David Chase on why he wrote The Sopranos: & # 39; I needed help. I needed therapy & # 39; | Television and radio


Tthe first image that David Chase had in mind for the show that became The Sopranos was a close-up of Tony Soprano who opened his eyes, "wake up for the day". That scene ended up falling into the pilot later. The opening scene, as all the super fans of the show will happily inform you, looks at Tony watching a sculpture in the hall of a therapist's appearance with bewildered rage. The show is 20 years old this year, and if that makes you feel old, "think about how I feel," says creator David Chase, who, at 74, looks fierce, with raised black eyes and the intense and long-lasting air of the protagonist whose name has become synonymous with his own.

If The Sopranos was revolutionary in its debut two decades ago, it now occupies an even rarer category: a show that has become more admired and loved over time. So far The Guardian has named The Sopranos the best television program of the century and its influence continues to be felt on visualization platforms that did not exist at the time of its conception. The prestigious television series, which is twisted like a Russian novel but works like a soap opera, sets the tone for the boom in high-quality programming – fun, intelligent, well-observed and immensely compelling – that has reinvented form.

Chase conceived The Sopranos after decades of screenplays for online shows such as The Rockford Files and Northern Exposure. He was completely surprised when Fox refused the idea. "They don't trust their audience at all," he says. The Sopranos were too indeterminate; it's not just a mafia drama but a mafia comedy, though it's fun. In terms of character development, it's too slow for the tastes of the network. And then it was Tony himself. "I think they were afraid of it. Why would you like this guy? "

"Tony is too fat, he's too rough" … David Chase. Photography: Ali Smith / The Guardian

The Sopranos ended up at HBO. Surprisingly, Chase thinks it would be difficult to commission today, despite the fact that, after six seasons and 86 episodes, the change in public tastes is credited. "In this landscape? Sure, "he says." Tony Soprano is too fat. He's too crude. Who cares about New Jersey? I've seen these guys before. "C & # 39; it's a long pause. "It's not dystopic enough. Everything seems to be dystopic now, and it isn't." Furthermore, I suggest, no one on television can predict what will work.

"Exactly, exactly. They buy something and then hate it. They hate everything they buy. They are all excited when they buy it, spend a week and then hate it. They hated Seinfeld. Everything."

We're in Chase's office in midtown Manhattan, where he is working on his new project, The Many Saints of Newark: a prequel movie from The Sopranos set in 1967 that follows Tony and the other protagonists as young people. The young Tony will be played by James Gandolfini's son, Michael. Chase initially wanted to work in the cinema; until his show changed the balance of power, he and almost everyone else in Hollywood considered TV the inferior medium. Now that his desire has come true, he finds himself, with effortless pessimism, missing some elements of the HBO experience. "It made me appreciate the fact that we could write so quickly, on command, for a deadline. A bit like journalism. Take it out. "Is making a film distressing? "Yes. I read the other day that Alfonso Cuarón wrote Rome in six days or something." He seems immensely depressed. "I could never do it."

Tony's childhood return was a strange experience. At the end of filming, The Sopranos, Chase and James Gandolfini, who died in 2013, were completely sick of one another. "He was tired of me, for sure. And I was a little tired of him. But then we continued to make a film together (2012) do not fade away) and things were going well. It has been refreshed. "Even after two decades, Chase's interest in the show's background, even if revisiting the characters was not easy. Not only is the film set in a different era, but the setting – the center of Newark, unlike the suburbs of New Jersey where Chase grew up – is not familiar.To tell the story of Tony's childhood, Chase goes beyond his own experience than he did while inventing some of the more extravagant plots of the series.

Watch a trailer for the 1 series of The Sopranos

The common factor, of course, is the psychological acuity with which Chase writes. The success of The Sopranos lies in the immediately recognizable relationship between Tony and his toxic mother Livia, which Chase based on his relationship with his mother. Tony's sense of mid-career burnout also drew on Chase's own experience, although when he first reviews the first episodes, what strikes him is how young Gandolfini was – only 35 in the pilot. "I see him now and he looks like a child."

It was Gandolfini's charm, Chase says, that justified the popularity of the show so much, in particular the complicated act of convincing the public to sympathize with a killer. "I could tell you a million reasons, but one of them, I'm pretty sure, is that Jim Gandolfini was a magnet. He was impeccable. His eyes are sad. They are alive. His problems are our problems."

Chase's mother had already died when she wrote The Sopranos; he doubts that he could have written the show if it was still around. Looking back, he thinks he has exaggerated in characterizing his childhood as bad. In fact, he was largely happy, a childhood in which he was "free to wander and do what I wanted. Break the windows. "His father owned a hardware store and his mother, though difficult, didn't interfere too much in her life at that point. She wrote about her before the Sopranos, she says, and" she didn't recognize herself. I did an episode of The Rockford Files which was a bit like The Sopranos, about an Italian mother and her son who is a hit man. They would abandon him so that the mafia boss would give her a home. It was a similar tone. He didn't understand. "

Was she proud of her television career? "Not particularly. She didn't understand. My mother was fantastic to say," Who do you think you are? "I took her to the airport once in Los Angeles and we were waiting for the plane. said: "Have you ever eaten Thai food?" At the time I was crazy about Thai food. She said no. I said, "Oh, it's fantastic." She said "- Chase's tone sharpens in sarcasm -" "Oh really? You're becoming a real man of the world. "" He shakes his head. "And his last words for me when he got on the plane were:" Don't get too arrogant "."

The doctor will fear you now ... Gandolfini with Lorraine Bracco as therapist Dr. Jennifer Melfi.

The doctor will fear you now … Gandolfini with Lorraine Bracco as therapist Dr. Jennifer Melfi. Photography: HBO / Rex / Shutterstock

One of the mistakes Chase says he made while writing the original The Sopranos pilot was trying to make it appealing to the tastes of the net: "It was a mafia show but I hadn't killed anyone. And I think it could have been one of the reasons for which was not sold. "For a while, he was happy to publish formula scripts in hit shows with a large mainstream audience, partly because he was so well paid. "I mean, that's the problem: the money. The money was attractive, especially when you're raising a family. And I was lucky to work with people who did shows that were not disgusting to work."

Still, "there was always a grain of something else, which bothered me. I didn't think I was right for that medium. I was very lucky, but I was never happy, never happy. "

In part this was due to the wild nature of Chase. But he also challenged the most absurd notes that came from network executives. "I remember once in The Rockford Files, we had a meeting before the start of the season. And the guy who was our new network connection provided us with a list of ideas for the story they'd like to see for the season. One was Jim's real daughter, Gigi, she's kidnapped and Jim has to go look for her. Another was a child who remained in Jim's doorway. Such stuff. "He shakes his head in a fantastic way. "Is absurd."

Don't be too arrogant ... Nancy Marchand as Tony's mother, Livia.

Don't be too arrogant … Nancy Marchand as Tony's mother, Livia. Photography: HO / Reuters

Much of Chase's work is based on characters, and his first idea for The Sopranos was born from the central dynamic between Tony and "the mother who was problematic and sent to a nursing home; she was his real enemy. This was the first thought: I had had that idea for a movie, but at the time my agent told me that mafia comedies weren't happening, so I put it aside. " he was asked if he was interested in making a TV version of The Godfather, Chase refused – "because it was done" – but revived his interest in his idea of ​​the mafia. "I was thinking, not The Godfather, but I have that thing on boy going to therapy. Maybe I'll try. "

A gangster in therapy was a fun idea, but Chase didn't see her as crazy. He himself had been saved by therapy; without it, he would almost certainly drive his wife, Denise Kelly, with whom he was married for almost 50 years: "He saved my life". He first saw a therapist when he was 31, after the death of his wife's sister a brain aneurysm. Kelly was in mourning, but upon returning from the funeral, all Chase could do was complain about how terrible his mother had been. It had been pretty awful; when he phoned her to give the news of his sister-in-law's death, "he said," she died for what? "I said," A brain aneurysm. "He said," See David? He was too smart. ""

His mother's answer was obviously obvious. "My wife had lost her sister and all I could talk about was my parents and the problems they created for me. I was just selfish. And my wife told me, "You need help." "He has been on and off therapy for years and says he has helped him immeasurably, although he is still constitutionally inclined to be" gnawed to death by doubt "- the main antidote to which is his wife." It's not that it is Rebecca from Sunnybrook Farm is not a Pollyanna. But it is not subject to this infinite sad and negative terror. He doesn't think so. "

"Jim was a magnet" … Chase and Gandolfini in 1999. Photo: Jill Connelly / Associated Press

These days, Chase understands that happiness is a moving target. At the height of the success of The Sopranos, life was pretty good – even the pressure was thrilling, compared to the rather problematic ease of his life now. "You just had to go on; you had a deadline. Today, when I write, it reaches the point where, if I don't like it, I throw it aside and don't finish it. There is nothing to force me to finish it. "

It is one of the reasons why he likes to direct; leaves no room for doubt. "I have difficulty making decisions. Should I have the veal cutlet, should I have something else? Waiter! I'm going to change my order! But by managing, you need to make decisions quickly. "

The only thing Chase has no anxiety about is the endless ending of the Sopranos. He concluded the show with a precise degree of ambiguity that honored the subtleties of the previous six series, although his lack of resolution left some spectators complaining about wanting to close. "I would say that there is more symmetry than it looks," he says. But the final point of the finale was to avoid wrapping it up too neatly.

Chase's upward trend evaporates when it comes to new projects and seems anxious again. Writing the prequel was fun – and even the usual nightmare. "I'm like that," he says grimly. "I worry about the future. I worry: will it be okay? "He furrows his forehead with a pinch of amusement at his absurdity and says:" It comes from my mother ".

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