At the request of his dad, Michael Gandolfini wasn’t going to go Hollywood. But after the Sopranos star suddenly died from a heart attack during a family vacation, Michael signed up for acting lessons to help him heal. And that’s all it took to realize this was how he’d carry on his father’s dream. Now, as fate would have it, he’s set to star as a young Tony Soprano in the HBO drama’s prequel, The Many Saints on Newark.
Yet, having never seen an episode—Michael was born the year The Sopranos debuted in 1999—his preparation meant sitting down and studying his dad, a painful yet cathartic experience. In one scene, “he sits by his son’s bed and says, ‘I couldn’t ask for a better son,'” Michael, 22, recalled to Esquire. “I just knew he was talking to me.”