaking, but a question that often comes up when discussing expansions into the Sopranos-verse is, well, why? What is the show without everything that made it such a hit in the first place?
Yes, the characters were memorable, and the plotl ines were engaging and often surprising, but the reason The Sopranos has had such resounding success is because of how it expertly dresses down the bloat of 21st-century America. It finds faults in every aspect of what we value as a culture, what we fear and what we cling to. Drugs, terrorism, waste, consumerism, politics, race relations and psychiatric malaise were all woven into a convincing tapestry that showed what it was truly like to be alive in America in the new millennium. By moving back to the 1960s, what does Chase stand to say about America? What is The Sopranos without psychiatry, consumerism and the now?
We may not know, but the aspect of race relations seems to have been an impetus for the time period and setting of the show. The Sopranos would touch on race relations fleetingly throughout its run, and during the flashback to Tony’s childhood, the tension between the black and Italian working classes was made readily apparent. Since the original series ended in 2007, America has seen both progress and regression made on civil rights fronts. This may be what finally pushed Chase to head back to Jersey. Maybe he wants to examine the beginnings of the modern mob. Or maybe he just wants to tell a neat little story. Who knows?
All we know is that, at least for now, we don’t have to stop believing in Chase’s world of family and famiglia. Not yet.
Vera Farmiga and Jon Bernthal joined the prequel’s cast in undisclosed roles in mid-January 2019. Ditto Ray Liotta in late February, creating yet another connection between Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and the Sopranos universe.
According to a March 14 Deadline report, the film formerly known as The Many Saints of Newark will now simply be working-titled Newark. Warner Bros. has set the movie for a Sept. 25, 2020, release.
Watch this space for more on (The Many Saints of) Newark.