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Alessandro Nivola’s “Sopranos” time travel

There are arguably few roads less glamorous than the one that winds west from the Lincoln Tunnel to the New Jersey Turnpike and all the way to Newark. (Carbon monoxide vibes!) Unless you’re a fan of “The Sopranos,” in which case that gray path takes on a mythical quality. “We should be playing the song,” actor Alessandro Nivola said recently, as his car raced past industrial smokestacks in North Jersey, just as Tony Soprano does in the show’s opening credits. . Nivola began to sing the first bars of the theme – one morning, a gun – without ostentation but with conviction.

Alexander NivolaIllustration by João Fazenda

Nivola, who is forty-nine, wore jeans and a gray shirt, as well as a large silver identity bracelet. Next month, he will star in the film “The Many Saints of Newark”, a prequel “Sopranos”, co-written by series creator David Chase and directed by Alan Taylor. In the crime drama, set against the backdrop of the 1967 Newark race riots, Nivola plays Dickie Moltisanti, father of Christopher (a baby in the film) and mentor to young Tony (played by Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, who starred in the series as a psychologically tortured mafia boss). Although Nivola is partly Italian, its origin is not Moltisanti-esque. “My grandfather, who was a sculptor, was from Sardinia and he moved to New York in the 1940s,” Nivola said. “He and my grandmother lived a sort of bohemian existence in Greenwich Village, where my father was born, and it wasn’t exactly the average streets of the outer neighborhoods.” Nivola’s father tried to hide his heritage: “At boarding school he changed his name from Pietro to Pete. He continued: “But, by the time I was born, he had rediscovered his Italian character, and I was grappling with the most Italian name in history.”

To prepare for the role of Dickie, a mobster whose charisma hides a jumble of violent and tender impulses, Nivola spent months with a dialect coach. (“Almost anyone can imitate ‘Goodfellas’ at this point, you know” – her voice slipped briefly into gabagool territory – “and I wanted to be much more specific than that. “) He also worked with a trainer. (“It’s never mentioned in the movie, but I thought, like a lot of these guys, that Dickie could have been a boxer when he was a kid, and I changed my body a lot, to have it. ‘looks more imposing. “) He immersed himself in the culture, reading books about Newark and exploring local landmarks. Now he wanted to revisit one, the museum of the old first quarter, a modest space installed on the grounds of the Church of Saint Lucia.

On her phone, Nivola extracted an image, taken on her previous visit, of a stained glass window donated to Saint Lucia by Richie (the boot) Boiardo, the mid-century mafia boss whose criminal family, David Chase. once said: vaguely inspired “The Sopranos”. “The Boot originally lived in Newark,” Nivola said. “He later moved to this incredible estate in Livingston, having mysteriously made a lot of money.” A church secretary, having heard of Nivola’s new film, approached. “They filmed a scene from the show at my house – where Uncle Junior is losing his mind, and he’s coming, in his pajamas, to a neighbor’s house to ask for ice cream,” she told him. “My son was really excited, they gave him a director’s chair.”

Bob Cascella, a retired probation officer who has been in charge of the museum’s curator, was not far behind. “Are you the son?” He asked.

“No, I play Dickie Moltisanti,” Nivola said.

“The father came here once,” Cascella continued, undeterred. “I said, ‘Hi Tony!’ And he laughed. I guess he was researching. He led Nivola into the basement, where every inch of the wall was covered with photo exhibits. “I call them ‘concepts’,” Cascella said. “I am not trained. I don’t know, but that’s what I call them. He started his first spiel: wedding ceremonies (“I tell people, ‘You don’t have to get married in Saint Lucia to get up on this wall, you just need one of the couples to be there. parish! ‘”), social clubs, parties, doo-wop groups (“ Here is Pesci in one of them. He really paid his membership fee. Did you know he was a hairdresser? ”). At an exhibition featuring images of Boiardo, Cascella stopped by. “I grew up with people like in ‘The Sopranos’ and they were in no way looked down upon,” he said. “Most guys, they don’t bother anyone. They live in the same block, they move around. My mother used to bet with a guy, a bookmaker, he took numbers from her! If you get money from them and don’t pay it back, what do you expect? It’s business! Cascella burst out laughing and Nivola joined her, a little weakly. “Now the killers, the crazy guys, that’s a different thing. Like what her name is in the show. Ralphie? The one who killed his pregnant girlfriend. (A heart-wrenching plot point from Season 3.) “Now that was a nuts. But most of the kids in this neighborhood, they could’ve been like Tony. Or they could have been like me. ??


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Cory E. Barnes

The author Cory E. Barnes

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