David Chase’s trendsetting TV masterpiece The Sopranos is the latest acclaimed drama series to return in the feature-length medium. Unlike the movie spin-offs of Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey, The Many Saints of Newark doesn’t bring back any actors from the flagship series (except for an enigmatic vocal cameo by Michael Imperioli).
But there are still plenty of familiar faces from The Sopranos. Iconic characters like Livia, Junior, and even Tony play prominent roles in the film. The cast’s performances as younger versions of Sopranos characters range from spot-on to forgettable.
Samson Moeakiola As Salvatore Bonpensiero
Samson Moeakiola appears in The Many Saints of Newark as a younger version of Salvatore Bonpensiero, better known by his crass nickname “Big P*ssy.” He plays a major role in the series as an FBI informant, but only makes a cameo appearance in The Many Saints of Newark.
Comedian Joey Diaz overshadows Moeakiola as Sal’s father, Buddha. Diaz, who has told countless Sopranos-esque stories from his own life in his hugely popular appearances on The Joe Rogan Experience, deftly blends into the world of Tony Soprano.
Billy Magnussen As Paulie Walnuts
Paulie only appears on the fringes of The Many Saints of Newark. He doesn’t have his own subplot and he isn’t the focus of any scene, so it would’ve been tough to make this performance stand out. Young Paulie is played by Billy Magnussen, who isn’t a very good physical match for Tony Sirico.
Magnussen recently gave a terrific supporting turn in No Time to Die, but his Many Saints of Newark appearance is pretty forgettable. Sirico has a very distinctive voice that Magnussen can’t quite replicate.
Alexandra Intrator As Janice Soprano
In The Many Saints of Newark, Tony’s sister Janice is not yet the recognizable hothead played spectacularly by Aida Turturro in The Sopranos. Throughout the movie, she forges a strong but distant relationship with Tony that sets up their strained dynamic from the series.
Alexandra Intrator is an uncanny match for a younger Turturro, and she shares convincing chemistry with her on-screen brother Michael Gandolfini.
Jon Bernthal As Johnny Soprano
Tony’s father Johnny Soprano only appeared in a few brief flashbacks throughout The Sopranos, usually framed through the eyes of a young, naive Tony. So, Jon Bernthal had a pretty blank canvas in portraying the character in The Many Saints of Newark.
Bernthal’s masterfully controlled performance mirrors James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony in interesting ways, showing which qualities the future mob boss inherited from his father. He nails the hot Soprano temper as well as the dry comedic deliveries during yelling matches.
John Magaro As Silvio Dante
While there are countless dramatic forces behind The Many Saints of Newark’s midpoint time jump, writers David Chase and Lawrence Konner also used the time jump to hilariously explain Silvio Dante’s hair. He’s proudly balding in the first half of the movie, then wears his familiar hairpiece after the time jump in the second half.
This visual gag is Silvio’s primary involvement in the movie, but John Magaro’s performance is spot-on. He perfectly recreates Steven Van Zandt’s exaggerated facial expressions and hunched style of walking.
Corey Stoll As Junior Soprano
In The Sopranos, Uncle Junior is the de facto head of the DiMeo crime family, suffering from countless medical problems in his advancing age. In The Many Saints of Newark, he hasn’t yet taken over the organization.
Corey Stoll plays the younger Junior as more mobile and youthful than Dominic Chianese, but just as bitter and curmudgeonly. Stoll is a recognizable actor, but he disappears into the role. The movie culminates in the first of many cold-hearted decisions that will eventually lead Junior to the top of the DiMeo crime family.
Michael Gandolfini As Tony Soprano
James Gandolfini’s portrayal of Tony Soprano is one of the most celebrated and iconic acting performances of all time. Tony went on to influence the antiheroes of every Sopranos-inspired TV drama that followed in the next decade. Gandolfini left a pair of gigantic shoes to fill, and they could’ve only been filled by the late actor’s son, Michael Gandolfini.
The younger Gandolfini doesn’t just copy his father’s performance; he embodies the same role at a different point in his life. Long before he was a fearsome mob boss, Tony was a naive kid surrounded by terrible adult role models. James Gandolfini’s Tony talked down to people, but Michael Gandolfini’s Tony gets talked down to.
Vera Farmiga As Livia Soprano
Without a doubt, The Many Saints of Newark’s strongest performance as a Sopranos character is Vera Farmiga as Tony and Janice’s mother Livia. She gets Nancy Marchand’s vocal inflections just right and also nails the character’s erratic temper. Her scene with Tony in the kitchen, a half-hearted attempt to connect with her son, is one of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the movie.
Farmiga also adds an interesting layer to Tony’s character by drawing parallels with Edie Falco’s portrayal of Carmela, suggesting Tony married a woman just like his mother.