'Sopranos' mates Chase, Gandolfini won't 'Fade Away'
05:00 AM, Dec 19, 2012
LOS ANGELES The Sopranos creator David Chase has made a few offers that James Gandolfini couldn’t refuse. But the actor certainly has tried.
Recently, there was the pivotal father role in Chase’s first feature film, the new Not Fade Away, which Gandolfini balked at when it was presented to him.
“I was very flattered,” says Gandolfini, 51. “And then I tried to talk him out of it. Then, during a script read-through, I tried to talk him out of it again.”
Still, Chase, 67, saw this coming. After all, he had a similar conversation nearly 15 years ago when he wanted to cast the then-little-known actor in the lead role of a Mob series he was putting together.
“(Gandolfini) tried to convince me out of doing The Sopranos. So I kind of expected this again,” says Chase. “I’m used to this.”
Television history was made when Chase brought Gandolfini onboard as Mob boss Tony Soprano in the culture-changing collaboration. Over six seasons (1999 -2007) the HBO series pulled in 21 Emmys while making Gandolfini a star.
Likewise, it wasn’t long until Gandolfini signed on to play the part of the old-school father of an aspiring garage band drummer (John Magaro) in Not Fade Away (opening in New York and Los Angeles. on Friday, and wider Jan. 4). It’s the first time the two have collaborated since the famous Sopranos finale.
Gandolfini says he hesitated because he felt the reunion might carry too much weight for Not Fade Away, a deeply personal coming-of-age rock ‘n’ roll drama.
“I thought it would be best to try to find someone else so there would not be any residual Sopranos stuff in the movie,” says Gandolfini, speaking alongside Chase during a visit to the Roxy Theater. “In my gut it was like, ‘I don’t know if this is the right thing to do.’
“And of course the studio thought about that,” adds Chase. ” ‘Is this a good thing to have Jimmy? Will people be expecting Sopranos?’ But I just felt it was definitely worth the risk.”
“Once the powers that be, the adults as I like to call them, thought about it and wanted to go with me anyways, I said alright,” says Gandolfini. “I had my doubts. But it worked out OK.”
After the film premiered at the New York Film Festival in October, Entertainment Weekly touted Gandolfini as a dark-horse candidate for a supporting-actor Oscar.
As for the Sopranos refusal, Gandolfini has no real excuse, looking down at the floor and muttering, “basically fear.”
“It was probably, ‘This is the lead. Why do you want me? Blah, blah blah. Maybe I should take a smaller part.’ I think I told him to fire me, too.”
“A couple of times,” nods Chase.
“Especially in the beginning,” adds Gandolfini.
It was during the run of the series that Chase, himself an aspiring drummer who grew up in New Jersey in the 1960s, formulated the concept of Not Fade Away.
“It seemed to me that I only talked about it occasionally,” says Chase. “But people say I talked about it all the time.”
After The Sopranos wrapped, the two went their separate ways. “We needed a little space,” says Gandolfini.
Chase eventually came back to the garage band idea, only he was having trouble writing the screenplay until he started focusing on Gandolfini playing the stern father figure.
“I wrote a first draft and the script wasn’t clicking,” says Chase. “I was going to quit and go onto something else. But then I pictured Jim in the role and the whole thing sort of came alive to me like that,” he says, snapping his fingers.
Their on-set reunion took place in the wet snow in the middle of New Jersey’s 2011 winter, a scene where Gandolfini says goodbye to his son. Real life lacked the on-screen emotions.
“David’s somewhat miserable on the film set,” says Gandolfini, laughing so hard at the image that he has to wipe tears from his eyes. “He’s in that parka. And he’s like, ‘It’s cold.’ And I know he loves it. And he enjoys creating. But it’s funny, too.”
“The film set is a hard place,” says Chase. “But it was terrific to be back together. A great feeling. I kind of felt like we fell right back in to a rhythm.”
There are other Sopranos connections with the film, including crew members and actor Bobby Funaro who plays an uncle. (On The Sopranos, he played Eugene, a mobster who hanged himself). More significantly, Steven Van Zandt he played Silvio Dante, while also juggling his role as a guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band served as Not Fade Away’s music supervisor.
“There was no movie without Stevie,” says Chase. “I talked to him about the script before I even started writing it.”
Van Zandt oversaw acquiring the rights for the ambitious soundtrack, which features songs by The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. And he helped to train the young actors Magaro, Jack Huston and Will Brill to play like a rock band in just a few months.
“By the time we were ready to shoot, they were a fairly acceptable garage band,” says Chase. “If you heard them playing you would say, ‘I’d go to that party.’ ”
This bigger reunion was enjoyable for both Gandolfini and Chase.
“One of the things about Sopranos is we got along,” says Gandolfini. “I think we enjoyed each other’s company. There were ‘things’ over 10 years, but there wasn’t any deep animosity.”
“No, there wasn’t,” says Chase. “And we never had any show business (stuff).”
“Chase hired mostly people from blue-collar families all the way down the line,” says Gandolfini. “We just realized how lucky we were. Let’s just hold onto each other and see what happens.”
The biggest similarity between the two collaborations is Gandolfini’s clashing relationships with his screen sons, from A.J.(Robert Iler) in The Sopranos to Magaro’s Douglas in Not Fade Away.
“There is this tension between father in son in both stories. David seems to be drawn to that in his work,” says Magaro. “The father and son butt heads here and it’s much more threatening than Tony Soprano ever got with A.J.”
Magaro notes that Gandolfini is a “sweetheart” in real life. “But when he comes at you and grabs you by the collar it’s a little frightening.”
Gandolfini believes that his own New Jersey upbringing with his bricklayer father helped his performance. “My father was confused by my generation and the way I was being brought up.”
Yet both of his parents accepted his decision to become an actor, and even insisted he keep his name despite some of the early, risqué projects he took on.
“To their credit, they came to a lot of the plays in some of the nastiest places in New York City,” says Gandolfini. “There was one where I was on top of some woman on a couch. And there’s my mother in the audience. She handled it.”
Chase downplays the autobiographical elements of Not Fade Away, noting that while he played music with some friends while growing up, they were never organized.
“Calling it playing for a band is giving it way too much credit. I was involved with two guys who were really good guitar players. But we never played for anyone, even a pool party,” he says. “But I lived for that music.”
The family dysfunction does ring true for Chase, the only child of Italian-American parents, who used to argue loudly over his career choices. News that he wanted to go into show business led to his own mother being “horrified.”
“All of this was acted with my aunts and uncles around. We would have the Chase family psychodrama for the benefit of all assembled.”
His parents lived long enough to see Chase succeed in Hollywood. He took them on a tour of the Universal lot in the 1970s when he had an office (“I took a picture of them in Clint Eastwood’s parking spot”).
Despite his long career in television, Chase says he’s not interested in returning to the medium. Movies are the way forward for him. The concept of a Sopranos movie has been loosely discussed, with Gandolfini saying he and Chase have only had “fooling around” discussions.
“In my mind, Tony Soprano is David’s character, his invention,” Gandolfini says. “David’s in charge of Mr. Soprano. I play him. If David wants a reincarnation of that man, then I will be there.”
And Chase is keenly interested in working with Gandolfini again.
“I would do it again anytime. I’d like to work with him where he’s a priest, a nuclear physicist. Seriously, anything. I’d love to see him play a doctor. He’d bring that same intensity and same intelligence without the arrogance of doctors.”
Gandolfini has already prepared his traditional response: “I’ll probably try to talk him out of it again. And we’ll go through our dance. And then we’ll figure it out.”