Q&A: David Chase


He began his writing career in 1973 on NBC's "The Magician," but it took David Chase 25 years to conjure up Tony Soprano, one of the most complicated antiheroes ever to mouth-breathe his way through a plate of homemade ziti. Chase, 62, will receive the WGA West's Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television, the Guild's highest honor for scribes in that medium. He spoke with Jay A. Fernandez for The Hollywood Reporter.

The Hollywood Reporter:
With "The Sopranos," you were drawing from your own emotional life. Did that feel risky?
David Chase: It didn't feel risky to me because my goal was really not to have a hit television show. I always wanted to be a movie writer-director, but I would get these TV development deals, which would pay the bills for me. So I never really felt that I was risking anything. Because what would be the worst thing that would happen? The show wouldn't get on the air, or it would be canceled. I acceded to the idea of a noble failure.

THR: When did you first sense that this story and these characters had taken on a larger life in the public sphere?
Chase: I guess it really struck when we finished the first season. I went away on vacation for a month or two, and I came back, and there was this whole thing around the country about "Where's Pussy?" And I thought, "What? These people care?" We didn't know where Pussy was!

THR: Do you think the show has had an effect on the larger television landscape?
Chase: By and large, I still find TV to be a franchise-ridden bog. I still see a lot of policemen and lawyers and judges and sheriffs. There still seems to be a very intense interest in institutions and not as much interest in the existential situation of being alive. (AMC's) "Mad Men" is a departure from that. It's about one of the basics of life in this country, which is desire and consumption. And I feel the same way about "The Sopranos." Here in the U.S., where the business of America is business, I feel like "The Sopranos" was the only show that ever dealt almost all the time with money.

THR: You've won many awards. Does the Laurel Award have any special significance for you?
Chase: I just hope it doesn't mean that people think I'm on the way out or that they're getting a coffin ready. It's a big honor. To be in the same company as (past winner) Rod Serling, that's a dream come true. "The Twilight Zone" was so basic to so many things about how we think and behave. It probably made us a paranoid culture, full of conspiracy theories (laughs). That, in conjunction with some historical events.

THR: Are you working on another TV show?
Chase: No. As far as drama series, I don't think I would tackle that again. It seems highly unlikely that I would have such a pleasurable experience again, and I'm just more interested in motion pictures.

THR: Would you ever consider doing a "Sopranos" feature?
Chase: There's no reason for us to foreclose the idea of ever doing a feature. But so far, that definitely hasn't happened. I don't think it will.    

WGA West's Honorary Awards Luncheon

Budd Schulberg: Laurel Award for Screen for advancing motion picture literature
Robert Eisele and Jeffrey Porro: Paul Selvin Award for the spirit of civil liberties
Brad Bird: Animation Writing Award for lifetime achievement
Tom Schulman: Valentine Davies Award for service to the industry and community
Don M. Mankiewicz: Morgan Cox Award for service to the WGAW