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[The following story contains spoilers from The Many Saints of Newark.]
If you were confused, your reaction was perfectly correct.
In The Sopranos prequel movie The Many Saints of Newark, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola) brutally kills his father Aldo “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (Ray Liotta). Then Dickie goes and visits in prison his uncle that is, rather unexpectedly, also played by Liotta, albeit with a pale and deathly appearance. Thus begins a series of meetings between Dickie and Uncle Sally that play a bit like a mirror universe version of the therapy sessions between Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and Dr. Melfi (Lorraine Bracco) in the HBO series (that Bracco and Liotta co-starred as a couple together in Goodfellas makes the casting all the more inspired).
Many Saints director Alan Taylor says that, yes, audiences are supposed to be thrown when they meet Liotta’s second character in the film.
But unlike Dr. Melfi, Uncle Sally doesn’t necessarily exist. Like with Tony’s dreams in the original series, Uncle Sally may or may not be a figment of Dickie’s imagination.
“I’m very curious to see how people respond to Ray Liotta’s performance, because we met him to play Aldo and then we had lunch with him and then we came away from lunch and we thought, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…’ and we did the [double role],” he said. “I love it because it’s got one foot in this kind of surreal, dreamy quality that the show had sometimes where you go into dreams. You’re not quite sure where the border is between real and dream. There are a few times in the movie when we do that, like in one of my favorite scenes in the movie Dickie’s fantasy or memory of coaching baseball, and it’s like a transcendent religious experience and then he sort of snapped out of it and you don’t know whether it actually happened or not.”
“The fact that he can snap out of it and Ray Liotta’s character is not there anymore, it raises the question of whether the character even exists. There’s a slightly dreamy quality around how we used Ray in the movie. That slightly uncertain, slightly uncertain tone is something only [creator David Chase] does.”
Previously, The Hollywood Reporter profiled Taylor and his work spanning The Sopranos, Deadwood, Game of Thrones and Many Saints.
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