If there was ever a character that came second to the energy that James Gandolfini brought to ‘The Sopranos’, then it would have to be Nancy Marchand’s Livia Soprano.
Marchand brought a delicious wickedness to the role of being the baddest mother on the block to one of the most dreaded mobsters. So to have Vera Farmiga step into her shoes in ‘The Many Saints of Newark’, the prequel to ‘The Sopranos’, left many purists wondering whether it was the right choice. Farmiga herself, best known for her turn as a supernatural investigator in ‘The Conjuring’ film franchise, had doubts whether she could live up to Marchand’s legend. Here are excerpts from an interview with her about her new film:
Q: When did you first hear there might really be a film coming out of ‘The Sopranos’ and did you even imagine you might play a part in it?
A: I did not know there was a film coming until the moment I was offered the Livia role. It was totally unexpected, a bolt from the blue. I was shocked, amazed and aghast at the same time. Aghast because of the pressure that came with it. Being asked to step into the late Nancy Marchand’s loafers was quite a daunting honour.
I was part convinced I must do it, and part convinced I shouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Considering the role, considering the level of scrutiny we’d all be up against, I felt kind of doomed if I did and doomed if I didn’t.
Q: How did it feel to step into the role made famous by the great Nancy Marchand?
A: I felt the pressure. Nancy Marchand’s performance as Livia Soprano is so delicious, so devious, so hilarious, so epic, it’s as good as it gets. She was arguably the most popular character on the first season. Nancy really knew how to put the ”fun” in dysfunction. Nancy made Livia the most lovable monster; it was evident that there was so much enjoyment in the execution of the performance.
I watched all her scenes over and over and over again, and then again and again. Nancy had so much joy playing someone with so little joy in life. The most exciting thing about the role is, you never knew what is going to come out of Livia’s mouth, and it’s a blast having no filter.
For David Chase (creator of ‘The Sopranos) to think that I could interpret Nancy’s Livia in a more youthful way, honour her, was dumbfounding to me. But his confidence in me was everything. David didn’t make me audition; he didn’t even ask for a hint of what I might do, didn’t make me do anything except discuss my New Jersey upbringing and our families. I was influenced by every aspect of Nancy’s performance, her facial features, her vocalisations and delivery — the pitch, register, accent, tempo of Livia, how she moved through space, her nonverbal communication.
Nancy’s Livia derived very little pleasure from life, other than to make her children’s lives miserable, yet she was such a joy to behold on-camera. In a sense, all the work was done for me, all the choices were made; Nancy established all the rules, I just had to adhere to them and rewind the clock.
Q: Why do you think audiences are so captivated by these kinds of stories in the mafia genre?
A: think, probably, audiences love to watch rules be broken, without breaking the rules themselves. The mafia genre enables its viewers to experience a lifestyle of abandoning morality to do whatever they please to attain the American Dream. But it also provides viewers with perspective on what happens if they get too greedy — what may happen to them in a reckless, immoral pursuit of the American Dream.
Q: Can you talk a little about working with Alessandro Nivola, Corey Stoll, Jon Bernthal and Michael Gandolfini?
A: Incredible cast is an understatement. Alessandro Nivola, Corey Stoll, Johnny Bernthal have always been on my “would love to work with” lists. Humble, thoughtful, energetic, smart, fun-loving, inventive, effortless, powerhouse humans and actors. Michael Gandolfini was the sun we all orbited around. He was the heart and the soul of the production, he was our glue. James was proud looking down on him seeing his boy so loving, so brave, so kind, so open-hearted, so fierce in performance, so earnest, joyful and grateful.
Q: The story is set back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What did it feel like to put on those period costumes, step onto the sets, ride in those cars…?
A: The setting of our story brought a kind of freedom. It gave me the longer leash needed to tether me to the ‘90s version of Sopranos, but give me enough time and setting and visuals apart from it. I particularly loved Livia’s beehive hairdo in the explosive convertible car scene with Johnny, Dickie and Joanne. I loved the period costumes… Well, at least for the first 20 minutes. And then your nervous sweat ignites whoever’s ‘70s sweat is imbedded in the vintage fabric, and it becomes a real stinky ordeal.
Q: What do you hope audiences experience when they see ‘The Many Saints of Newark’?
A: It’s a robust movie that has everything — humour, tragedy, violence, moments of honesty, action, intricate family dynamics and suspense. I hope the old fans of the OG series appreciate what we’ve brought to the table and, at the same time, I hope our film reaches beyond the built-in Sopranos fan base. I hope they love it enough so that we do a sequel, or a prequel TV series. I especially hope that Allesandro Nivola gets the kudos he deserves.
Don’t miss it!
‘The Many Saints of Newark’ releases in UAE cinemas on October 7