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See James Gandolfini's Lookalike Son as Tony in the "Sopranos" Prequel

Michael Gandolfini is stepping into his father's shoes for the film The Many Saints of Newark.

Fans of The Sopranos take heed: the prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark, is finally on its way to theaters and streaming after a COVID-related delay. And HBO Max just released a first look at James Gandolfini's lookalike son Michael Gandolfini in his role as a young Tony Soprano. The late actor's acclaimed performance left some big shoes to fill, so read on to find out what we know about the film so far and how Michael felt about carrying on his father's legacy. And for more classic television, check out these 23 Emmy-Winning TV Shows You Can Stream Right Now.

Michael Gandolfini is playing a young Tony Soprano in the upcoming Sopranos prequel movie.

Michael Gandolfini in The Many Saints of Newark
HBO Max/YouTube

The 21-year-old actor took on the role that won his father three Emmys, playing a young version of future mobster Tony Soprano in the film The Many Saints of Newark. Prior to this, his biggest role was that of Joey Dwyer, a recurring character on the series The Deuce, another period project. His casting in the prequel was announced in early 2019; in a statement to Deadline, Gandolfini said, "It's a profound honor to continue my dad's legacy while stepping into the shoes of a young Tony Soprano."

Despite the family resemblance, the role wasn't simply handed to him. The producers went through a casting process and Gandolfini auditioned, eventually winning the part.

HBO Max offered a first look at his version of the iconic character in a trailer for all of the new Warner Bros. releases coming to the streaming service in 2021. You can see him right around the 21-second mark.

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The Many Saints of Newark sets the stage for the groundbreaking HBO series.

Robert Iler, James Gandolfini, Jamie Lynn Sigler and Aida Turturro
Everett Collection/Shutterstock

The Sopranos creator David Chase had been reticent to write a sequel to the show, which ended in a famously divisive series finale. But in 2019, he explained to Deadline why he had been inspired to look backwards instead of forwards.

"I was interested in Newark [New Jersey] and life in Newark at that time," he said. "I used to go to down there every Saturday night for dinner with my grandparents. But the thing that interested me most was Tony's boyhood. I was interested in exploring that."

Part of the backdrop of the film will be the 1967 Newark Riots, a five-day period of unrest fueled by racial tensions that left 26 people dead. "The movie will deal with the tensions between the Blacks and whites at the time, and Tony Soprano will be part of this, but as a kid," the creator also said.

Other main characters in The Many Saints of Newark include Christopher's (Michael Imperioli) father, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) and Tony's parents, "Johnny Boy" and Livia (Jon Bernthal and Vera Farmiga). Many plot details have been kept under wraps, however.

For more final episodes fans are still debating, check out The Most Hated TV Finales of All Time.

James Gandolfini died at 51, six years after the series finale.

James Gandolfini with wife Deborah Lin and son Michael
Debby Wong/Shutterstock

James Gandolfini died of a heart attack at the age of 51 in 2013. He was in Italy with his family to receive an award at a film festival. The actor is survived by Michael, his son with his ex-wife Marcy Wudarski, as well as his wife Deborah Lin and their daughter Liliana, who was not even a year old at the time.

His son had never watched the show until he was cast in the part.

Robert Iler, Michael Gandolfini, and Jamie-Lynn Sigler
lev radin /

In an interview with Esquire, the younger Gandolfini said that he didn't delve into acting until after his father's death, and that taking classes "actually started [his] grieving process." But he still avoided watching the show that defined his father's legacy, until Chase encouraged him to audition for the prequel film.

"The hardest part of this whole process was watching the show for the first time," Gandolfini told the magazine. "It was an intense process. 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."

The poignancy of his involvement wasn't lost on his costars. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Bernthal said of Michael, "I think he's such a beautiful kid and a beautiful actor. His father is one of our greatest artists of all time, and to be a part of this thing to honor him was really beautiful."

The Many Saints of Newark is currently scheduled to be released in theaters and on HBO Max on Sept. 24, 2021.

And for more kids who take after their famous parents, here are 25 Celebrity Children Who Look Just Like Their Parents.

Sage Young
Sage Young is the Deputy Entertainment Editor at Best Life, expanding and honing our coverage in this vertical by managing a team of industry-obsessed writers. Read more
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