Alessandro Nivola gave up and still won the role of "Many Saints"

The thump at the back of Alessandro Nivola’s head was getting more and more intense. It was in the fall of 2018 that he auditioned for ...


The thump at the back of Alessandro Nivola’s head was getting more and more intense.

It was in the fall of 2018 that he auditioned for the role of Dickie Moltisanti in “The Many Saints of Newark“, the prequel to” Sopranos, “and” I felt pretty sure I was on to something, “he said. Even though he wasn’t sure what that something was. .

Then after a lunch with David Chase, creator of the series, and Alan Taylor, director of the film, the full script arrived and the stakes exploded. It turned out that Dickie was the protagonist of the film, and Chase had been told he could choose whoever he wanted. And the word was that Chase wanted Nivola, who hadn’t made a movie of this magnitude in his nearly 25-year film career.

This is when the palpitations started. “I’ve been down this road so many times,” Nivola said, “and the number of disappointments I can’t count on 10 hands. “

So when a month went by without an offer – the noise in his head now impossible to ignore – he decided to end his misery. “Call them,” he asked his agents, “and tell them if they don’t tell me today, I’m out. “

Four hours later, in a bathroom on the first floor of the Chateau Marmont during a stopover in Los Angeles, he learned that Dickie was his. He locked himself in a stall and cried, stifled sobs of relief and release, for 10 minutes.

“You see, at some point you just have to put your foot down,” he told his people.

Only, they had not made the call. It was just his lucky day.

To hear Nivola, 49, say it, good fortune has been elusive. But one balmy September afternoon at Mulberry Street Bar in Little Italy, he gave off the scent of a man swimming in it. Sleek in an unusually warm suit he’d worn for a photoshoot (his stylist had kicked him off with his clothes), he radiated Dickie’s debonair charisma, minus most of his menacing side. James Gandolfini, the original Tony Soprano, glared at an overhead poster, but Nivola looked like a boss.

“The Many Saints of Newark” was positioned as Tony’s origin story, with Michel Gandolfini billed as the teenage version of her father’s iconic character. But the film is owned by Dickie, an explosive, tomcat gangster – long dead when Tony mythologized him in “The Sopranos” – who managed, despite his best efforts, to turn a basically decent kid into a tormented mafia hub. .

Chase had wanted to make a respectable gangster movie. “So there is no more Jimmy Gandolfini,” he said in an interview, “but we wanted someone who could, in his own way, be so criminally intelligent and charismatic.”

Dickie is more elegant, more beautiful, more stylish than Tony. “But he’s wearing the exact same set of tones,” said Taylor, the director, “which is that combination of soul searching and complete blindness, rage and regret.”

Nivola’s induction into the “Sopranos” family actually started with his shady attorney in “american unrestWhich impressed Chase and made him wonder, “Who is this guy and where was he?” I have to keep this in mind.

“So I kept that in mind,” Chase said, “and when that role came along he seemed like the perfect guy for it.”

Nivola ticked the boxes: Italian-American with an immigrant history – her grandfather a Sardinian sculptor who settled in the bohemian town of downtown Manhattan during the war, her father a Harvard graduate and fellow of the Brookings Institution – and an innate understanding of the language.

“When it came to Italian, swearing or whatever,” Chase said, “he has words and looks.”

And Nivola – a Boston-born Yale man who spent his elementary school years mostly in rural Vermont and high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire – had a blast. “On ‘The Sopranos’ I never went in that direction but I felt, well, we can’t blame the guy for being good looking,” Chase said. “He’s really good, and I knew he could deliver the right level of sinister.”

Taking these “Sopranos” colors, Nivola painted a Jekyll and Hyde, eager to remember having done something noble but driven by impulsive violence that even horrifies him.

Her performance was “perfect, every beat,” starting with her audition scenes, said Taylor, who had to resist trying to get Nivola to recreate her perfection when they actually started filming.

Nivola has been bringing it since his cinematic breakthrough in 1997 as Pollux Troy, the bizarre brother of Nicolas Cage’s terrorist in “Face / Off”. After which, he basically infiltrated.

“I was always drawn to roles that allowed me to hide and sink into another type of personality or behavior that looked like a disguise,” he said. “It has been the blessing and the curse of my entire career so far.”

Nivola skillfully changed form from character to character, with no obvious dividing line – the British frontman who lays a much older record producer in “Laurel Canyon,“The Orthodox Jew drawn into a love triangle in”Disobedience“, The whimsical sensei in”The art of self-defense. “

But along the way, disappointment with films that failed or weren’t even released, and a sense of entitlement to be asked to prove yourself over and over – isn’t it already? – gave rise to paralyzing nerves and depression. Eventually, he felt so uncomfortable auditioning in person that he quit completely.

“My most successful friends are kind of relentlessly positive,” Nivola said, quoting his wife, actress and director Emily Mortimer, and friend Ethan Hawke. “I try to be more like that but it’s not my nature.”

Then came “American Hustle” by David O. Russell. And after a humiliating seven-year hiatus when he quit auditioning but also stopped securing highly sought-after roles, he stepped forward to compete for the job.

Nivola had started to re-evaluate the way he wanted to work, choosing great directors over great roles. But Russell’s idiosyncratic style – writing a script and then shouting alternate lines at the actor in the middle of filming – left Nivola totally out of control. In an exciting way.

“It was a big turning point for me, where I completely surrendered to him,” he said. “And from that point on, I really liked that feeling. I wanted to give every director I worked with that power.

Whatever the reason Nivola hesitated or overthought before, Russell saw it fade away in favor of “enthusiastic inventiveness,” he wrote in an email. “I think he can do almost anything – he’s fearless. He takes what I wrote and makes it his own. We trust each other, which allows for risks and a lot of fun. “

“American Hustle” was also Nivola’s first film with Robert De Niro, whom he considers a mentor. “I mean, he might not describe himself that way,” he laughed, “but I insist.”

But it was watching him in motion on “The Wizard of Lies” – De Niro as Bernie Madoff and Nivola as his son Mark – that affected the way Nivola worked more than any other experience. He began to learn his dialogue very early so he could detach himself from the words. He started repeating phrases in the middle of scenes, like a reset, until he forgot he was acting.

“It’s almost like he’s playing music rather than saying lyrics,” Taylor said – though that sends the dolly team scrambling when he suddenly brings a scene back to the start. The director added, “A lot of times what comes out of his third iteration is who he was aiming for, and it really, really works.”

In September, the day after the premiere of “The Many Saints of Newark” at the Beacon Theater, Nivola, true to her habits, was delighted so cautious. Reviews of IndieWire, CNN and others distinguished his performance with phrases like “absolutely brilliant” and “riveting. “

“So far these are the best reviews I’ve ever had for a performance,” he wrote in an email, adding, “I try not to put too much or too little into it. stock.”

But back on Mulberry Street, Nivola had hinted that his moment of glory hadn’t fallen out of nowhere – not really. “To be honest, I had, before this opportunity, an intangible feeling that something like this was brewing,” he said hesitantly.

Yet unlike Dickie, he wasn’t ready to bet on his future. “I will never consider this film a success,” he added, “until I am proven otherwise.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Alessandro Nivola gave up and still won the role of "Many Saints"
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