William Ludwig young tony soprano

Interview: William Ludwig on Playing Young Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark

October 1 will see the release of The Many Saints of Newark in theaters and on HBO Max. A prequel to the legendary television series The Sopranos, the film stars Michael Gandolfini in the lead role as Tony Soprano. However, the film also sees William Ludwig (check out his Instagram) as a younger version of Tony. ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese had a chance to speak with Ludwig about The Many Saints of Newark, how casting went, and the pressure of playing young Tony Soprano.

Tyler Treese: The Many Saints of Newark is such an exciting film. How did this role come together and what was the audition process like for you?

William Ludwig: That’s a great question. I had been auditioning for two years and then this audition came around and it was really interesting because it wasn’t like any audition I’d been on before, because I walked in and they normally have you stand up like behind this big blue wall. But this casting director, Deborah Dion, who’s so nice and amazing, sat me down in this chair. And I sat back and then we started reading the lines and I think she started to feel a connection with me and we started talking more. She gave me a little bit of direction and told me to be a little bit more dramatic, a little bit more excited. And then we moved on to my favorite scene, which is the F-word scene where I say a bunch of F-words.

And we started talking more so she could give me a little bit more direction and it was like a 15-minute audition, which never happens. They’re usually at most like three minutes long. And after the audition, she came out and she talked to my mom and that was another thing that never happens. And it was really cool and it was looking up. And then, two weeks later I was like, “I probably didn’t get it.” And I was sitting down doing my math homework, and my mom comes in with her phone recording and an envelope and she hands it to me. And it reads with the Sopranos big title on the front, “Congratulations. You booked the role of young Tony in The Many Saints of Newark Sopranos prequel movie. We’re so F’n excited for you.”

For somebody my age, The Sopranos has such reverence and you’re obviously much younger. So before this role came around, how much did you really know about The Sopranos? I don’t imagine you were allowed to watch it. Were you?

Yeah, it ended the year I was born, which is crazy to think about.

When we got the audition, it was “Untitled New Jersey Project” and it said “Michael Gandolfini lookalike.” And so we did a little bit of researching and we figured out that it was the Sopranos prequel movie. And so my parents got excited, obviously. My parents got excited and I was like, “What’s this Sopranos?” They like, “It’s this awesome, legendary show about Italian mobsters and family.” And my dad sat down with me and we watched a few episodes of the show, obviously skipping past a lot of big parts and covering my eyes. I had to learn his mannerisms like how he hunches his back like this and sort of get a feel for the accent and his rolled lips and stuff. After I booked the role, we watched the whole first season together, my mom, my dad and I, and then we watched a few extra episodes throughout the series and I got a really good feel for how Tony is as an adult. And so the challenge was then to figure out how to portray him as this kid.

James Gandolfini’s role as Tony Soprano was legendary. So after your parents explained to you and you saw the show, was there a lot of pressure because you’re playing such an iconic character?

Stepping into the shoes of Tony Soprano was honestly pretty terrifying at first, but pretty much the instant I booked the role, Michael Gandolfini, who plays teenage Tony, reached out to me. And he really helped me feel a lot better about stepping into these big shoes, because he explained to me what Tony means to people and how we can portray Tony and do a really good job.

I did want to ask you about Michael because I saw that you thanked him for embracing you as his younger self. What did it mean for you to have that contact with Michael Gandolfini and for him to take you under his wing and fully support you?

From the beginning, he always referred to Tony as “our character,” which was really generous because I know this means a lot to him and his family. And personally, all I wanted to do was make Michael proud of me and make him feel happy with what we did together.

William Ludwig interview
(Photo by Arturo Holmes/WireImage)

I saw some of the set photos of you throwing a football around and I was like, “Wow. This is what I’d imagine Tony Soprano to look like.” It blew me away. You were playing football with Jon Bernthal. He’s such an incredible actor. How was it like working with him?

Jon Bernthal is just so nice. He’s such a big guy, so he’s a little bit intimidating, but once you get to know him, you realize he’s got this nice side. He’s such a great actor and he gets into his character so much when we’re filming. But then right after they cut, he goes back to being like, “Hey, how’s it going? It’s good to see you.” And he’ll give you a little side hug and rough you up a little bit. And he’s such a classic guy. It was really amazing working with Jon Bernthal.

There are so many great actors involved in this film and like Ray Liotta. You got some great career advice from him. How was it like with him?

I did. I got some amazing advice from Ray Liotta. I don’t have very many scenes with him, but one day he was talking with me and he gave me this really valuable piece of advice. And he said to not take yourself too seriously, because all we’re doing is we’re putting some gel in our hair or dressing up and we’re playing pretend, and that’s all we’re doing. It’s just an awesome job. And we should be grateful for what we’re doing. And we’re not special because we can talk in an accent. We’re just having fun. That’s our job.

You brought it up, so about the accent. How difficult was it? How was it like working with a coach for getting that accent down?

Kohli Calhoun was the dialect coach for this movie and she’s just so awesome and nice and amazing. She really taught me like how Tony’s face looks when he talks, like how his lips are in a circle and how he kind of scrunches his face up like this. She taught me how to say the F-word right in an Italian accent. She would have me go around the house and point to certain things and be like, “F’n computer! F’n phone! F’n table! F’n dog!” And my parents weren’t exactly thrilled about that. They would be like, “Really? Do you have to say it so much?” I was like, “Hey, I’m just doing my work, guys. I’m sorry.”

Did that get you in trouble? Were you just like, “I’m just doing my F’n work!”

Exactly! That’s what I always said. And my little brother was also very excited. My little brother, Jack Jack. He would always want to run lines with me. He’d be like, “Hey, can I run lines with William, please?” And they were like, “Yeah, OK.” And he would be like, “Can we do the F-word scene, please, please, please?” I would like, “Yeah, let’s do it!” And our parents wouldn’t like it.

Amazing. This sounds like such a fun experience to film. I read you play a lot of video games and I’m a huge gamer. What do you usually play?

I was really into playing Red Dead Redemption 2 a lot. I was playing that a lot during the quarantine. I have like $4,000 now and I’m really proud of that. I grinded. But I just recently started playing ARMA 3 with my friend and we’re really getting into that game now. We’re making our own game modes and like doing prefabs and stuff, and it’s really fun.

This is such a huge feature film to be in, especially for your first feature. You’ve done TV work before. Did the process of shooting a film surprise you any? Or was it mostly similar?

What surprised me the most was seeing how much work goes into just one shot. Like there’s costume, hair and makeup, a director has to figure out what the shot is going to be like, the director of photography. There are the PAs who are probably some of the most helpful people on site. They help a lot. But just to get to saying “Action!” takes so much work. It was really interesting to see that whole process

Your dog tried to make a cameo earlier, so I have to ask. Tell me a bit about your dog.

He’s a really fat, chunky yellow lab. He’s got a lot of extra skin and so you could literally pull up his skin and he looks like a stegosaurus. His ears are so big. We’ll call him “Dumbo” sometimes because he’s really stupid. His name is Bo and he has really big ears.

Without going into spoilers, obviously, did any scenes really stand out for you about the film? Anything that was a lot of fun to film?

I did really like filming the F-word scene a lot. That scene was actually in front of Holstein’s, which I think will resonate with a lot of Sopranos fans. And another really interesting scene is the scene between Alessandro Nivola who plays Dickie Moltisanti. In Tony’s bedroom, there’s a really intense heart-to-heart scene. And it really shows the relationship between Dickie and Tony and how they’re connected and how Dickie has so much influence on Tony.

David Chase is a legendary director. How was it like receiving direction from him and working with him?

Working with Mr. Chase was just so rewarding because he’s tough guy to impress. I’ll be honest. There was this one day where we didn’t have very much ad-libbing available because he picked out all these words so specifically and placed them in the script. But this one day he came up to me, it was the F-word scene, and he goes, “Hey, William, instead of saying ‘high school,’ how would you say ‘F’n high school?’ You know?” And I went like, “Yeah. OK. That’s great.” So I had an extra F-word to say. I was very proud of myself.

I’m so excited for this film, but I think most of all, you’ve built it up so much, I’m excited to hear you say the F-word in the film.

I am excited for people to see the movie and to hear the F-word.


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