Michael, 22, was cast as a young Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark — a prequel to the critically acclaimed television series The Sopranos. James played Tony Soprano on the HBO drama, which originally aired in 1999 and followed the life of Tony Soprano, a New Jersey mob boss as he dealt with personal and professional issues in his home and business. It ran for six seasons and ended in 2007.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Michael — who was 14 years old when James died of a heart attack at age 51 during a family vacation in Rome in 2013— discussed the pressure that comes with taking on his father's iconic role.
"The pressure is real," he told the outlet. "There's fear. But the second layer, that a lot of people don't think about, which was actually harder, is to play Tony Soprano… not only was it the feeling of my dad — it was like, Tony Soprano is a [expletive] hard character."
Michael Gandolfini as Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark
In order to prepare for the film, the actor said he studied The Sopranos, closely watching every episode of the first season after previously admitting he never watched the series. However, the emotional experience seeing his dad on-screen, didn't do much for understanding Tony Soprano.
Amy Sussman/Getty; Evan Agostini/Getty Michael Gandolfini and James Gandolfini
"Maybe I could know how to play my dad," Michael said, the Times reports. "But I don't know how to play Tony. I have to create my own Tony from my life and still play the things that made him Tony."
He continued, "The only insight that I think I gained was deep pride in him. I'm exhausted after three months — you did that for nine years?"
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The upcoming prequel film, which will feature younger versions of the series' beloved characters, is set in Newark, New Jersey in the 1960s, when riots between Italian Americans and African Americans were at an all-time high.
Directed by Alan Taylor, The Many Saints of Newark features an ensemble cast including Ray Liotta, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Billy Magnussen, John Magaro, Michela De Rossi and Vera Farmiga. The Sopranos series creator David Chase co-wrote the screenplay, with Alan Taylor (Thor: The Dark World) directing.
The Many Saints of Newark is in theaters and on HBO Max Oct. 1.