INTERVIEW – The American actor wears the prequel to the cult series, still in theaters, in which David Chase examines the figure of Tony Soprano’s surrogate father, Uncle Dickie.
Almost two decades after its conclusion on HBO, The Sopranos always remains at the top of the charts for the best series of all time. A posterity and a heavy legacy that David Chase reopens with a feature film Many Saints of Newark: A History of the Sopranos.
Gangster film, violent, harsh, old-fashioned without the slightest session and pause at the shrink’s, it spares the viewer nothing. Racial tensions, night shootings, instinctual murders, the great family of the Italian mafia of Newark appear as a band of thugs thirsty for money, all observed by the young Tony, played by Michael the son of his original interpreter James Gandolfini. A secondary character in this tale of original sin, the young Tony gives way to his tormented antihero place to his uncle Dickie Moltisanti, camped by the charismatic Alessandro Nivola. Le Figaro discussed this genesis with the 49-year-old American comedian, seen in American bluff and Disobedience.
LEFIGARO – Were you a fan of Soprano before signing to play in Many Saints of Newark?
Alessandro Nivola. I am not a heavy consumer of television. I knew Les Sopranos by name. I must have watched a few episodes, but I had never seen all of its six seasons. Which I immediately did when I learned that I had been selected as Dickie Moltisanti. When I started in this profession, it was an admission of defeat to work for the small screen. With The Sopranos, David Chase revolutionized the way of writing and conceiving series. He made it clear that television was not the poor relation of fiction and that it knew how to rise to the same level, even above the 7th art, in terms of storytelling and character development.
Prequel to the series, Many Saints Of Newark focuses less on the youth of the series hero Tony Soprano than on his mentor and uncle. An approach that has sometimes surprised the exegetes of the series …
I really liked giving flesh to a character evoked in the mythology of the series but whose shadow, even if we did not see it on the screen, weighed just as much. I was able to freely invent Dickie. Because what they say about him in The Sopranos remain second-hand stories, memories, the reliability of which can be questioned. Tony or his son Chris telling the truth about Dickie? Did they know who he really was? To me, he’s the perfect example of a hero born in the wrong world. If he had been born in another family, he could have escaped his mafia fate. Dickie reminds us that we can be capable of the greatest tenderness and violence. One of the red threads of this film is to show how your education, your entourage shapes you, like a Greek tragedy from which one cannot escape. The violence of fathers dictates that of sons. Beaten by his own, Dickie experiences fits of intense rage. Even if his instinct whispers to him to commit a noble act, he is constantly brought back to the mire and is horrified by the procession of crimes committed. He is also not armed to save Tony Soprano from this fate. In the end, he truly awaits the ultimate retribution.
“Despite my Italian origins, I had never played a character sharing them. “
How did you prepare to step into the skin of this erupting man?
I had more time than on my previous projects which was a luxury. Sometimes the research period is even more enjoyable than the shooting itself. I have read a lot of books, including the bestselling essay Honor Thy Father, published in 1971 by the journalist of New York Times Guy Talese. He recounted the complicated daily life of the New York gangster clan of the Bonnano clan, one of the five underworld families who controlled the city at that time. The book was very useful to me because it focuses on the father-son relationship between Joseph and Salvatore Bonnano. A good example of what is playing between Dickie and his father, Dickie and his adopted son Tony. Another reference story has been the memoirs of the son of gangster Roy Demeo. I was also able to count on a friend of mine who is a Catholic priest in Newark where he grew up. He took me on a tour of pastry shops, butchers and churches. He showed me the stained-glass windows that were financed by the Mafia at the time. In the restaurants, we met locals who remembered that time and made us imitations of the godfathers of the time. It was an incredible door to this world. Despite my Italian origins, I had never played a character sharing them. It took me back to the story of my Sardinian grandfather. A sculptor, he immigrated to the United States after World War II and met my German Jewish grandmother who was a refugee there. He led a bohemian life in Greenwhich Village, dated Robert de Niro’s father, who was a painter.
Portrait of a brutal and dysfunctional family, Many Saint Of Newark also captures a special moment in US history.
Returning to the race riots of 1967 takes the film out of the strict mafia framework. It was important for David Chase to take the time, this time, to discuss the cohabitation between the Italian and African-American community without seeking to water down the racism and the climate of tension that reigned when these black families settled in the homes. Newark Social. We shot Many Saints Of Newark before the murder of George Floyd by the police. The parallel between the Sixties and today has challenged us.