Michael Gandolfini ‘Never Watched a Minute’ of ‘The Sopranos’ Before Auditioning for Prequel Movie

James Gandolfini’s son also tells Esquire he got serious about acting only after his father’s death in 2013

James Gandolfini brought to life one of the most iconic TV characters of all time — and made HBO appointment viewing on Sunday nights in the process — as New Jersey mafia don Tony Soprano for years on “The Sopranos.” But his son Michael, who is set to portray a young Tony Soprano in the upcoming David Chase film “The Many Saints of Newark,” had never seen the revered show before landing a role in the movie.

“The funny thing is, before the audition, I had never watched a minute of ‘The Sopranos,’” Gandolfini told Esquire in a new piece on Tuesday. “I was just a kid when he was making it. I would go to the set and ask him what it was about, and he’d say, ‘Oh, it’s about this guy who’s in the mob and kind of goes to therapy.’”

The younger Gandolfini was born in 2000 — during the second season of “The Sopranos.” James Gandolfini starred in the series from 1999 to 2007 as the ruthless, hard-partying, womanizing and chronically-depressed mob boss that also cracked jokes, fiercely loved his kids, grilled Italian sausages at family cookouts, and even showed a remarkable tenderness towards animals. He died while on vacation in Italy in 2013.

Michael Gandolfini said the “hardest part” about preparing for his role in the upcoming film was watching the show for the first time.

“It was an intense process,” Gandolfini said. “Because, as an actor, I had to watch this guy who created the role, to look for mannerisms, voice, all those things I would have to echo. But then I’d also be seeing my father. I think what made it so hard was I had to do it alone. I was just sitting alone in my dark apartment, watching my dad all the time. I started having crazy dreams. I had one where I auditioned for David [Chase] and I looked down at my hands, and they were my dad’s hands.”

“The Many Saints of Newark” is set to come out Sept. 25, 2020. It’s co-written by Chase, who created the HBO series and directed by Alan Taylor, who won an Emmy award for his work on the show. Aside from Gandolfini, Alessandro Nivola will star alongside Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, John Magaro, and Billy Magnussen.  The film takes place during the Newark riots during the summer of 1967, when several days of looting and violence erupted after an African-American taxi driver was beaten by Newark police officers.