In the world of “The Sopranos,” there’s family, and then there’s “family” — those hard-won, deep-seated mob ties that make spiritual relations of every member of the Italian American mafia. Over the course of six seasons, that acclaimed HBO drama introduced us to several dozen members of New Jersey’s powerful DiMeo crime family, including its brilliant and fascinating kingpin, Tony Soprano, and the various uncles, cousins, rivals and lovers who fill out the engrossing drama of the character’s fraught, volatile life.
“The Many Saints of Newark” is a prequel, set roughly 30 years before the start of the show, beginning in the late 1960s and spanning half a decade. Billed as a Tony Soprano origin story, it instead focuses largely on Dickie Moltisanti, a close friend and associate of the family who, seeing great potential in Tony, takes the young Soprano boy under his wing.
“Many Saints” is a treat for “Sopranos” fans, full of subtle references to series lore and answers to longstanding questions, and it’s a delight to see younger versions of familiar faces. But the movie doesn’t make much of an effort to explain characters or their relationships to the uninitiated, and if it’s been a while since your last “Sopranos” binge, you may find it difficult to place each and every member of the family.
Before “Many Saints” arrives in cinemas and on HBO Max on Oct. 1, here is a guide to who’s who in the New Jersey mob world.
Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini, Michael Gandolfini)
“The Sopranos” begins as the respected but beleaguered Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano enters therapy to get a handle on a series of increasingly severe panic attacks. “Many Saints” reveals Tony as a bright, charismatic teenager with ambitions to go to college and avoid the life of crime that is his ultimate destiny. Immortalized by James Gandolfini on the show, he’s played in the prequel by Gandolfini’s real-life son, Michael.
Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola)
Once an important and admired leader in the Jersey mafia, Dickie Moltisanti is killed long before the events of “The Sopranos,” under circumstances described — though never actually confirmed — as part of a story arc in the show’s fourth season. Dickie is the protagonist of “Many Saints,” and much about the tragedy of his life and death is disclosed in ways that longtime “Sopranos” fans will find thoroughly shocking. Though not family by blood, he’s welcomed as a brother by Junior Soprano and becomes an influential father figure to young Tony.
Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli)
Born around the time “Many Saints” is set, Christopher appears in the film only briefly, as a baby, in a scene with much foreboding. Son of Dickie and distant cousin of Tony’s wife, Carmela, he’s considered part of the Soprano family, usually referred to as Tony’s nephew. One of the main characters of the series, Christopher is a kind of scrappy ne’er-do-well whom Tony dreams of molding as his protégé — a dream often thwarted, throughout the series, by Chrissy’s tendency to screw up.
Giovanni “Johnny Boy” Soprano (Joseph Siravo, Jon Bernthal)
Giovanni “Johnny Boy” Soprano, Tony’s father, died of natural causes in the late ’80s, before the events of “The Sopranos,” and is glimpsed in the series only in flashbacks; one of those flashbacks is restaged in “Many Saints,” with Jon Bernthal now playing the Soprano patriarch in place of the show’s Joseph Siravo. A big shot in the mob, he spent much of Tony’s adolescence in prison, entrusting Dickie to look after the boy while he’s inside.
Corrado “Junior” Soprano (Dominic Chianese, Corey Stoll)
A perennial thorn in Tony’s side, Corrado Soprano, better known as Junior, is Johnny Boy’s brother, and partly helps raise Tony while Johnny Boy is serving time. In “The Sopranos,” Junior (Dominic Chianese) is conniving and always jockeying for power, and as portrayed by Corey Stoll in “Many Saints,” he is no less ruthless or power-hungry as a younger man, to no one’s surprise. His relationship with Tony has been strained ever since he doubted the young Soprano’s capacity to become a varsity athlete.
“Hollywood” Dick Moltisanti (Ray Liotta)
Dickie’s father, and Christopher’s grandfather, “Hollywood” Dick looms over “Many Saints” with a biting, portentous menace. Although he never appears and virtually never comes up in “The Sopranos,” his actions in the prequel set in motion many of the events that defined the series.
Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand, Vera Farmiga)
Tony’s mother, played in the series by Nancy Marchand, is one of the colossal psychic stressors that drive Tony into therapy, and in “Many Saints,” we see the long-suffering woman back when she still had the faintest glimmer of warmth. Vera Farmiga channels the younger version of the character with stunning accuracy.
Silvio Dante (Steve Van Zandt, John Magaro)
A fixture of the series, Silvio Dante (Steven Van Zandt) is one of Tony’s top lieutenants and most trusted advisers. “Many Saints” finds him played by John Magaro and working with similar diligence under Dickie, as well as taking a personal liking to the young Tony, who he observes has a great deal of potential. We get some long-awaited answers about the character’s natural hairline.
Paulie Gualtieri (Tony Sirico, Billy Magnussen)
Paulie Gualtieri, sometimes known as Paulie Walnuts, is a “Sopranos” fan favorite, beloved for his stylized Italian mannerisms and no-bull attitude. Like Silvio, Paulie is a faithful lieutenant of Tony’s on the series (where he’s played by Tony Sirico) and works closely with Dickie in “Many Saints” (when Billy Magnussen takes the role).
Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero (Vincent Pastore, Samson Moeakiola)
The colorfully nicknamed “Big Pussy” is another lieutenant in the New Jersey mafia who works for Dickie (Samson Moeakiola in the film) and later Tony (Vincent Pastore in the series). Although he has a small role in “Many Saints,” he goes on to be an important figure in Tony’s life, with his betrayal of the family forming the heart of the show’s second season.
Janice Soprano (Aida Turturro, Mattea Conforti)
Sister to Tony, and daughter to Johnny Boy and Livia, she’s resented by Tony as the family’s golden child, much spoiled and doted on. In the film, she’s played by Mattea Conforti, who grows up to be Aida Turturro in the series.