As creator of “The Sopranos,” David Chase has proven he’s very much attuned to the ins and outs of making a hit. But that was TV. The target he’s truly setting his sights on is film, and he’s about to deliver on his first contract with “Not Fade Away.”
As creator of “The Sopranos,” David Chase has proven he’s very much attuned to the ins and outs of making a hit. But that was TV. The target he’s truly setting his sights on is film, and he’s about to deliver on his first contract with “Not Fade Away,” a semiautobiographical look at what it was like growing up in a “loving” New Jersey family working overtime trying to stifle his creativity.
Think of the movie, which opens Friday, as a nonviolent, second cousin of his iconic TV show, with an aspiring teenage rock drummer taking the stead of a bipolar mob boss. And just like Tony Soprano, the ambitions of Chase’s protagonist, Douglas (newcomer John Magaro), are constantly being thwarted by a backward-thinking parent, in this case, Douglas’ dad, superbly played by Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.
During a stop in Boston earlier this month to promote the film, Chase, 67, said “Not Fade Away” (the title an ode to the Buddy Holly tune made famous by The Rolling Stones) indulges his biggest passions – music, film and massively dysfunctional kinfolk – in much the same way “The Sopranos” did. And like the cable classic, which nabbed 21 Emmys during an eight-year run, it offers Chase the opportunity to satirize the oppressiveness of the family unit.
“Just like there was a lot of my mother in ‘The Sopranos,’ there’s a lot of my father in this,” Chase said, adding that his skirmishes with his antagonistic mom and dad were often typical of children of parents who grew up during the Depression.
“They gave us everything materialistically, but they didn’t give us the freedom to think for ourselves,” he said. “And I think they felt badly used. My mother and father dreamed of me going to college and becoming a lawyer. And then have it lost to drugs, long hair, sex and all that, I’m sure they just didn’t get it. It was such a rejection of everything they tried to instill.” But, boy, have those experiences proven profitable. He made countless millions off them on “The Sopranos,” not to mention even more valuable clout.
“When I finished with ‘The Sopranos,’ I had stored up enough capital to get a movie made,” said Chase, who calls "Not Fade Away” the culmination of a lifelong dream. “So Brad Grey, who worked with me on ‘The Sopranos’ and is now the head of Paramount Studios, made a deal with me to write anything I wanted. He said he would read it and if he liked it, we would make it.”
But as proud as he is of his first film, Chase said he didn’t initially set out to make a coming-of-age yarn about a self-destructive rock band taking its cues from a couple of lads named Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. What he really wanted to do was a suspense yarn. But when that didn’t work out, he looked inward and began writing about the pivotal moment in his life when, like Douglas, he decided to turn his back on music and focus fully on pictures.
“When I realized my wanting to be a musician wasn’t really happening, I started going to movies,” the New Jersey native recalled. “I moved to New York City and started going to foreign films. And once I started seeing them, I noticed that behind a lot of these movies was a separate, solo voice. Then (in 1966), I went to see ‘Cul-de-sac,’ a (Roman) Polanski movie, and that sort of sold me, because I began to think it could be interesting to do something like that.”
Little did he know that it would be 45 years until he finally got the chance. Which makes the fruition of his dream even sweeter. But it certainly wasn’t easy. And that’s particularly true of the casting, which Chase conducted with his old “Sopranos’ " pal, Steve Van Zandt, aka Silvio Dante, or, more familiarly known as Bruce Springsteen’s guitarist in The E Street Band.
“We originally wanted to do it with musicians who could act, but we only could find one guy that way, and that was Brahm Vaccarella on bass,” Chase said. “But for the three principal guys, the musicians weren’t cutting it in the acting department. So we had to cast in the traditional way and it took a long time. They (Magaro, Jack Huston and Will Brill) could not play music at all, so we had to teach them. Fortunately, under Steven’s tutelage, they were able to play pretty respectfully in three months’ time.
“Steve was extremely valuable to me, not only for his music connections (getting the Stones and other big acts from the 1960s to let Chase use their songs), but just for his love of the subject, and his knowledge of the subject. He produced all the (original) music and he wrote the song “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” for the band, which is a really great song.”
Chase, who almost single-handedly revived the near dormant career of Journey by using their “Don’t Stop Believing” for the divisive final scene of “The Sopranos,” could do the same for some rather obscure acts from the 1960s, like The Left Banke and The Small Faces, whose songs “Pretty Ballerina” and "Itchycoo Park,” respectively, are certain to pique new interest.
“I’ve been saving up both of those for a long time,” said Chase, who still prefers rock’s heyday from the 1960s over today’s music. “Rock ’n’ roll has kind of shunned its black roots. The Stones and Zeppelin were not embarrassed to play black music. I think guys now, from a standpoint of political correctness or whatever, don’t go there. Steven Van Zandt will be the first to tell you that because of that, they don’t really learn the basics. But you also need to remember that something was discovered by the Stones, Led Zeppelin and the others, and that discovery can only happen once.” Chase also admits to not having an affinity for network TV, even though he made his fortune off the medium.
“I had a lot of good years working in television. And I worked for a lot of really talented people on a lot of shows that I’m very proud of. But the overall picture is not very satisfying,” he said. “It’s stultifying, it’s rigid, it’s anemic in its creativity. It’s just the way broadcast television is. I was fortunate to work on some of the better shows (including “Rockford Files” and “Northern Exposure”), but all you have to do is sit through three or four of those (executive) meetings and you get the idea about just how bad it is. There’s almost a hatred for experimentation, there’s a hatred for any kind of intellectual or spiritual content. They don’t care about quality, they just care about the number of eyeballs watching.”
Still, Chase said he’s proud of the accomplishments of two of his lieutenants from “The Sopranos”: Matt Weiner, creator of “Mad Men,” and Terence Winter, creator of “Boardwalk Empire.” Heck, even Chase is thinking about getting back into TV with a show called “Ribbon of Dreams,” set in and around the early days of moviemaking. “I’m working on that now,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s going to go forward. I’ll have to write the script first, and HBO will have to read it. Then we’ll decide.” As for the question he’s surely sick of answering: No, there will be no “Sopranos” movie.
“The more time that goes by, I’m less likely to make it,” he said. “Everybody’s getting older, the kids are adults now, and it wouldn’t be the same. Also, I can’t make a movie that takes place after that last episode (A clue that Tony was offed in that famous cut-to-black shot?). I could do a prequel, but everybody is going different places and doing different things. It would just be too difficult.”