At the heart of the character

Alessandro Nivola on his upcoming projects, The Many Saints Of Newark, and Gay Talese

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Alan Taylor’s The Many Saints Of Newark star Alessandro Nivola with Anne-Katrin Titze on Gay Talese: “He’s brilliant! I read a lot of his stuff"
Alan Taylor’s The Many Saints Of Newark star Alessandro Nivola with Anne-Katrin Titze on Gay Talese: “He’s brilliant! I read a lot of his stuff"

Star of Alan Taylor’s The Many Saints Of Newark (co-written by Lawrence Konner and David Chase, based on The Soprano characters created by Chase), Alessandro Nivola, in the first instalment spoke with me in great detail on his character Dickie Moltisanti, the influence of Gay Talese, and his many upcoming projects. Films in the pipeline include working with Keira Knightley, Carrie Coon, and Chris Cooper on Matt Ruskin’s Boston Strangler and Todd Haynes’s Peggy Lee biopic Fever with Michelle Williams.

Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti in The Many Saints Of Newark: "He [David Chase] wanted to tell a new story."
Alessandro Nivola as Dickie Moltisanti in The Many Saints Of Newark: "He [David Chase] wanted to tell a new story."

Earlier this year, Alessandro filmed again with his American Hustle director David O Russell and had a cameo in Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, which has his and Emily Mortimer’s children, Sam Nivola (the Neighborhood Watch director which screened in the With/In Vol II short programme at the 20th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival) and May Nivola, along with Raffey Cassidy playing the offspring of Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig. Alessandro is also hoping to start filming in spring 2022 Brady Corbet’s The Brutalist, co-written with Mona Fastvold, which was postponed in 2020 due to Covid.

From New York City, Alessandro Nivola joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on The Many Saints Of Newark, Gay Talese, and his upcoming projects.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hi! This December it’s actually eight years since our first Nivola Files conversation.

Alessandro Nivola: Wow, we should have a bottle of champagne or a cake.

AKT: Yes, we should, instead we have Covid tests. How are you otherwise? You’re doing okay?

Alessandro Nivola: “One of the main books that I used as research was this Gay Talese book, which is called Honor Thy Father.”
Alessandro Nivola: “One of the main books that I used as research was this Gay Talese book, which is called Honor Thy Father.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AN: Yeah, I’m good. I’m getting ready to start another movie in Boston with Keira Knightley and Chris Cooper and Carrie Coon. And then I’m going to do Todd Haynes’s movie, the Peggy Lee biopic, starting in March, with Michelle Williams, after I finish this one. It’s a busy few months coming up.

AKT: And you have been busy too. You did the new David O Russell movie?

AN: Yeah, I did the new David O Russell movie at the beginning of the year, which was really a great time. He’s the only director to ever hire me twice.

AKT: Really? That was when we met at Monkey Bar [at the American Hustle after-party] - another reason for champagne.

AN: Yes! Amazing cast and his way of working is so unorthodox and unusual. You probably would have to have an iron constitution to do it more than every few years. It’s really bracing in a great way. I find it some of the most intensely creative and wonderfully out of control feelings that I’ve ever had as an actor working with him. So I am grateful that I had a chance to do it again.

AKT: I want to talk about those out-of-control sentiments maybe in connection to The Many Saints of Newark as well. But I want to bring up one other film that I think you already finished filming, White Noise, the new Noah Baumbach film?

Alessandro Nivola at the Monkey Bar after-party for David O Russell’s American Hustle: “Amazing cast and his way of working is so unorthodox and unusual.”
Alessandro Nivola at the Monkey Bar after-party for David O Russell’s American Hustle: “Amazing cast and his way of working is so unorthodox and unusual.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AN: White Noise really stars my two children, who were snatched out of their school by Noah, who also went to their school when he was a kid. He called up the school and asked them if they had any talented young people there and he got interested in the two of them. And it seemed like it would be hard for us to say that they couldn’t do it and off they went.

They’re huge roles. It’s about a family, with Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig as the parents and my son Sam and my daughter May and Raffey Cassidy playing their children. They were filming from late May until Halloween, a really long shoot. An amazing film for them to have as their first real experience. I graced the production with a cameo. I got to be in a scene with my daughter.

AKT: And Sam is the filmmaker, who directed the short [Neighborhood Watch] you did during the first Covid lockdown!

AN: Yeah, which played at the Tribeca Film Festival.

AKT: Yes, I saw it there. Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise I actually wrote a paper about at University, called “Here we don’t die, we shop.”

AN: Oh really? Ha! I think it’s going to really be spectacular. Just from my impressions, it feels like it’s his most cinematic film to date. I don’t think Noah has really prioritised his camera in the past. The focus has been so much on the performances and on the characters and the script and the dialogue and this has all that as well, but it feels like it’s got a real cinematic style and is pulling on kind of noir elements and classic comedies as well. It just has a real look to it. It feels to me like his most ambitious movie.

Alessandro Nivola on Gay Talese’s writing: “I’ve also read that Frank Sinatra profile that he did, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.”
Alessandro Nivola on Gay Talese’s writing: “I’ve also read that Frank Sinatra profile that he did, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: I’m very much looking forward to seeing it. Now, let’s get to Dickie Moltisanti, all the many saints in one performance. First of all congratulations, I thought it was terrific. As I wrote to you, there are so many layers to this character. Were you a big Sopranos fan when it was on TV? Did you have an idea or no?

AN: No, I never watched it before being sent the script. I obviously knew that it was such an important show and that it changed television and everything. I loved the actors who were in it, in particular Michael Imperioli. I had seen so much of his other work outside of the show and Gandolfini was clearly a legend. But I hadn’t seen it and I understood that it was really about that world at a time that had moved on from the classic era of the Sixties with the Scorsese movies and all that to a time where everything had gotten suburban and the glamour had kind of gone out of it.

And this relationship that he has with his therapist was the first time that a mob movie had that treatment, where somebody who is a pathological murderer could have an ongoing relationship with a shrink. All those elements to me seemed really interesting and cool and unusual and obviously captured the imagination of the whole world and I just hadn’t come around to watching it. When it came out I was a young actor in New York, I didn’t have cable TV, so I never got hooked from the start of it. And it wasn’t until I was preparing for this movie that I watched it all.

AKT: I think the film works perfectly without knowing anything about the Sopranos.

Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) at dinner with his wife Joanne (Gabriella Piazza) and father ’Hollywood Dick' Moltisanti (Ray Liotta), and Dick’s wife Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi): “The father/son relationship to me is what the whole thing is all about.”
Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) at dinner with his wife Joanne (Gabriella Piazza) and father ’Hollywood Dick' Moltisanti (Ray Liotta), and Dick’s wife Giuseppina (Michela De Rossi): “The father/son relationship to me is what the whole thing is all about.”

AN: It was definitely David’s intension. He in a way wanted this movie to be a Trojan horse that was allowed to exist only because of the series, but that really was trying to be a film with a self-contained story. Obviously there were references to the show but the fact that he centered the story around my character who didn’t exist in the series - he was dead before the series began - I think is pretty revealing. He wanted to tell a new story.

AKT: The idea of fathers is all important here. This wonderful split. I’m speaking a bit in code now - you set the fire and look on at what you had just done. You have this little kiss curl in your hair and Dickie is a child all of a sudden.

AN: Yeah, one of the main books that I used as research was this Gay Talese book, which is called Honor Thy Father. It’s this amazing chronicle of the Bonanno crime family. It’s all about the relationship between the father Joe Bonanno and his son who was kind of groomed to take over the family business and all the pressure that comes out of it and the complicated relationship he had with his father. He’s brilliant! I don’t know if you’ve ever read any of his stuff?

AKT: Yes, I have. Gay’s a dear friend of mine.

AN: You’re kidding me? Are you serious? Wow! I read a lot of his stuff. I’ve also read that Frank Sinatra profile that he did, Frank Sinatra Has A Cold. But this book was very important for all the reasons that you’re describing. The father/son relationship to me is what the whole thing is all about.

Alessandro Nivola on Brady Corbet’s The Brutalist, co-written with Mona Fastvold: “That movie we were meant to film a year ago but everything got derailed by Covid …”
Alessandro Nivola on Brady Corbet’s The Brutalist, co-written with Mona Fastvold: “That movie we were meant to film a year ago but everything got derailed by Covid …” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

The cycles of violence and my relationship with my dad in the film is so complicated because I want to impress him and I love him, but he abused me, he beat me up as a kid and he beat my mom up, so I want to kill him as well. Those kind of warring impulses are at the heart of the character. Then of course I have this surrogate father relationship with Tony where I’m trying to be the kind of father to him that my father wasn’t to me. And I am childless and I fail miserably.

AKT: I also saw that you are doing something with Brady [Corbet] and Mona [Fastvold]?

AN: That movie we were meant to film a year ago but everything got derailed by Covid and so it’s coming back together for late spring. I’ll probably go into that right after the Todd Haynes movie.

AKT: You’re at home now in Brooklyn?

AN: Yeah I’m at home now, I’ll head up to Boston on Tuesday [December 5] and then I’m going to film up there until Christmas. Then we’ll have Christmas in the U.K. with my wife’s family and then I go back up there in January.

AKT: Great to talk to you as always.

AN: It’s been too long, we’re going to do another one soon. We’ll catch up after I come back from the Peggy Lee movie.

AKT: Did you see The Velvet Underground that Todd did?

The Many Saints Of Newark poster
The Many Saints Of Newark poster

AN: Yeah, amazing, I knew Lou Reed a little bit. He bought the house across the street from my grandparents’ house on Long Island. In fact, he moved in, he saw the house and he told me that he loved everything in that house.

And he bought everything in that house, all the paintings on the walls, all the furniture. He used to come over sometime; my grandfather was a sculptor and he was dead by the time that Lou bought that house. He was very curious about his artwork and he came over to be shown the studio and so we had a couple of encounters over the years before he died, which was great.

AKT: It’s Ed Lachman who is the cinematographer on the Peggy Lee film?

AN: I don’t know actually. I haven’t discussed all that yet with Todd. Are you seeing that on IMDb, then it must be true?

AKT: No, I spoke with Ed in the context of The Velvet Underground film.

AN: Oh, alright, the only thing I know honestly is me and Michelle and Todd. I’m sure he’ll have his usual crew. We’ll film in Cincinnati in March.

AKT: Thank you, looking forward.

AN: Let’s stay in touch! I’ll keep you abreast of everything!

AKT: Please do and say hi to your family!

AN: I will! Take care!

Coming up - Alessandro Nivola on who split Ray Liotta in two, needing a shrink, shooting on the beach, doubling, being in the zone, the David O. Russell technique, and “a great surreal moment, very Sopranos-esque.”

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