The Sopranos ended with a jarring cut to black. But soon, fans of the seminal HBO Jersey mob TV show are going to find out how it all began, when Tony hadn’t started balding and still wore denim.
That’s Michael Gandolfini reprising his late father’s career-defining role as a young Tony Soprano on the set of Newark, the Sopranos prequel movie due next June.
Gandolfini is a spitting image of his father, even if that picture doesn’t make it obvious. But he’s still a relatively green actor, which leaves Sopranos fans curious about just how well he can fill his father’s famous cabana shirts.
Tony Soprano is one of the most iconic characters to ever appear on television. He’s the archetype for all the TV anti-heroes who’d follow, from Walter White to Frank Underwood. Gandolfini mixed sociopathic depravity with unpredictable displays of sensitivity and made us love an unrepentant monster. And that’s a lot to ask of the younger version.
Outside of cast members and Sopranos creator David Chase, we don’t know much about Newark. It’s not even clear the story will revolve around Tony Soprano entirely. Alessandro Nivola will play Dickie Moltisanti, Chris’ father and Tony’s mentor, which suggests somewhat of an origin story. It’s fair to hope we’ll get a glimpse at young Tony’s impulsiveness, rage and charm—the traits that defined his adulthood.
The movie could also provide a window into the roots of the future mob boss’s anxiety. Tony Soprano’s panic attacks propell the series. The Sopranos begins with his first therapy session, where he talks about his most recent attack with Dr. Melfi. Over the course of the series, we learn how his anxiety is rooted to his strained relationship with his mother. An actor attaches themselves to that underlying emotion, and a master like James Gandolfini executes it perfectly. Will his son be able to brew that bubbling guilt and anxiety into Tony Soprano’s formative rage?
At this point, we only know that the young Gandolfini certainly looks the part. Place his headshot alongside his dad’s and the resemblance is unmistakable. You can almost see James’ famous Soprano scowl. Even the long flowing hair and denim jacket are on point—Gandolfini’s young Soprano resembles the teenage version Sopranos fans remember from therapy-induced flashbacks, horizontally striped shirt and all.
But even that tiny glimpse into young Tony’s life is defined by his strained parental relationships. He idolized his mobster dad and resented his narcissistic mother, both of whom shaped his violent, emotionally detached worldview. Recreating a beloved television character with that much emotional trauma is a tall order, especially when it’s your dad. But as long as he avoids wearing shorts, Michael Gandolfini should be fine.