The throbbing in the again of Alessandro Nivola’s head was rising extra intense.
It was fall 2018 when he’d auditioned for the position of Dickie Moltisanti in “The Many Saints of Newark,” the “Sopranos” prequel, and “I felt fairly positive I used to be onto one thing,” he stated. Although he wasn’t positive what that one thing was.
Then after a lunch with David Chase, creator of the sequence, and Alan Taylor, the movie’s director, the full script arrived and the stakes shot by way of the roof. Dickie, it turned out, was the movie’s protagonist, and Chase had been instructed he may forged anybody he wished. And the phrase was that Chase wished Nivola, who hadn’t carried a film of this magnitude in his practically 25-year movie profession.
That’s when the throbbing kicked in. “I’d been down that highway so many instances,” Nivola stated, “and the variety of disappointments I can’t rely on 10 palms.”
So when a month handed with out a proposal — the noise in his head by now inconceivable to disregard — he determined to place an finish to his distress. “Name them,” he instructed his brokers, “and inform them that in the event that they don’t inform me as we speak I’m out.”
4 hours later, in a downstairs lavatory at the Chateau Marmont throughout a layover in Los Angeles, he realized that Dickie was his. He locked himself in a stall and cried, muffled sobs of aid and launch, for 10 minutes.
“You see, in some unspecified time in the future you simply need to put your foot down,” he instructed his individuals.
Solely, they hadn’t made the name. It was merely his fortunate day.
To listen to Nivola, 49, inform it, success has been elusive. However on a balmy September afternoon at the Mulberry Road Bar in Little Italy, he gave off the scent of a person swimming in it. Smooth in an unseasonably heat swimsuit he’d worn to a photograph shoot (his stylist had pushed away along with his garments), he radiated Dickie’s debonair charisma, minus most of his menacing edge. James Gandolfini, the authentic Tony Soprano, glowered in a poster overhead, however Nivola seemed like a boss.
“The Many Saints of Newark” has been positioned as Tony’s origin story, with Michael Gandolfini forged as the teenage model of his father’s iconic character. However the film belongs to Dickie, an explosive, tomcatting mobster — lengthy useless when Tony mythologized him in “The Sopranos” — who one way or the other managed, regardless of his finest efforts, to twist a principally respectable child right into a tormented mafia kingpin.
Chase had wished to make a decent gangster movie. “So, there’s no extra Jimmy Gandolfini,” he stated in an interview, “however we wished somebody who may, in his personal approach, be as criminally clever and charismatic.”
Dickie is extra elegant, extra good-looking, extra fashionable than Tony. “However he’s carrying precisely the identical set of tones,” stated Taylor, the director, “which is this mixture of introspection and full blindness and rage and remorse.”
Nivola’s induction into the “Sopranos” household really started along with his sleazy prosecutor in “American Hustle,” which inspired Chase and made him surprise: “Who is that this man and the place has he been? I’ve to maintain him in thoughts.”
“So I saved him in thoughts,” Chase stated, “and when this position got here up, he appeared to me to be the good man for it.”
Nivola ticked off the containers: Italian American with an immigrant again story — his grandfather a Sardinian sculptor who resettled in Manhattan’s downtown bohemia throughout the warfare, his father a Harvard graduate and Brookings Establishment fellow — and an innate grasp of the language.
“When it got here to Italian, curse phrases or in any other case,” Chase stated, “he received the phrases and the tune.”
And Nivola — a Boston-born Yale man who spent his grade-school years principally in rural Vermont and highschool at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire — was an eyeful. “On ‘The Sopranos,’ I by no means went that path however I felt, properly, we will’t blame the man for being good-looking,” Chase stated. “He’s actually good, and I knew he may ship the proper degree of sinister.”
Taking these “Sopranos” colours, Nivola painted a Jekyll and Hyde, longing to be remembered for doing one thing noble however dragged down by impulsive violence that horrifies even him.
His interpretation was “pitch good, each beat of it,” beginning along with his audition scenes, stated Taylor, who had to withstand making an attempt to get Nivola to recreate their perfection after they really began taking pictures.
Nivola has been bringing it since his movie breakthrough in 1997 as Pollux Troy, the weirdo brother of Nicolas Cage’s terrorist in “Face/Off.” After which he basically went undercover.
“I all the time was drawn to roles that allowed me to cover myself and to burrow into another sort of persona or habits that felt like a disguise,” he stated. “That’s been the blessing and the curse of my entire profession up till now.”
Nivola adroitly shapeshifted from one character to the subsequent, with out an apparent by way of line — the British frontman who beds a a lot older document producer in “Laurel Canyon,” the Orthodox Jew drawn right into a love triangle in “Disobedience,” the lunatic sensei in “The Art of Self-Defense.”
However alongside the approach, disappointment over movies that flopped or weren’t even launched, and a way of entitlement at being requested to repeatedly show himself — hadn’t he already? — gave rise to crippling nerves and despair. Finally he felt so uncomfortable auditioning in person who he stopped altogether.
“My most profitable mates are type of relentlessly constructive,” stated Nivola, citing his spouse, the actor and director Emily Mortimer, and his pal Ethan Hawke. “I’m making an attempt to be extra that approach but it surely’s not my nature.”
Then got here David O. Russell’s “American Hustle.” And after a humbling seven-year break when he stopped auditioning but additionally stopped getting much-wanted roles, he confirmed as much as compete for the job.
Nivola had begun to reassess how he wished to work, selecting nice administrators over nice components. However Russell’s idiosyncratic type — writing a script and then yelling out alternate traces for the actor to say in the midst of taking pictures — left Nivola feeling totally uncontrolled. Thrillingly so.
“It was an enormous turning level for me, the place I simply fully gave over to him,” he stated. “And from that second on, I actually favored that feeling. I wished to offer each director that I labored with that energy.”
No matter brought on Nivola to hesitate or overthink earlier than, Russell has seen that drop away in favor of “enthusiastic inventiveness,” he wrote in an electronic mail. “I feel he can do virtually something — he’s fearless. He takes what I’ve written and makes it his personal. We belief one another, which permits danger and a hell of a whole lot of enjoyable.”
“American Hustle” was additionally Nivola’s first movie with Robert De Niro, whom he considers a mentor. “I imply, he may not describe himself that approach,” he stated, laughing, “however I insist.”
But it surely was watching him in movement on “The Wizard of Lies” — De Niro as Bernie Madoff and Nivola as his son Mark — that affected the approach Nivola labored greater than every other expertise. He started studying his dialogue early in order that he may untie himself from the phrases. He began repeating phrases in the center of scenes, like a reset, till he’d forgotten he was performing.
“It’s virtually like he’s taking part in music slightly than saying textual content,” Taylor stated — even when it does ship the dolly crew dashing when he immediately takes a scene again to the starting. The director added, “Ceaselessly what comes out of his third model is the one he was aiming for, and it actually, actually works.”
In September, the day after “The Many Saints of Newark” premiered at the Beacon Theater, Nivola, true to type, was elated if cautious. Critics for IndieWire, CNN and others singled his efficiency out with phrases like “absolutely brilliant” and “riveting.”
“To this point, these have been the finest evaluations I’ve ever had for a efficiency,” he wrote in an electronic mail, including, “I’m making an attempt to not put an excessive amount of or too little inventory in them.”
However again on Mulberry Road, Nivola had intimated that his shining second hadn’t dropped from out of the blue — probably not. “I felt, to be trustworthy, main as much as when this chance got here, some intangible feeling that one thing like this was brewing,” he stated haltingly.
Nonetheless, in contrast to Dickie, he wasn’t prepared to wager on his future. “I’ll by no means take into consideration this film as successful,” he added, “till I’m confirmed in any other case.”