EXCLUSIVE: Some 14 years after he said all he had to say about a Jersey mob family, and ended The Sopranos in shocking fashion, it turns out David Chase has much more to say. The result is The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel of sorts set against the Newark race riots, and focusing on a charming sociopath mobster Dickie Moltisanti. He is the father of Christopher, Tony’s right hand man in the series played by Michael Imperioli (who makes his presence known in a way we’ll leave as a surprise). Dickie is a mentor to young Tony (played by the late James Gandolfini’s son Michael), and an ally of Harold McBrayer, an up and coming gangster on the Black side of town (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) who becomes his mortal enemy. Though he oversaw an iconic dramatic show that became the template for auteur series and put HBO on the map, Chase is a hard person to please. Many of Tony Soprano’s own quirks came from Chase’s upbringing. But on this day in Hollywood, Chase was feeling pretty good. He and his creative braintrust from the show — writing partner Lawrence Konner and director Alan Taylor — have made a film that has connective tissue to The Sopranos but tells a period crime story that isn’t dependent on that. It’s a helluva film and he knows it. Here, he talks about the years following his abrupt fade to black series exit, the long road back to Jersey, and the very real chance he would continue telling stories onscreen about the formative years of the Jersey mobsters in another movie.
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DEADLINE: David, you look happy, and after watching the movie twice, I think it’s well deserved.
DAVID CHASE: I’m pleased. Yeah. I am very pleased.
DEADLINE: You have a reputation for not being an easy guy to please.
CHASE: I’m not an easy guy to please. I don’t please myself that often.
DEADLINE: What did you…?
CHASE: I didn’t say I pleasure myself. I said please myself…I don’t do that either very often. Sometimes in my writing I do that…but no, I’m very happy. I think Alan [Taylor] did a wonderful job. Everybody who was associated with it, every department head, they were all really good. I mean, Amy Westcott in costume, Bob Shaw, who worked on the show. Most of all, it’s the cast. I just think they’re great.
DEADLINE: Your entry point is Christopher Moltisanti’s father, Dickie, and wiseguys in New Jersey during the Newark race riots. Were there other scenarios that you pondered as a way to kind of expand the Sopranos mythology as a movie?
CHASE: That I really pondered? No, and I don’t think I ever have had any desire to expand the Sopranos universe. I mean, I had an idea that we would take the same cast and put them in the city of Hoboken in police uniforms and have them fill a precinct in Hoboken, and be completely corrupt. That was more of a brain fart than anything else.
DEADLINE: What sparked this?
CHASE: I had an interview the Writers Guild arranged very early on with Tom Fontana, maybe the second year of the series. And Tom said he’d love to see a story way back in the ‘60s or something with Johnny and Junior. I thought oh, in Newark. That put the bug in my head a little bit because my mother was born in Newark, and she grew up in Newark. My father spent some of his childhood there. It had a very large Italian population, and my mother used to take me down…we lived in a place called Clifton, which you’d call a suburb even though it’s not very leafy. On Saturdays, she wouldn’t leave me home alone, so I used to have to go down with her in the car, into Newark where she would shop for Italian food stuff. Great Italian bread. They were the bakers that didn’t speak English. I guess you’d call them groceries where they have provolone and barrels full of mozzarella. That part of it was great.
CHASE: Yeah [laughs]. So I was very familiar with that part of Newark. I wasn’t really familiar with Newark as a whole.
DEADLINE: What finally made this the right time to revisit these characters?
CHASE: I did the movie, Not Fade Away. I mean, nobody even saw it thanks to Paramount. And then I wrote a six-part series, six-hour series for HBO on the beginnings of Hollywood. They wanted to do it, but they wanted me to shoot it in Ontario, Canada, and there was a problem with money. They didn’t want to spend that, it was too much money, and so, it never came together. I wrote another screenplay for Paramount, and they would’ve made it with the right actress, but the actresses weren’t interested. So, I wasn’t really doing a lot. I had a lot of ideas, I was continuing to do stuff, but it kind of stopped when my wife became ill. Then I had a heart attack, and so, I just wasn’t doing anything. And then Toby Emmerich came to me. He had continued to come and say come on, how about doing a Sopranos movie? I always said no, but then I thought, you know what? We should get out there and do it. My writing partner in the movie, Larry Konner, also pushed me to do it. So we did it. I was supposed to direct it, but then all these illnesses, I backed out of that part.
DEADLINE: I wondered why you didn’t, you directed both The Sopranos pilot and the finale…
CHASE: Yeah. That was it.
DEADLINE: Alan directed a bunch of Sopranos episodes. What’s the advantage of having somebody familiar with what you want?
CHASE: Well, in the meantime, Alan had done two very big features, including a Marvel movie. Of all the directors on The Sopranos, the good ones, of which he was one, I argued with him more than any of them. And yet, he did some of my favorite episodes.
DEADLINE: Which did you like best?
CHASE: I always loved the one called The Ride. I always loved that. It was the one where there was an Italian street fair, a kid gets vaguely injured on the ride when it comes loose.
DEADLINE: And it turned out it was Paulie Walnuts who cheaped out on the Feast and that Teacup ride, and then Tony’s sister Janice is suddenly walking around in a neck brace…
CHASE: Yeah. He also did Kennedy and Heidi, the one where Michael was killed. He’s got a great eye.
DEADLINE: So, you had a shorthand…
CHASE: I don’t know if we had so much of a shorthand. It was a little tough getting back together because he had been off doing big movies. And it wasn’t the same where I was…
DEADLINE: You were the boss.
CHASE: Yeah, where I was the boss of everything. But after a week or so, we were collaborating very well, I think.
DEADLINE: When we first see Vera Farmiga as Livia Soprano, the young version of Tony’s mother played by Nancy Marchand, you can’t help thinking, wow, she looks a lot like Edie Falco.
CHASE: Everybody says that.
DEADLINE: Yeah, which, and I was thinking like did Tony marry a version…?
CHASE: Marry his mother. Right.
DEADLINE: But the more you watch her, the more she became this…vulnerable wet blanket. Who had a crush on Dickie Moltisanti. You’ve said that many of Livia’s best lines and characteristics came from your own mom.
DEADLINE: Nancy Marchand hovered over that first season of The Sopranos, trying to kill her son with Tony attempting to return the favor, before the actress eventually succumbed to illness. Talk a little bit about what you saw as the makeup of Livia in her formative years.
CHASE: Well, the first season, that was the plot. I had had an idea, that started as a movie. People who knew my mother or heard me tell stories about my mother said oh, you got to do a movie about your mother, and some people said, you know, it should be about a TV producer and his crazy mother. I just didn’t think that was going to…who would want to see that? But I thought if it was a tough guy, some kind of tough guy who his mother was beating up…and then the gangster thing wasn’t that far away. That’s how that came to be, but yeah, a lot of the dialogue was my mother’s dialogue.
DEADLINE: Were there any classic lines from your mother you saved for the movie? Even if not as dramatic as the, you know, I’ll put your eye out with this meat fork that we heard in the series, and came when you were harping too hard on your desire for the Hammond organ?
CHASE: She did say that. Yeah. The little Hammond organ. It was a snow day. Snow day in North Caldwell. Nothing to do.
DEADLINE: Were there direct things from Mom that informed this version of Livia?
CHASE: Vera was very interested in talking to me about, both about Livia and also about my mother. We swapped stories for a while, and, there are a few in there I won’t spoil.
DEADLINE: You say people have noticed Vera Farmiga’s Livia and her resemblance to Edie Falco’s Carmela Soprano. Something subliminal there about how Tony was…
CHASE: No. I had no idea. No. We never thought that she would look like Carmela. We just thought well, her nose should be dealt with because Livia had this particular kind of nose, and so, we put it on, and then that plus her accent, there it was.
DEADLINE: It was a surprise to you.
CHASE: So, then you can go into the psychologic thing that he married his mother.
DEADLINE: Dickie Moltisanti is the centerpiece of this movie. In Season Four, Tony Soprano in season four gave Christopher the chance to avenge his father’s murder, pointing the finger at this police detective who supposedly was hired by a rival, Jilly to kill Dickie’s cellmate. Dickie then gouged out Jilly’s eye. Now, explain, if you can, that mythology, and maybe what prompted you to want to focus on Dickie. Was that a ruse that Tony perpetrated on Christopher?
CHASE: Well, it was either a ruse or mostly likely, Tony didn’t know the truth. There was also something in Dickie’s history about some New England family that he got in a war with, and we weren’t interested in that. We were interested in the story of the gouging of the eye.
DEADLINE: Why make Dickie your focus?
CHASE: He was so mysterious for so long. I even used to find myself wondering okay, a couple of lines here, a couple of lines there about this guy. How bad was this guy? Apparently, he was like, evil incarnate, the way Tony talks about him. The worst, biggest, baddest motherfucker you could ever run into. We also felt that we needed to have a central character that was as…well, what’s the word?
DEADLINE: Charmingly sociopathic?
CHASE: Well, we didn’t use that description. We needed someone who was as vicious as Tony. Selectively vicious or scary, but really a badass guy, a gangster, a real mobster. But different from Tony. We felt we needed that in the center of the movie. It was not our intention to do a movie about Tony’s childhood or anything like that. But we do remember that Tony used to say he was my mentor and all that stuff. That just seemed like a good combination.
DEADLINE: While this isn’t about Tony’s childhood, I found myself wondering as Tony was mentored by his favorite uncle…as the creator of this Sopranos world, what gave Tony the grit to be a mob boss capable of violence and lawlessness, compared to Tony’s son A.J, who wound up tying a weight to himself and trying to drown himself in the family pool?
CHASE: Yeah. Something that’s really not in this movie…and if things work out, I’m sure Warner Brothers would like to see it, is Dickie and the end of Dickie, which would probably have all that in it.
DEADLINE: Was Tony’s own son just too pampered?
CHASE: Oh, for sure. But he’s also a millennial.
DEADLINE: And they don’t make criminals like they used to?
CHASE: Yeah. Well, Tony is a baby boomer. And you know, millennials hate baby boomers. So, I don’t know.
DEADLINE: The show dealt with depression, and the movie touches on it also, lightly. Young Tony tries to get his mother on some medication to improve her mood. You can almost feel the way depression hung over the house in the movie. Give a sense of how you layered it in and why it was important? It is a generational issue.
CHASE: Yeah. A lot of it is. Yeah. That’s what I felt, and obviously because also there’s some environmental factor there. We never did talk about Dickie’s family too much, his parents, the male side of the family. I also feel that there probably is something in Johnny’s genetics that contributed to that. We never saw Johnny, we never see him as a depressed guy, but even if you look at him in this movie, he’s not a happy person.
DEADLINE: All the women seem to have full knowledge their husbands were not monogamous and they took it, back then. How was the idea of therapy or taking medication looked upon back then?
CHASE: Oh, by Italian Americans back in that era? No. No. I mean, there were people in my family who actually were institutionalized. That happened, but I didn’t know anybody who went to see a therapist. Certainly, none of my aunts or uncles, that I know of.
DEADLINE: Did your own mother ever consider it?
CHASE: Oh, it was brought up a couple of times, and she flipped her lid.
DEADLINE: What’d she say?
CHASE: I mean, she did not make a racist statement, like Livia did.
DEADLINE: About it being a racket for the Jews?
CHASE: A racket for the Jews. But something just as debased in a way, like what do they, you know, what do they know? I’m not going to talk to that kind of thing. Something like that.
DEADLINE: You create a series so revered, it must bring challenges to go with all the good things. Jerry Seinfeld never did another sitcom, nor brought his cast together for a movie. How did the existential weight shift over a couple of decades to you where you finally felt comfortable giving us more? And how did being shackled by your success manifest itself for you?
CHASE: I don’t know if I understand that question, or if I could’ve been shackled by the success.
DEADLINE: Well, sometimes it’s hard to live up to, like a great first novel, or great first film and they go, how am I supposed to live up to that?
CHASE: It’s funny, you know? I did think that occasionally, but not as much as I would think that I would think that way. I would think that I would’ve been more pessimistic, and, how am I going to top myself? I didn’t really see it that way. However, I got nothing accomplished, right? I made my first movie, that nobody saw. The thing I wrote for HBO was, it would’ve been pretty good. I may go back to that. I don’t know. I guess I didn’t feel it as a weight.
DEADLINE: That Hollywood series, you would think would be exactly what they would be looking for for the HBO Max streaming service, if you have the fortitude to go to Canada to make a movie about Hollywood.
CHASE: Ontario. What the fuck? I think it was there, Winnipeg or some weird place…so, we’re going to do what, build a whole fucking thing? I mean, I understand if you’re talking about Hollywood, you know, those wooden buildings and wooden shacks, but you know, Hollywood was a marvel, and columns, and you know…
DEADLINE: When we think of Ray Liotta, it’s his breakout turn in Goodfellas. You had many of that film’s cast in The Sopranos but not him. He’s back in the mob fold as Dickie’s uncle, in jail for murder who becomes the nephew’s conscience. He is surprisingly refined, doesn’t eat dairy, only wants Miles Davis records How’d that happen?
CHASE: Why him? I don’t know. You could just picture him doing it. I mean, he’s a really good actor. He hasn’t done a mob thing in quite a while. And you did see some innocence in him when he was Henry Hill, in the early part [of Goodfellas]. I just had a feeling he could do it. I wanted to see it.
DEADLINE: You told a great story last time about the struggle to get The Sopranos set up. First as a movie, and then a series, until Fox bailed at the last moment. Finally, HBO. And unlike the pilot script Fox didn’t buy, you said you made sure you killed somebody in the pilot HBO committed to.
CHASE: Yeah. Right.
DEADLINE: This prequel was an easier sell, but because WarnerMedia put its entire 2021 slate as day and date on HBO Max, you are back on HBO. How did that feel?
CHASE: I don’t think, frankly that I would’ve taken the job if I knew it was going to be a day-and-date release. I think it’s awful.
DEADLINE: It is kind of ironic that here you make a theatrical film based on the iconic HBO series, and it’s coming out day-and-date on something with HBO in the title. What did you feel when that edict came down?
CHASE: Extremely angry, and I still am. I mean, I don’t know how much you go into this, you know, like…okay. If I was…one of those guys, if one of those executives was sitting here and I was to start pissing and moaning about it, they’d say, you know, there’s 17 other movies that have the same problem. What could we do? Covid! Well, I know, but those 16 other movies didn’t start out as a television show. They don’t have to shed that television image before you get people to the theater. But we do. And that’s where we’re at. People should go see it in a theater. It was designed to be a movie. It was…it’s beautiful as a movie. I never thought that it would be back on HBO. Never.
DEADLINE: You really could have walked away from this?
CHASE: Yeah…I mean, well, I say that…okay. I could’ve walked away, yes, but there was a part of that story where my partner Lawrence was saying come on, let’s get to work. Let’s do something, do something, do something. It’ll be good for you. Now, do you walk away from that? I don’t know.
DEADLINE: It was good for you to be pushed back into the ring, wasn’t it?
CHASE: …Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It was good. And fortunately, I can stand by the movie. If we had not made a good movie, I don’t know what I’d say.
DEADLINE: Your frustration is understandable even with the knowledge that back in the day, The Sopranos was a long running Zeitgeist series on HBO, the template for the auteur TV series. And given the uncertainty about movie theaters and Covid, that crowd of HBO subscribers will be eager to see the series prequel, even if it is on an iPhone. A straight theatrical release for anything other than superheroes and spectacle could have left The Many Saints of Newark up against it.
CHASE: It’s bad. It’s bad, you know, and I’m told all the time, the business is changing, and you’re too sentimental about the movie theater, and all this stuff.
DEADLINE: What do you think about the way the business is changing?
CHASE: The business is changing, there’s no doubt about it. Me, I personally wish we were back in movie theaters, and I wish that movie theaters had really great architecture and interior design. I wish we were back there, but we’re not. So, in terms of the art of film, I suppose there will always be people who are extremely creative and brilliant. But the actual technical delivery system, even if you have a really great system at home, it’s not being in a movie theater with other people, in the dark, where their reaction kind of stirs your reaction, and yours stirs theirs, and it’s just not that. And it’s just too bad, and I guess the only thing we’ll have room for now is movies about, not about people, but about, you know, superheroes and fucksticks. I don’t know.
DEADLINE: A moment on Michael Gandolfini. Wow, he fascinating to watch.
CHASE: Yeah. He was. He was.
DEADLINE: Eerie isn’t the right word, but I really felt like I was watching young Tony Soprano on the screen.
CHASE: You did, didn’t you?
DEADLINE: What a legacy to live up to, for the late actor’s real son. What made you feel that Michael was ready for this? He said before this, he never watch his father’s work on The Sopranos. How did you work with him to prepare for this, including the inevitable comparisons.
CHASE: That’s more a question for Alan Taylor, but I just didn’t have any doubts. I don’t know why. We saw a bunch of other kids, and it wasn’t going anywhere. And then I thought of him…I mean, I remembered him as a 13-year-old. On the day of his father’s funeral. I hadn’t seen him in 5 or 6 years, and then my wife Denise and I went out to lunch with him on a Saturday, and he was a grown up. He seemed to me to be very different from his father temperamentally. We were just having lunch, but once I thought about it, once the idea popped into my head, I said, we have to do this. Do I think that if he really had been no good I would’ve gone ahead with it anyway? No, but I just had a…you know, The Sopranos was an interesting phenomenon. Things used to happen there, and I don’t mean to sound conceited when I say this. But for almost the entire run of the series, we couldn’t put a foot wrong.
And that’s never happened to me before, or since. Brad Grey said to me, you know, this is only going to happen once, so enjoy it. This is not going to happen again, and it’s true. I mean, you can say oh, you stepped wrong on this episode, that fucking Christopher Columbus episode. People could complain about it, right? Oh, that episode was no good, that line was stupid…the CGI on Nancy [Marchand] was pathetic. But by and large, everything worked. And not only that, we would have incredible pieces of luck, which I can’t explain. For example, if we lost a location, the other one would be better. We would have themes or words or scenes within any given episode, and that would happen then in the news or in America a month later. I don’t know what that was about, but it happened. So, I guess I had that feeling when I thought about Michael Gandolfini. No problem. It’s going to be him.
DEADLINE: So then you call Michael Gandolfini, and what was his reaction?
CHASE: I didn’t call Michael Gandolfini. Michael came in via the casting director. He read, which I don’t remember. I guess I don’t remember it because I didn’t care because I thought it was going to be all right, and he sold it.
DEADLINE: No reticence on his part, stepping into those big shoes?
CHASE: Well, I heard about that later, after he was in the shoes. I heard that it was very difficult for him, then I found out he’d never seen the show. Like, what are you talking about? Then I started hearing more, but afterward. We used to go to an Easter party at Jim’s house and he was there. He was the kid who was there, and I never had that much to say to him. So, I didn’t really know him, but when I saw how he looked at the age of 18 or whatever, I just said yeah.
DEADLINE: Last time we interviewed, you described his father’s audition for Tony Soprano. He came in sweaty, huffing and puffing, then stopped midstream, said he hadn’t prepared right, and walked out. It sounds like Michael’s audition was a better start, wasn’t it?
CHASE: I don’t remember. I don’t remember. In fact, just the other day, somebody said yes, he came in and read. I said, he did? So, I don’t know.
DEADLINE: Alessandro Nivola has been knocking on the door of stardom awhile. What convinced you he could summon those elements of Dickie, to the charm, and the blackout rages?
CHASE: Well, for The Sopranos, there’s one thing that’s always extremely important for me, and that’s the Italian. I know a lot of people would say well, either some kind of racism or that’s stupid or that’s not what actors do, but I can’t help it. I grew up in an Italian family, in an Italian milieu, and when I don’t see those little mannerisms or whatever, modes of thought, it doesn’t ring true for me. I’d seen him in American Hustle, and I thought, who is that guy? Man, that guy’s really good. I’ve got to remember that. Someday, I’ll use him somewhere. And then I saw him again in that movie about the oil business in Queens, A Most Dangerous Year. And again, he was really, really good, and I…just those two impressions never left me. I’m sure the studio would’ve preferred a star, but there weren’t any Italian stars. There’s De Niro, but you know, he’s older now. And so is Ray. But I didn’t hire him because he’s Italian. I hired him because he had it all.
DEADLINE: A reminder that, even if you are not atop the call sheet, do your best because you never know when a David Chase might be watching your work onscreen, making a mental note…
CHASE: Well, I don’t know. It might be that David Chase comes in and he responds to a shitty ass performance that you turned in, kind of like phoned it in, he might think that’s the way the character is supposed to be.
DEADLINE: You toyed with Steven Van Zant and others for the Tony Soprano role. Did you cast a net beyond Alessandro for Dickie Moltisanti?
CHASE: No. There was a lot of input from the studio about, you know, getting someone who…a star. There was a lot of that.
DEADLINE: What was your response?
CHASE: No. But they were also very understanding. Toby and Richard [Brener], and Michael Disco. They didn’t really start swinging and slugging. They were pretty understanding. This movie also wasn’t big enough where, we’re not going to go to Leo, right? The movie isn’t big enough. He would’ve been good, and he’s Italian. So, they didn’t make too much of a federal case out of it.
DEADLINE: In Leslie Odom Jr. you got a guy who has made a seamless transition from singer to actor with Hamilton and an Oscar nomination for One Night in Miami.
CHASE: He was great. And there’s something classy and slick and smart…he’s a leading man. And again, I…this is difficult terrain. I really…I didn’t want somebody English. I wanted somebody American. American. For all the little tiny stuff that’s sewed into the fabric of that, whatever that means.
DEADLINE: It does seem like a lot of English actors get American parts, you know?
DEADLINE: Watching the Newark riots in the film, you can’t help but think of the Black Lives Matter protests. But what I plugged into because it felt like in the show is the class consciousness that extended from the series. The Italians felt they were atop the pile, though we saw how they were looked down upon or feared by Tony’s white collar neighbors. Beneath that were the ambitions of Black families who had to deal with racism. And the women, too, were subjugated to being a wife or a mistress, and then…
CHASE: Black women?
DEADLINE: All the women in this film, including the immigrant character played by Michela De Rossi, who had a curiosity and entrepreneurial ambition that plays strongly in the storyline…
CHASE: Oh, she’s good. Just fantastic. And this is not…this is in her second language, and when we started, her English was [okay], but all the little subtleties were there. Every little subtlety, she knew how to answer every question or everything that was said, a dialogue piece that was said to her, she had the perfect emotional response.
DEADLINE: She has entrepreneurial ambitions the same as Dickie, the same as all those Italian men in that movie, and the same as Harold [Odom Jr]…Explain the class dynamics as you observed them growing up in Jersey.
CHASE: The reason I’m being quiet, I have to go way back and think. I don’t know…what I’m about to say, I could get myself hung for this, I guess. I don’t know that it has to do with being back in Jersey. It might have to do with being exposed to movies and literature. Does that make any sense?
CHASE: When you talk about the quality of the characters. I guess it’s the way they were written. I am more comfortable with intelligent characters. What was the question simply put again?
DEADLINE: It was an observation about the subjugation and ambition of race and gender. You could see it in The Sopranos, where a woman was the wife, or the mistress, and ambition brought peril in a male dominated culture. I was intrigued by the struggles of Harold [Odom], and of Dickie’s mistress Giuseppina, and the risk ambition exposes them to, in a culture of racism and sexism, especially in the ‘60s.
CHASE: That does make more sense, but I don’t know what the answer is. I remember reading, probably the second year of The Sopranos, an article…and I forget the woman’s name. I should’ve had her replace the Virgin statue on my wall. She said that the Sopranos women were so much more interesting and real than women in shows about them as female lawyers and professionals. It had to do with this whole notion that having everything is bullshit. She said that Carmela and her sisters were more real and more interesting to watch. I guess the reason, I guess what’s going on is, I don’t know, of my age. I went through, what do they call it, phase four feminism, or what do they call it?
DEADLINE: I’m not sure.
CHASE: There’s whole bunches of feminism. When I was 18 or 19, feminism made a lot of noise at the same time as the Black struggle. There was a lot of change happening. And the music made a lot of noise, and it all had something to do with that, I think. Now, I could’ve been a male in 1970 who said just shut up, and you know, cook the steak. But I wasn’t that guy, and it’s weird because my own mother was such a loon. But I just don’t know, I always had respect for women. I had a lot of aunts, maybe that’s why. I had a lot of aunts, and everybody made a fuss out of my grandmother.
DEADLINE: How much were the Newark protests and racial tensions a part of your life?
CHASE: Well, I was about to get married then. I think was engaged, and I was back living at home, and my wife to be, Denise, we’d gone to high school together, we lived in different towns but went to the same regional high school district. I used to drive her to work in downtown Newark every day. She worked for the Prudential Insurance Company, to earn money for our nest egg. And I used to pick her up, and so, I was down there when the riots were happening. I didn’t see the riots or get that close. It wasn’t really close to Bloomfield Avenue, which is what we traveled on. At that time, I was involved with a lot of kinds of radical thought, and I remember my friends and I saying, I hope they burn that fucking place down, you know? Motherfucking George Wallace and Nixon, fuck them. And then I thought, wait a minute. Denise is down here. She’s down there in the office buildings just a few blocks from where it’s going on. So, by the time it really sank in, the riots were over, but I’ve always kind of wondered to myself, why you were not more concerned?
DEADLINE: You treat us to the formative days of the Sopranos gang, Artie Bucco, Silvio, Carmela, Paulie, Big Pussy, Uncle Junior. And Tony’s dad. And there is even that moment where, I won’t spoil the specifics, but a mobbed up guy gets so fed up with his wife in the car that he puts a bullet through her beehive hairdo, which we were told about in the series…
CHASE: That’s a true story.
DEADLINE: What do you know about its origins?
CHASE: Well, I had a cousin who was a wise guy. He was with the Boiardo family, which is what the Sopranos are kind of based on. I never consulted him about anything. I never wanted to go there. I thought no, I’ll just leave it alone, When I was a kid, he was the guy who was always the sharpest dressed guy at the wedding reception, and he would give us kids money to go buy a soda. That was the guy.
And I never wanted to cross that line, and apparently, he was aware of it, too, and would have probably have liked to give information and stuff like that. Anyway. We didn’t do it, and finally I called him up and we had dinner, me and Denise, and him and…he was my cousin by marriage…and my girl cousin, much older than me. It was nice, and then he and I made an appointment to meet each other for lunch two weeks hence. When the day came, or the day before came, I said I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to go in there. I said, what am I going to do? And the phone rang, and it was him, and he said, you know, I’m thinking let’s not do this. So, we didn’t, but then one night…there was also a guy on the show who was a doctor to a lot of these guys, he played a part in the show…they all knew each other. I wound up going out to dinner, me and Denise, with my cousin and him, and I took Terry Winter with me. And they both told a story about a guy named Bobby Cabert. Have you ever heard that name?
CHASE: That wasn’t his real name. He had an Italian name, but apparently, he was a very dangerous guy, and they told this story about that they went out to dinner with Bobby Cabert and his wife, and the wife was talking, talking, talking, talking, and he pulled out the gun and shot her in the beehive hairdo. That became part of…we used that in the show at lake, on Tony’s birthday.
DEADLINE: But only with a passing reference?
CHASE: Yeah. So, when the time came, it seemed like well, now, we’ll do it. We’ll actually get to do it. I go online occasionally and look up what people are saying in Reddit, and I don’t know how many people said well, are we going to see that getting shot in the beehive hairdo complaining thing? Well, as a matter of fact, you are going to see that, and I wouldn’t have known that you had an attitude about it, if you’re already bored by it, but anyway. So, there it is, that’s how it came about. By the way, that guy is the same guy, ‘what am I a clown? I amuse you?’
DEADLINE: From Goodfellas, played by Joe Pesci?
CHASE: Same guy, I believe. You can ask Joe Pesci but I believe Frankie Valli told me it was the same guy. Frankie Valli told me that when the Four Seasons were getting hot, this guy took him out to lunch. So they were having lunch, and the guy said, ‘I know, I’m losing my hair. Stop looking at my head,’ and Frankie said, ‘I’m not.’ So, they had some more lunch and the guy said ‘oh, the hair again. Okay, yeah, I’m losing my hair. So, they just ate, and then he got even more steamed up about it.’ And then he finally said, ‘ah, I’m busting your balls.’ So, that’s the same guy.
DEADLINE: That’s got to be a little frightening. I was reminded of Jon Favreau’s relationship to Christopher Moltisanti in The Sopranos. They’ve got a rapport, and suddenly Jon Favreau crosses a line. And then he’s basically scared that he’s not going to make it out of the room.
CHASE: Well, that’s why we never wanted to get too close…I mean, people have made mob movies without, you know…problems.
DEADLINE: Francis Coppola always said he and Mario Puzo steered clear of that, and they could tap plenty in the public records for plotlines. Like Don Corleone getting his nephew singer Johnny Fontaine out of his contract and into the starmaking movie role that was said to be similar to the Sinatra story. Speaking of mobsters and tempers, one of the frightening things about Dickie Moltisanti in this movie is his volcanic temper. Ever know anyone like that?
CHASE: Do I know people like that? I’d say I did. I don’t know if I know anybody like that now. I think I did in high school and later on. There’d probably be people who would say that I’m like that.
DEADLINE: Why would they say that?
CHASE: I just sometimes really lose my temper, really lose it, but I’ve never hurt anyone…
DEADLINE: You mean professionally, when you made the series?
CHASE: Yeah. Or even now, like with the new house where things don’t function right and the fucking plumber didn’t, why didn’t he see this? You know, just…I don’t do it often, and I’m not a tough guy. I’ve never swung on anybody, but I do violently lose my temper sometimes. But that’s not where it comes from. I was watching Anatomy of a Murder the other night. I don’t know if you remember that, but Ben Gazzara, he and Jimmy Stewart are trying to figure out what’s his legal excuse for having killed a guy. And it turns out to be Jimmy Stewart’s actually telling him, without telling him, that oh, temporary insanity. He said, I was mad. That’s why I killed him, I was mad, and Stewart says something else, and he says no, I don’t mean like that. I mean mad, like out of my mind. And he was not a lawyer. He was the defender, and they sent him to a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist said he had temporary insanity.
Now, he was a lieutenant in the Army. Dickie…well, there’s two very severe cases of it, right? There was a kid in my hometown, I never met him, I’ve used his story twice. I used it once in The Sopranos and once in The Rockford Files. This kid was so fucking crazy that what happened was he hassled the sister or the daughter of some old wise guy. He was a house painter by profession, and the wise guy was pissed off. And these two guys wanted to be wise guys, they invited him over to one of those houses to give an estimate on painting the garage, and they killed him there because he was just so uncontrollable. And there are just people like that. Lose all judgment.
DEADLINE: Now that you have given Sopranos fans an extension of the mythology with The Many Saints of Newark, would you see expanding this Sopranos world further?
CHASE: Oh, I’m much more interested in doing other things. Much more. In fact, when we first started, the studio used to talk about doing a sequel, and I was like yeah, dream on.
DEADLINE: And now?
CHASE: And now that they’ve seen the movie and they really like it, they don’t talk about it anymore. But there’s only one way that I would do it, and that was if Terry and I could write the script together. That I would do.
DEADLINE: You mean a sequel to this prequel, if Terry Winter rejoins you?
CHASE: A sequel to this movie you saw. In other words, what happens after this movie’s over, before the TV show starts.
DEADLINE: A time when, as Tony put it in The Sopranos, when it was really good to be in this business.
CHASE: If it ever was. With Tony in his 20s. That would be interesting to do, and there’s a lot of stories that exist already because of the mythology, and working with Terry would be great. He and I in that world again, I think we’d have a good time. I wouldn’t do it on my own, and I would not do it with anybody else. If Warner’s wanted it, they own it, they can do whatever they want.
DEADLINE: The formation of those characters who surrounded Tony in New Jersey, there has to be a lot more great stories to tell.
CHASE: How did these crooks [rise] in New Jersey, and what was Tony’s real ascending first step? I mean, obviously, he got made at some point. He obviously killed a guy at some point. That is, according to the show, his father sent him out to do that.
DEADLINE: Are there other things completely removed from this that you’re interested in doing?
CHASE: Oh, yeah.
DEADLINE: Something that we should note here?
CHASE: No. I mean, I’ve been working on a script for a year, and I’m still not done. I have other ideas, too, and we’re working on some other…there’s a TV series that’s here. There’s plenty of stuff.
DEADLINE: Anything you want my readers to know that I should have asked you?
CHASE: Well, I’ve dreamed about people asking me this question because I’ve dreamed about finally giving the answer to it.
DEADLINE: Let’s hear it.
CHASE: And the answer to the question is this. It says in Wikipedia that my name was David DeCesare, but that’s not true. My name was never David DeCesare, and I’ve tried to get them to remove all this. My name, I was born with the name David Chase. My father was born with the name DeCesare, and he changed it back in the ‘30s. So I didn’t change my name. That was never my name, and when we first started the Sopranos, I said to HBO, should I go back to my Italian name, our family name? And they said no because you’re known. I wasn’t even that well known, but people know you by this name. So, I didn’t, but it turns out the name DeCesare, it turns out that my father’s father…how can I put this? My grandmother had six children by a guy named DeCesare up in Provincetown, and then a lodger moved into the house who was like 17, and she took up with him and had two more children, which she pawned off as the original guy, but actually were kids of the lodger. And so, my father was one of those kids. So, my name really isn’t even DeCesare. The other guy’s name was Fusco, and that’s what my name really should be.
DEADLINE: So, you have a couple of aliases.