Alessandro Nivola’s “Sopranos” time travel
There arguably few routes that are less glamorous than the ones that meander west from the Lincoln Tunnel to the New Jersey Turnpike and on to Newark. (Carbon monoxide vibes!) Unless you’re a fan of “The Sopranos,” then this gray trail takes on a mythical quality. “We should play that song,” actor Alessandro Nivola recently said as his car sped past North Jersey’s industrial chimneys, just as Tony Soprano did in the opening credits of the show. Nivola began to sing the first bars of the theme – a morning, a weapon – inconspicuous but with conviction.
Nivola, who is forty-nine years old, wore jeans and a gray button-down and a heavy silver ID bracelet. Next month he will star in The Many Saints of Newark, a “Sopranos” prequel 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 in of the series when the psychologically tortured Mafia boss starred). Although Nivola is partly Italian, his background is not Moltisanti-esque. “My grandfather, who was a sculptor, was originally from Sardinia and moved to New York in the 1940s,” said Nivola. “He and my grandmother lived a kind of bohemian existence in Greenwich Village, where my father was born, and it wasn’t exactly the mean streets of the outskirts.” Nivola’s father tried to hide his origins: “At boarding school he changed his name from Pietro in Pete. “He continued,” But when I was born he had rediscovered his Italian and I was saddled with the most Italian name in history. “
To prepare for the role of Dickie, a mafioso whose charisma hides a jumble of violent and tender instincts, Nivola spent months with a dialect trainer. (“Almost everyone can do the ‘Goodfellas’ imitation at this point, you know” – his voice slipped in briefly gabagool Territory – “and I wanted to be a lot more specific.” He also worked with a trainer. (“It’s never mentioned in the movie, but I figured, like many of these guys, Dickie might have been a boxer as a kid, and I’ve changed my body quite a bit to look more imposing.”) He delved into the culture, books read about Newark and explore local attractions. Now he wanted to visit one again, the Museum of the Old First Ward, a modest room on the grounds of St. Lucia’s Church.
On his phone, Nivola called up a picture of a stained-glass window taken on his previous visit that loosely inspired Richie (the boot) Boiardo, the mid-century mob boss whose criminal family David Chase once said had donated St. Lucy’s “The Sopranos”. “Originally the boots lived in Newark,” said Nivola. “He later moved to this amazing Livingston estate after mysteriously cashing in.” A church secretary who had heard of Nivola’s new film approached. “They filmed a scene from the show at my house – where Uncle Junior loses his nerve and he comes to a neighbor in his pajamas 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 was entrusted with curating the museum, wasn’t far behind. “Are you the son?” he asked.
“No, I play Dickie Moltisanti,” said Nivola.
“Father came here once,” Cascella continued undeterred. “I said to him, ‘Hello, Tony!’ And he laughed. I assume he did research. ”He led Nivola into the basement, where every inch of the wall was covered with photo displays. “I call them ‘concepts,'” said Cascella. “I am not trained. I don’t know, but that’s what I call her. ”He started his First Ward game: Wedding Ceremonies (“ I tell people, ‘You don’t have to be married in St. Lucy’s to get on this wall, you just have to one of the couples from the Ward! ‘”), social clubs, parties, doo-wop groups (” Here’s Pesci in one of them. He really paid his dues. Did you know he was a hairdresser? “). Cascella paused at an exhibition of pictures by Boiardo. “I grew up with people like ‘The Sopranos’ and they weren’t belittled in any way,” he said. “Most guys don’t bother anyone. They live on the same block, they walk around. My mother made a bet with a man, a bookmaker – he always took numbers from her! If you get money from them and don’t pay it back, what do you expect? It’s business! ”Cascella laughed, and Nivola joined in a little weakly. “Well, the killers, guys who are really crazy, that’s another matter. What’s his name on the show. Ralphie? The one who killed his pregnant girlfriend. ”(A harrowing plot point from season 3)“ That was now a ” nut. But most of the kids in this area could have been like Tony. Or they could have been like me. ”♦