Over the twelve days from Monday, December 23 and concluding on Friday, January 3, we will present special Re-Podcasts of my Crime Story Podcast interviews with storytellers in the world of crime and justice. Each interview will be presented in its entirety, and so interviews that were previously offered in multiple parts can now be accessed in one download or streaming session.

This is Day 12: a conversation with David Chase, Creator and Showrunner of The Sopranos, which is listed by Rolling Stone as The Greatest TV Show of all time.

Kary Antholis:

This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why stories of crime and justice are told. Today’s podcast is part one of a two-part conversation with David Chase, Creator and Showrunner of The Sopranos, which is listed by Rolling Stone as The Greatest TV Show of all time.
 

In this first part of our chat, David talks about his earliest memories of storytelling; his family life growing up, particularly his relationship with his mother; the development of his view of the world and specifically morality and religion; his appreciation of gangster movies; and his path to becoming a professional storyteller leading up to The Sopranos, with a particular focus on the projects that he worked on that were related to crime.
 

And so with all that said, here is part one of my conversation with David Chase.
 

Kary Antholis:

What is the first memory you have of storytelling in your life?
 

David Chase:

My father in Mount Vernon, New York, probably around the age of four, sitting me down and telling me Rip van Winkle and also the Headless Horseman. Washington Irving stories.

Kary Antholis:

Would that be a bedtime? 
 

David Chase:

Bedtime. Or before bedtime, yeah.
 

Kary Antholis:

What do you remember of the impact of those stories on you?
 

David Chase:

Oh, I was totally fascinated by them. And I loved being with my father and having him tell. I believe I was on his lap. 
 

Kary Antholis:

What were other storytellers that had an impact on you in the way that they communicated story?
 

David Chase:

Well, what I remember mostly is people in my family. I had a large extended family. And I just loved hearing, not fictional stories, I just loved hearing stories about things that happened and things that were outrageous or things that made them angry or made them happy. I loved those stories. I loved sitting around listening to them talk.
 

David Chase:

The first stories I really remember, fictional stories I remember were not fictional. But my father and his business partner took me and his business partner’s son to the library in Clifton, New Jersey. I was probably six or seven. And I must’ve heard stories before that, but … and I remembered we took books out for the first time. And I took out Greek mythology. They had me.
 

Kary Antholis:

Tell me about your mother as a storyteller. Was she a storyteller?
 

David Chase:

My mother was a storyteller. Her stories were mostly stories about rage and negativity. But she told a lot of stories.
 

My family was also, very divided. There were, there a schism, uh, in my father’s family. My grandmother had remarried, so half of my aunts and uncles were Chase children. DeCesare was really the name. And half of them were Fusco children. They were, kinda separated. I never met my grandmother till I was about five.
 

David Chase:

So my Uncle David got married to my Aunt Mary when I was about six or seven. And I remember sitting at the table with my Uncle Tommy and my Uncle David and they said, just to, you know, just, they said, “Tomorrow, we ride at dawn.” I said, “What are you talking about?” And it just blew my mind, that whole idea, that (laughs) tomorrow they were gonna ride at dawn. I loved it, just that thought, you know? Just picturing it. I thought they were serious.
 

Kary Antholis:

Your friends growing up, would you regale each other with stories? Would you, would you, um, share gossip or family stories with them?
 

David Chase:

Oh, yeah. We shared, we shared gossip. And we shared kind of bullshit stories. I do remember, my father’s business partner’s son, Bobby Casselli, we were in Newark, New Jersey and Ricky Nelson had a hit out at the time called Traveling Man. And I told Bobby Casselli that I wrote that song (laughing) and he believed me. I don’t know.
 

Kary Antholis:

Let’s talk about the development of your view of the world. Like, your view of right and wrong. Did you go to church as a kid?
 

David Chase:

I did.
 

Kary Antholis:

And what did you make of that? The religious experience, of the morality? And what was your parents’ relationship with all of that?
 

David Chase:

I was very impressed with churchgoing, with the theatrical nature of it. I guess I believed a lot of the spooky stories I was told, but the thing about my parents is my father was a self-proclaimed agnostic. My mother was Protestant and my father had been raised in a Protestant church.
 

David Chase:

Now, Italians are not Protestants,There is a, there is a group of people called the Weldensians, who came down from Germany, I think in the 1800s or 1700s. Baptists, really. To Naples. I don’t know why. And, uh, my family got involved with them. They had been Catholics, and they became involved with these Waldensians, so they became Baptists.
 

David Chase:

That was my father’s family. And I guess there were some people like that in Newark, New Jersey. My mother’s father was a socialist. He didn’t care where his children, he didn’t care where or if they went to church.
 

David Chase:

So all my aunts and everything, there were 10 of them, all my aunts and uncles as kids had friends or went to youth groups or whatever, um, most of them found … They were living in Newark, New Jersey and in an Italian, found Catholic. Went to the Catholic church.
 

David Chase:

My mother somehow got involved with this church in Newark that was a Baptist, Italian Baptist church and in that Italian Baptist church was my father who was living in Newark at that time as kid. He later on moved to Westchester County and I think that’s where they met. So we had kind of a strange religious household.
 

Kary Antholis:

how frequently would they take you to church?
 

David Chase:

They didn’t take me to church. They sent me to Sunday School.
 

Kary Antholis:

how long did you do that?
 

David Chase:

They sent me to a place called … in fact, we just shot across the street from there. Brookdale Baptist Church, to Sunday School. And I was taught there that God hated the Jews, because they killed Christ, and that’s why you notice that Jews always wear glasses and have orthopedic shoes.
 

David Chase:

Now, at that time (laughs) you know old Jews who ran candy stores had those orthopedic shoes. So that’s what they told me. They also told me that God didn’t like Catholics because they drank during their services. They drank the wine. I told my parents that and surprisingly enough as I look back on it, they pulled me out of there.
 

Kary Antholis:

Wow. how long had you been going when they-
 

David Chase:

A year.
 

Kary Antholis:

A year?
 

David Chase:

Yeah.
 

Kary Antholis:

you’ve spoken at length about your mom and her impact on you and-

David Chase:

Well, I’ll just say something about that. The influence that my mom, who I said was a model for Livia Soprano and she was. In the pilot, a lot of Livia’s dialogue was my mother’s dialogue. I said a lot about depression, because, one of the first thing that happened was the Times did an article on me about the Sopranos. A woman named Alex Witchel.
 

David Chase:

And because I wanted to sell the show, I said a lot more about depression and my mother and all than really existed. Actually, I had a very happy childhood. I was scared a lot of the time and anxious a lot of the time ’cause that’s the way my mother was and she was a terrified person and she told me a lot of scary things about the world.
 

David Chase:

So I’m sorry to say that my view of the world … I guess like most people who come from a nuclear family, uh, their first, their view of the world comes from their parents and that was my situation. They, my, they- they- they set my view of the world.
 

David Chase:

What was strange though, was that when I was about five, maybe even older, maybe eight, my view of the world was that it was all an illusion. Everything I was seeing and hearing was an illusion. It wasn’t the way the world was and if I turned my head, they, whoever they were, would run behind, would run around with a new set for me to look at. And if I turned it over this way, they would quickly hustle over there with a new set for me to look at. Because if I, if I saw the way the world really was, I would destroy it. I don’t know what that means.

Kary Antholis:

Fascinating It’s very cinematic. 
 

David Chase:

It is cinematic. Yeah. It is cinematic. True.
 

Kary Antholis:

I’ve read and heard you say that you initially went to film school because you were interested in the visual aspects of —
 

David Chase:

Yeah, I wanted to be a D/P.
 

Kary Antholis:

Yeah. When do you remember beginning to kind of be influenced by other thinkers, by your reading, differentiating your worldview from the worldview your parents gave you?
 

David Chase:

Well, it must’ve been that night that I read Greek mythology, right? That’s probably when it started. That certainly was not my parents’ view of the world. But I found it fascinating. Um, It started then and then, you know, I read books. I read kids books.
 

Kary Antholis:

Right.
 

David Chase:

I read the Hardy Boys and I read Johnny Tremaine. Um-
 

Kary Antholis:

Music is storytelling, of course, as well. And I understand music was a very important —
 

David Chase:

It had a tremendous impact. Well, it didn’t really have an impact until the first thing I remember was being on a swing somewhere and hearing, Paul Anka’s Diana. We didn’t have a radio in the house. Oh, we did have a radio but nobody ever used it. It never played. We were very late to get TV too. But I was on this swing and I heard Diana and I thought, “Wow, that’s a great whatever it is.”
 

David Chase:

And then I started to get it. My older girl cousins and my, this older boy cousin, Johnny Spazado, they were already into that stuff. So they started telling me about Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers and I started listening to all that at the age of probably eight or nine.
 

David Chase:

And I liked all that stuff. But I didn’t really get into music as a participant until I was about 14, 15. I fell in with a group of people who were, two of them especially, were musicians. One of them, this guy, Donnie Waugh, was an excellent guitar player, um, rock and roller and a drummer. And this other guy, Peter McKei, was younger than me and younger than him but was sort of an acolyte of his. And I became friends with them for other reasons. But because I was friends with them, I started taking drum lessons.
 

David Chase:

Before this had happened, I must’ve been, I don’t know, 11 or so, we were riding in a car. My whole family, and my cousin Johnny and there was song on the radio and I started clapping in time to it. And my cousin Johnny said to my mother, Aunt Norma, “He should be starting the drum. He’s got a natural sense of rhythm.” And she said, “Over my dead body. That Gene Krupa was a drug addict.”
 

David Chase:

So three years later, I wanted to do it and I did, you know, we did it. And then I, you know, and I got into it. So at that point in high school, you know, we were into pop music and rock and roll, but we really got interested in jazz also, modern jazz.
 

David Chase:

And I took lessons, um, and I got to the point where I was doing what are called “independents”. Independents is when every limb is doing something different. It’s not easy, but it’s so cool and so much fun, if you master it.
 

David Chase:

It’s a jazz thing. So I got to that point. And we were sort of into- into jazz and into blues, Ray Charles, particularly. And then I went to freshman year in college. The Beatles happened and that was the end of everything.
 

David Chase:

We had kind of stopped playing music because we got driver’s licenses and the whole world became about driving and girls and all that. But once the Beatles hit, my friends brought their guitars out of the closet and everybody started playing. And after that, I was really interested in nothing else.
 

Kary Antholis:

You just talked about playing jazz and it sounded like it was more kind of sonic quality, the way it made you feel.
 

David Chase:

Yeah. Rhythm. Rhythm, especially, yeah.
 

Kary Antholis:

was there a point where you remember keying in on lyrics in songs? 
 

David Chase:

Well, I always did. 
 

David Chase:

And, uh, I mean, I always was good at picking up on lyrics. Like there was a song called Tall Paul. This is just occurring to me now. I haven’t thought about it since then. (singing) Was Annette Funicello, I think. I was just always keyed in lyrically. Uh, and then once … Well, once I heard Bob Dylan, though, that was that.
 

Kary Antholis:

Tell me about that.
 

David Chase:

Well, I went to college in North Carolina and listened to Ray Charles all the time. Well, I listened to those, yeah, I listened to those lyrics too. Yeah. Um, I just listened to the music. I wasn’t thinking about the difference between music and lyrics.
 

David Chase:

I went to my freshman year at Wake Forest College, which at that time was not a university. It was a Baptist college. No card-playing on campus. No dancing. Obviously, no drinking. Racist fraternities, the Kappa Alphas and all that. And I hated it down there.
 

David Chase:

And I remember one time being in the suite. and I was playing a Ray Charles record, and these two maids were cleaning up and one said to the other, “That’s Ray Charles.” And I felt so proud, so happy.
 

David Chase:

And then there was a- a guy who was in the suite, my suitemate, a guy named Dave Gilman, from Connecticut. Just talked about Bob Dylan. I said, “So what’s that?” He said, “You never heard Bob Dylan?” This is like 1964, ’63. Um, I said, “No,” and he played it or me and, you know, that, it was, I was besotted.
 

Kary Antholis:

Tell me a little bit more about that, about those early days with the Dylan music and where it took your brain, where it took your imagination.
 

David Chase: I don’t know whether I knew this then or now looking back on it. But pop music, Chuck Berry and all that, that was all great. Little Richard, all that stuff was great. The Beach Boys, car songs. I loved car songs, you know. I had this crappy 409 for a while. Um, but it was all well and good, and I loved it. Then, as I think about it now, starting to listen to Ray Charles, you were starting to hear songs about other issues. Death, betrayal, broken heart, blindness, depression, and like with- with everybody, it struck a big chord with me. And so I went from Ray Charles to country blues and Chicago blues, more of the same.
 

David Chase:

And then as the Stones and the Beatles — it took the Beatles longer, I think. But as the Stones hit, um, I began to hear that same stuff in rock and roll music. Then with Dylan, it was like, “Oh, my god. This is art.” This is about really important stuff. This is an art form. The Rolling Stones are artists. Um, the Beatles, obviously, are artists and it all came together for me.
 

Kary Antholis:

Did your experience with music open up this sense, for you of the possibilities of being an artist?
 

David Chase:

Yes, yes. That’s where I was at. I wanted to be in a rock and roll band.
 

Kary Antholis:

Did it also open up the idea of filmmaking as an alternative art form?
 

David Chase:

No.
 

Kary Antholis:

No?
 

David Chase:

Didn’t. No, it didn’t. I had started thinking about writing. I went to summer camp when I was 14. I got punished and I was sent to the summer camp to work as a dishwasher. And I had a great time. (laughs) I had a wonderful summer. I had my first girlfriend, Jewish girl from Long Island. She was so much more advanced than I was. It was great.
 

David Chase:

And I remember reading on the road up there, actually, and I started to think maybe I could be a writer. So I decided to write a novel when I got home. And I got home and I sat down. I didn’t think of what it was gonna to be about. It was gonna be about this guy named Joe Bass, who was the head, who was the cook at the camp and his very pretty daughter, Claudia Bass.
 

David Chase:

I started to write it. I had no idea that you needed a structure or a story and I think some people do right now when they just start writing. Well, I got three pages in and that was, you know, I didn’t know what I was doing. So I didn’t think about it much.
 

David Chase:

But alongside this was, that was happening, I was getting interested in the World Book Encyclopedia, their chapter on art and I don’t think I connected the two. I knew that that was art. I wasn’t sure about rock and roll. So even earlier, I was looking at, you know, all the great works of art were there in color. I would go back to that over and over again and read it.
 

David Chase:

But I didn’t think of … and we went to the movies all the time, every Saturday. My father took me to the movies most Tuesday nights. And I was crazy about movies, crazy about them.
 

Kary Antholis:

When you say your father took you to the movies, would he go to the movies with you?
 

David Chase:

Yeah. On Tuesday nights. I don’t know what that was about, but I remember seeing Ten Tall Men with him and, Vera Cruz, Westerns mostly. And I was really crazy about movies and I continued going to the movies the whole time. But I wasn’t an expert in movies. I didn’t know who made them. I didn’t compare them, really.
 

David Chase:

Well, I went to school at Wake Forest and it’s this conservative school in North Carolina. And for some reason, on Friday nights, there was a foreign film night. I don’t know who started it. You never would’ve expected it to be there. And I saw Godard for the first time, Fellini, everybody. And that just, you know, that was extremely moving to me.
 

David Chase:

I had seen Fellini once before in Asbury Park. A friend of mine and I went to see, um, Boccaccio ’70 with, I think it was De Sica. I forget who else. The other two, I didn’t understand it and they didn’t. I was, think, 14 years old.
 

David Chase:

Fellini, it just … Well, first of all, it was like looking at my family. The delusional thing, saints and operatic behavior. I thought, “Oh, my god, that’s where we come from.” And I just loved it. I jusI loved the pictures. I loved the big billboard of the woman, Bevete Piu Latte, Drink More Milk, I guess it was Anita Ekberg or somebody like that.
 

Kary Antholis:

Was Italian spoken in your family?
 

David Chase:

Yes. My grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side never spoke English.
 

Kary Antholis:

And so you, did you have a proficiency understanding it? No?
 

David Chase:

No. My parents spoke English and only spoke Italian, usually when they didn’t want me to know — 
 

Kary Antholis:

Got it
 

David Chase:

My grandmother on my father’s side spoke English but never read or wrote in either language. She didn’t know how to read or write.
 

Kary Antholis:

So when you went to a Fellini film, for example, you didn’t understand the language, but you understand, you understood the people. And you just —
 

David Chase:

Yes, I did. Well, uh, you know, subtitles, too. I understood it.
 

Kary Antholis:

Right. Yeah.
 

David Chase:

Yeah. Kind of a hysteria. It was about a woman. (laughs) I don’t know, a professor who was obsessed with this beautiful figure and his sister is appealing to the saints. It’s like, this is home.
 

Kary Antholis:

Um, and, um, and you went from Wake Forest to NYU? Is that right?
 

David Chase:

Yeah.
 

Kary Antholis:

What did you end up studying at NYU?
 

David Chase:

I went to this film program every night at Wake Forest. And at the same time, and I don’t know how this happened, I saw other, I saw, uh, Strangelove and I knew I was seeing something totally, totally different and above everything else I had seen.
 

David Chase:

As funny as it was, I only went to see it because it was funny. But I was terrified of the atom bomb. My mother was always scared so I was always frightened by the atom bomb. So I went to see it for those reasons.
 

David Chase:

And I knew, you know, I just, I can think of it now, the detail on the switches and the ICM 114 discriminator. And the lighting, the black and white lighting, what it was like when the fire started onboard. I went, “This is something else. This is totally different.” I was very smitten by all that.
 

David Chase:

I got a still camera because I wanted to get into photography, because I was wanting to become a D/P or… And I started taking pictures of shots on the screen. Of Kubrick movies. And I don’t know what I did. I just would just take a picture of it and put them on my wall, of black and white movies. And what, uh-
 

David Chase:

And put them on my wall, a black and white movies. 8 1/2 was one of them. Um, I was starting to just get into it that way. I became fascinated, like with music and rock ‘n’ roll, half the thing is about the technology, right? The guitar itself, the drums itself, what kind you have, what size cymbals, da-da-da. You know, I think that’s a boy thing, and so there was so much technology with movies that, you know, it fascinated me.
 

David Chase:

Then my sophmore year, I went to see Cul de Sac. A movie about gangsters, which already had interested me, invading this house on the coast of England, places I had never seen and couldn’t believe that whole thing about the tides coming in. And I walked out of there and I thought, it was the first time I thought, “God, somebody made that. It wasn’t made by a factory out in Hollywood like a car is made in Detroit. Somebody made that movie, Roman Polanski. Huh. I wonder if I could do that?” And that’s when I really caught on and, and I sort of started to move away from music and into that.
 

Kary Antholis:

Um, you speak, you, you spoke about the fear that your mother kind of inculcated into you as a boy and also some of the mysticism and craziness that you experienced at these family gatherings. And it’s interesting to hear you talk a bit about how your fascination with movies had to do with their ability to tap into some of those fears and ideas that you experienced-
 

David Chase:

Yeah.
 

Kary Antholis:

When you were a kid, was crime and criminality part of the web of fear that your mother had?
 

David Chase:

No. My parents would talk about people in, mostly in Italian, somebody they knew who was connected with, you know, somebody. The Boriardo family, they were called, ruled, Essex County. And they came from the same neighborhood as my mother, and that’s who The Sopranos is based on. But they would talk about the Boriardos. Like one time my, my aunt Mary went to a wedding celebration and there was a champagne fountain. Everybody was talking about that. And my mother, oof… I had one cousin, cousin Joe by marriage, who was connected, was a wise guy.
 

David Chase:

But I didn’t know that then. But, my mother didn’t make me afraid of it, she just made me fascinated with it. And my father and I used to … the other thing that was big, was my father and I every Thursday night watched The Untouchables. And Robert Stack and The Untouchables themselves were not that interesting at all. The interesting people were the gangsters… Frankie Yale and Longie Zwillman, and my father knew all those — OF those people — and explained some stuff to me.
 

David Chase:

But before that, now that I think about it, I had seen Public Enemy. And Public Enemy … because Public Enemy scared the shit out of me. When he comes home wrapped in those rags, like a mummy, and his mother opens the door, and he topples forward … I couldn’t sleep that night.
 

Kary Antholis:

Why do you think that was? What, what was it about that?
 

David Chase:

Mmm, I don’t know. Well, what it was, was, they get a phone call. “Tommy’s coming home.” Because he was in a hospital, from being shot. They get a phone call, his brother says, “Mom, Tom’s coming home!” She gets all happy, and do’s the “Tommy’s coming home! Tommy’s coming home!” And she’s upstairs plumping the pillows and singing. And the doorbell rings. And his cadaver topples into the house, which I think is the last shot. Well, the change-up in mood from that, that you’re lift- you’re made to expect something happy is going to happen, and then something horrible happens, was just very powerful to me.
 

Kary Antholis:

It’s interesting that balance of kind of empathy that you have for the mom, as she’s waiting for her kid to come home. And then, the harsh reality of —
 

David Chase:

It’s horror when he comes home.
 

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Kary Antholis:

Let’s segway over to um, your transition into film school. You went to NYU for a while…
 

David Chase:

I went to NYU Uptown. There was an NYU Uptown campus then.
 

Kary Antholis:

Did you transfer from Wake Forest?
 

David Chase:

I transferred from Wake Forest. My, uh, my father wouldn’t let me g-, he was paying for it, and he wouldn’t let me go to, downtown to the Village, because he said there were too many Jews there. And of course, he sent me to The Bronx.
 

Kary Antholis:

And, and what did you study at NYU?
 

David Chase:

English Literature.

Kary Antholis:

Was there a particular area of English Literature that you focused on, or that you were interested in?
 

David Chase:

American Literature.
 

Kary Antholis:

And who were the writers that
 

David Chase:

Poe, Hawthorne, Melville …
 

David Chase:

19th Century. I had studied Victorian Literature at Wake Forest.
 

Kary Antholis:

Where did the idea to go to Stanford and to film school come from?
 

David Chase:

Well, I got more and more involved with film and was going into New York all the time to the Waverly, to see, The Wages of Fear, and incredible stuff. I bought a movie camera, which… I’d like to say I tried to make short films, but … I just I had no clue as to what was going on. Even though I was watching movies. But I was very proud of that camera, it was a Super 8 because the fact of it was that it had, you could crank it back, and you could do dissolves and fades on the camera. Which is what knocked me out.
 

David Chase:

I took this class at the School of Visual Arts at night. Um, but I didn’t like it, because, we, there was probably about 12 students in the class. And we all wrote a short film. And then we were all going to work on that short film. Mine didn’t get picked, and I was annoyed at that. I thought the one that got picked was silly. But mine was way too ambitious, anyway. But I went there. And the guy who taught it was an advertising director. And I did a couple of jobs for him, multi-media things at the Ambassador Hotel. You know, just driving, PA stuff.
 

David Chase:

I decided that I wanted to go to film school. I was getting married at the same time. And all my relatives told me that it was very important for me to get out of the State, because my mother was going to, it was going to be a destructive thing on my marriage. I was always worried about what she was going to think, and I did everything she said. And so my uncles and people said, you know, “You need to leave here, or your marriage isn’t going to last.” And California was kind of cool in those days. This is right around the time of Buffalo Springfield and all that.
 

David Chase:

SoI applied to film school. I applied to Stanford, NYU, USC and that was it. And I don’t think I even finished applying to NYU, because we had to get out. Um, and I applied to UCLA and USC. I got rejected at UCLA. Uh, and we drove out there, and we got to USC, and talked to the Head or the Dean there, or something. And he said, “Oh! It’s too bad, you’re two days late. If you’d been here two days earlier, we would have accepted you, and you’d be in class right now.” 
 

So I was very disappointed. We were going to go up north to see my aunt, who lived in Los Gatos. Stanford accepted me, and gave me a Fellowship. So that clinched it. But Stanford was basically a documentary program. Although I was allowed to make narrative films. But I didn’t learn anything about narrative films.
 

Kary Antholis:

What’d you get out of your experience at Stanford?
 

David Chase:

Well I saw a lot of movies. Antonioni, more Godard, Truffault
 

Kary Antholis:

This would have been before the, kind of, American wave of filmmakers. You would have been … are you a contemporary of Scorsese’s and Coppola’s?
 

David Chase:

Probably two or three years younger.
 

David Chase:

Basically a contemporary, I guess. But that started happening right around then.
 

Kary Antholis:

That era of Lucas and Spielberg, they were probably at USC, at that time.
 

David Chase:

Yeah, they were probably, three or four y- I remember seeing THX, which was already kind of happening and, that was a guy who’d been to film school, and now was making films.
 

David Chase:

So he was kind of an, an example. But that film was probably two or three years old.
 

Kary Antholis:

I’d like to just spend a little bit of time talking about four experiences. Your work on Night Stalker, your work on Rockford Files, obviously, a film that you wrote about women criminals, I think it was in New Jersey, and then Minnesota Strip. Because they all have elements of crime and criminality in them. Although, Night Stalker’s more a horror genre piece. But they all have transgression and consequences and tone. Can you talk about the way that each of those experiences shaped your storytelling chops?
 

David Chase:

I always loved horror films. Uh, as a kid in Clifton, as I said, I used to go every Saturday, and my cousin Alberta, Bertie, she was like a year older than me, but she was like a tomboy. She was like one of my best friends. They lived in Westchester, and I used to spend two weeks every year at their house. That’s where I started smoking, she was older, her sister was older. So we went to see a movie called Creature with the Atom Brain. And, it was so scary to me, that night I just completely had a freak out. And it caused her to freak out. And my Uncle Albert had to come from Westchester to pick her up and take her home. But I still could not stop looking at those movies. So that was part of my, that was certainly a part of my … what do you want to call it? Expression?

David Chase:

Night Stalker, which is I guess the first of the things you mentioned, had been a TV movie. With Darren McGavin as Kolchak, the investigative reporter who finds vampires in Las Vegas. Kind of a high concept idea at that time. Very good. A night time city, with all these showgirls. And then they decided to make a series out of it, and I had not been able to get work at all. I had done a story for a show called The Lawyers, and, not good. But I had to join the Guild, and on the picket line, I met a guy named Paul Playdon, who was about to take over th- what they called the back nine, of 22 shows, of a show called The Magician with Bill Bixby.
 

David Chase:

And, we had a good time, we laughed all the time. He brought me onto that show as a staff writer. That was my first real job. I had written, I had done a couple of things for Gene Corman, other stuff, but it didn’t really stick. And he brought me on to that show as a staff writer and then when that was over, he got the job as producer of this series they were going to make, of The Night Stalker. And so he brought me on as story editor. He was the producer, I was the story editor. Um, and I was crazy about it, because I thought, “Oh, this is going to be really scary.” But Darren McGavin was kind of nuts. His casting for the people in the office, they were kind of foolish characters. Um, and it was kind of silly. It was funny. Funnier than the network wanted, funnier than anybody wanted. He couldn’t agree with my friend Paul. And he fired him or Paul quit.
 

David Chase:

But I was left there. And my natural inclination is, I think it all comes from Strange Love. My natural inclination is to write stuff that’s like horrible and funny at the same time. And so, that’s what I started to do, and McGavin kind of liked my writing. And among the other things that I did was fire Bob Zemeckis and I rewrote one of the scripts that he and his partner did. Then I later wished I hadn’t, didn’t know who he was. But I really had a good time doing it.
 

Kary Antholis:

Did the combination of horror, and humor, did it have any roots in your youth? Was there gallows humor, or morbid humor in your world? Did your parents or your mom or your dad or anybody in your world have that?
 

David Chase:

My mother sort of had a warped sense of humor. But what happened was, when I met these friends of mine from high school, bunch of guys who hung out together. We were very into drinking, early, into pot early, and then acid. We had this strange kind of private humor between us. We would do this thing, my friend and I had this thing called “Meaningless Carloads.” Just imagine, four people in a car, who had nothing to do with each other, that could make you laugh. And it was kind of like Saturday Night Live.
 

David Chase:

And we did all that, and we used to do, it was called “Meaningless Humor.” Like you’d draw a drum set and you’d put (laughs) uh, Kary Antholis on the front, like Kary Antholis was the drummer. And for some reason, that used to drive us crazy with laughter. Um, because you knew that Kary Antholis was not a drummer. We did “Meaningless Record Labels,” like, the company was phony, it was a fake, funny name. I remember there was one song called Ted’s Favorite Soup, about a guy named w-, it was in the high school, by another fake name. And we used to laugh our asses off at that. So, I brought that with me, I’m sure.
 

Kary Antholis: (00:55:21)

Got it …
 

David Chase: (00:55:23)

And so as The Night Stalker became crazier and stupider, and the fighting about it went on and on, I just sat in my room and started writing these funny, character-orientated Night Stalkers.
 

Kary Antholis:

Got it.
 

David Chase:

Because it was the same story every time. He finds a Night- he finds a monster, nobody believes him… It was great, I actually had a lot of fun.
 

Kary Antholis:

It was interesting to hear about the development of that aspect of your craft, introducing elements of your own personality and storytelling instincts, into what would have otherwise been a genre piece.
 

David Chase:

That’s true. And I think it was partly because Darren, who tried to have us all fired, I think it was because Darren, Darren’s humor and mine was not the same. For him, it wasn’t straight on horror. So, he put up with me. I think that’s why I got away with it.
 

David Chase:

I would say this. I would say there was nobody in TV, this sounds very self-aggrandizing but, there was nobody in network television, that was writing that stuff at that time, except for me. But nobody even knew it, because the show was a failure.
 

Kary Antholis:

I remember watching it as a kid, as a teenager, and …
 

David Chase:

It frightened younger kids, right?
 

Kary Antholis:

I was a little bit older … and realizing, there’s something else going on here …
 

David Chase:

(laughs)
 

Kary Antholis:

… this was not like … I’m not a guy who’s attracted to horror. But I watched that, because I thought it was funny. I don’t know when I picked it up, I don’t know when I got into it. I was like, “This is, like, zany. This is not … “
 

David Chase:

Yeah.
 

Kary Antholis:

” … horror.”
 

David Chase:

Yeah. Yeah. I remember we did a show which, there was this kind of psychiatry at that time called “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” … What was that called? Anyway. And I brought that into the show that McGavin had a big argument with the cop, saying “You’re (laughs) okay, and I’m not okay, and you’re … ” It had a contemporary, very contemporary feel to it. It was sort of hip. And I don’t think anything else going on there was. This was before Saturday Night Live.
 

Kary Antholis:

Rockford was before that?
 

David Chase:

No, it’s after. Rockford was after that. So I had a seven year deal at the- at Universal Studios. And uh, that show didn’t even go 22 episodes. I was in the middle of writing the 20th episode when they canceled it. And the 20th episode was going to take place on Stage 12, which was the original Phantom of the Opera stage. I was so excited. And then they canceled it. So then I did, I went on some Glen Larsen shows, terrible stuff.About two years after that, um, they were looking for a new producer, to work with Steve Cannell and Meta Rosenberg on The Rockford Files, and I got the job. And I was pretty young for that job. That was tremendously, uh, influential, and I learned a lot.
 

David Chase:

You know, Cannell was a great lover of detective fiction. And I happened to like detective stories, too. So, and there was no Writer’s Room at that time. There was me, Steve Cannell, and a woman named Juanita Barlett. And we used to have to hire, by Guild rules, a certain number of people called outside writers. So we would have them come in, and normally we would wind up re-writing all that stuff. Well, you learn the most, I think, by re-writing.

David Chase:

I think I really learned story. We actually sat down, and plotted story. Um, that was not the case with uh, Night Stalker. It was, and, a monster, and, you know. Although I worked with Michael Kozoll on that show, who created, later on went on to create Hill Street Blues, with Steven Bochco. And we were constantly laughing all the time about it, because it was so ridiculous. But we never really plotted story. It was the same story every week. But with Rockford Files, the plot had to work. And Steven was really good at it.
 

David Chase:

But! He told me, that Paul Playdon, the guy who had first hired me to work on the Bill Bixby show, who was also very young, he said, “That guy had the best story head of anybody I’ve ever known.” Because he had been the story editor on Mission Impossible, which is very complicated storytelling, right? Um, people are pretending to be what they’re not. He said, he remembered going in to pitching a story to Paul, and Paul looked at it, and he said, “He kind of threw it up in the air.” And it all — I don’t mean physically — and it all came down, all the plot points came down in a different order that made it work like a charm. And I learned some of that from Paul, too.
 

David Chase:

You had to know what were the heavies doing. While you were following Rockford, the heavies could not be static. They had to be working on their own thing, which would then again, um, cross paths with Rockford. Instead of the heavies doing the same thing every time, he reached somebody had to fight, even though it kind of came out that way. There were two stories going. The story with the heavies, quote unquote, and Rockford’s story.
 

Kary Antholis:

What characterized a good heavy?
 

David Chase:

Something else he told was, he felt that psychotics were not a worthy adversary. It’s too easy. And I, I believe that. So the crazy people, and maniacs, we didn’t have any of that on the show. A good heavy had to be smart, (phew) … usually self-deluded, and interesting as a character, except they wouldn’t be able to stand by themselves, as a character.
 

Kary Antholis:

This just occurred to me, but do you think that your training and writing the heavies on Rockford helped you in crafting The Sopranos?
 

David Chase:

Absolutely. No doubt about it. While I was on, while I was on Rockford, I did an episode called The Man Who Saw The Alligators. It was about a low level mobster who gets out of prison. And he comes down to LA to get revenge. I forget. On the people who had sent him to prison? And he had this mother, an Italian mother, who was willing, for her own sake, to collaborate with the people who were trying to get him.
 

Kary Antholis:

Wow. Were you conscious of that when you, um, wrote what was initially a screenplay for The Sopranos? Were you, were you, did you remember having crafted that character?
 

David Chase:

I did remember it. But it wasn’t like Livia, really. It, in a sense I guess it was. But I was totally involved with Livia, and the idea of my mother, you know.
 

Kary Antholis:

When you crafted the story for Rockford, were you aware of your mother in crafting that mother character?
 

David Chase:

I must have been. I, I think I was. But I don’t think I thought it was, anything was patterned on my mother. I think what I thought was just kind of, very Italian-American, kind of operatic, people getting all crazy and hysterical. I remember a line from it, because they were, (laughs), she put out this buffet, this buffet of food. And the guy, George Loros, the killer, said-

David Chase:

There was food, talking about, and the guy went, “Food, food. This family is just one big digestive tract.” Um, you know, we had a lot of food on the Sopranos, too, and yeah.
 

David Chase:

I really did learn, just really perfected writing there. Jim was a great guy to, great guy to write for. And you got into his rhythms, again, taught you how to copy somebody. Not to mention that they were really very elegant stand up people. There was no show biz crap.
 

Kary Antholis:

Talk a little bit about place and time in The Rockford Files.
 

David Chase

I did this Glen Larson show. After the Night Stalker, called Switch. And I went back to work with Paul Playdon on that show. And I’m very proud of that show, even though nobody ever saw it. Because it was about a bunco cop and a con man who joined forces to have a detective agency. And it was uh, Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner. And so they would foist a con. Because this was like in the time of The Sting and all that. So they would foist a con on a bad guy for good reasons. And I came up with a story in which a private detective, like Sam Spade, had screwed somebody up and had hidden some money. So they sent their people in there, and we did like an upside down version of Maltese Falcon. This beautiful woman comes into his office. Uh, they, they, they make this kind of nefarious union together. And then she gets him to confess that he had killed the guy that they went in there for.
 

Then we did another one, which we never shot about a sheriff who was in league with some meth dealers. They had a meth plant somewhere in town. Their con people went in there as UFO searches and stuff. And secret Air Force officials. Because they knew that they wouldn’t want anybody to get near where the meth plant was. One of the things about con, real cons in real life and stories is, they make you try to punch your holes in their story. Like Robert Wagner came into town being an Air Force guy who denied he was an Air Force guy. So the sheriff, instead of just being told, “I’m from the Air Force, and we believe something is going to land here,” the sheriff would say, “Who is that fucking guy?” And he’d investigate, and he’d find out he was from the Air Force. That only convinces me that there’s something going on here, right?
 

David Chase:

So we did that one and, and we narrowed the geography down to this part of town where it might happen. And the sheriff’s just like, “No, no, that’s not where they’re going to land. No.” And that was where the meth plant was. It was, it was really a lot of fun, thinking that way. But halfway through the network said, “No more cons. Just go back to general detective show.”
 

David Chase:

So I did that show. And then I had nothing to do but I was still, um, on the line. I had a seven year deal. And they asked me to do The Rockford Files, which I had never seen. I was not a fan. So they show me three episodes and I thought, it was the ’70s. And I thought, “This show is amazing. I really believe that we’re in Los Angeles. I believe the time. This is the, it’s the ’70s, it’s now. And it’s in Los Angeles. It’s got all the trademarks of Los Angeles. The people are like Angelenos. The stuff going on is very contemporary. I believe that this show exists in Los Angeles, not just in its time slot.”
 

Kary Antholis:

What’s your memory of your bringing that kind of idiosyncratic sense of humor, offbeat twist, that you brought to Night Stalker, for example. Were you able to bring that to what Cannell was doing?
 

David Chase:

I think they valued me for that. It was twisted to begin with. Rockford Files had its own twistedness. The first episode that I pitched to them, it was a murder. Rockford is awakened one day in his trailer. And there’s something going on out on the beach.
 

David Chase:

And so we had this character who was a psychic, who we discover actually was following Rockford around, as Rockford was trying to discover clues. And when Rockford discovered the clues, psychic would know it and he’d do a press conference. And um, so that was kind of offbeat. And they loved that show. And I just, you know, that was, you know, I was doing all kinds of things. 
 

Kary Antholis:

You talk about an unproduced script that you wrote which was inspired by a book by an academic about the rise in property crimes by women, as iconic of the advance of feminism.
 

David Chase:

Right. In the early ’80s, there was a woman sociologist at Rutgers who wrote a book or a paper positing the idea that since there were violent crimes and crimes against property being committed by women more and more often, this proved that the feminist movement was having an effect. Which is a stupid thing. And there was a woman that, Anne Biondi, a woman at Universal, a really good kind of low level, executive, who told me about that and pitched me for the idea, and I, I got to write it.
 

David Chase:

Female Suspects.
 

Kary Antholis:

Tell me a little bit about it. About that story and about creating that world.
 

David Chase:

Well, it concerned a professor at the University of New Jersey who had this idea that female offenders, as she called them, proved the success of feminism. And she’d go around and she would interview these people. And collate all this information. But she had a larcenous, dishonest personality. She used university money to fly herself and her boyfriend down to the Super Bowl. Or her grant money, that’s what it was. And she got fired for that. And so then she went back to some of the women that she had interviewed and joined forces with them and teamed up with them and they began robbing houses. (laughs)
 

Kary Antholis:

(laughs)
 

David Chase:

And she became, a, you know, a crook.
 

David Chase:

That, that, as I recall it, I don’t think they had a blacklist in those days — the best unproduced scripts. But that script was very hot for a long time. And what influenced me about it was, I went to see Raging Bull. And it was supposed to be a comedy, and so I went to see Raging Bull with my wife. And I said, “That’s the tone that the movie should have.” And so when she turned, when Anne turned it into Tom Mount, who was the head of Universal at that time, he said, he said, “Documentary doesn’t win at the box office.” So it never got produced.
 

Kary Antholis: ]

I’d love to read that script.
 

David Chase:

I can lend it to you. I don’t think it holds up that well. My assistant thinks we should get it done now. But, I don’t know.
 

Kary Antholis:

Minnesota Strip. Tell me what Minnesota Strip was about. And then tell me about the process of um, of writing it, and of the politics, dealing with racial and sociological aspects of that.
 

David Chase: (01:19:57)

Yes. Well the idea was not mine. The idea was the idea of Meta Rosenberg, who had been my boss and the executive producer on Rockford. And we became very good friends. Now, Meta has kind of a checkered past, but I didn’t know that at the time. Among other things, she was head of the story department at Paramount when she was 19. Just, brilliant woman. It was her idea. I think she read it in People magazine, the story about these young women from Minnesota, mostly blondes, I guess. I think that was the appeal. And for some reason, there was a large pimp population in… somewhere in the south. And these African American pimps would come to Minnesota, or be from Minnesota, get these young women, take them to New York, and put them on, I forget whether it was 7th or 8th Avenue, which was called the Minnesota Strip, because there were so many women from Minnesota there. White women.
 

David Chase:

And Meta’s idea was to do a story about a young women who had gone and worked on Minnesota Strip for a while. And then was brought back to her home, and tries to fit in with her small town in Minnesota again. 
 

David Chase:

Meta and I did a lot of research. We went to a lot of reform schools for girls in California. Heard a lot of different stories. Very often they all ended the same way, which was that they had been molested or abused as children. This was a big deal. Nobody knew this at that time. Or at least it wasn’t known by the population. So we went all around California, did a lot of research talking to these girls. And hen I was sent back to Minnesota to meet the cop who had brought back a couple of these girls. A guy named Gary McGaughey. And he introduced me to some of these ex or current prostitutes. And they told me a lot of things that had happened with them and their pimps. I was there for about three days. And I came back, started to plot out the story and write it. And I just couldn’t, I couldn’t get anywhere with it. I got the idea that if I pictured it in my hometown in New Jersey, not in Minnesota, I’d be okay. Which I did. Smooth sailing. If I pictured a park, I pictured Grover Cleveland Park. That’s why I put a lot of stuff in New Jersey, because it helps me imagine a place. And after that it wasn’t, and we still kept it in Minnesota, but it worked very well.
 

David Chase:

I won the Emmy award, and I won a Writers Guild award.
 

David Chase:

I want to tell you, tell you one more thing about Minnesota Strip. Minnesota Strip was very explosive at the time. I wrote it for for NBC. They said it was just too shocking. And ABC picked it up. So we wrote it and then they were shocked by the idea, by seeing it on, got this black guy and this young white girl. And they sent it to University of Pennsylvania, to some media research place. And there was a guy named George somebody, a professor there, who read it and gave it right to the broadcast standards department, “Can we put this on the air? What needs to be changed?” And I remember reading the report. And this guy said, “I can just picture that big black cock going down her throat.” And I thought, “Who the fuck is this cretin,” you know? And he was supposed to be telling us… It’s pretty self explanatory. But I remember that. I thought they didn’t want to show it because we had put a black person in the role of a pimp. Not true. They didn’t want to show it because in the movie, the black guy put his hand on her knee, and the south said no. The station owners refused to carry it. It, it was just …
 

Kary Antholis:

How did that resolve itself? Did they cut out …
 

David Chase:

They put it on the air. I know. They did it. They put it on the air. They put it on the air, I don’t remember what happened with that.
 

Kary Antholis:

So it wasn’t political correctness, it was censorship, basically.
 

David Chase:

Absolutely. Absolutely censorship. Fascist censorship. Racist censorship.
 

Kary Antholis:

Wow. 
 

End of Part 1

Kary Antholis:

This is the Crime Story Podcast with Kary Antholis where we have conversations about how and why stories of crime and justice are told. Today’s podcast is part two of a two-part conversation with David Chase, Creator and Showrunner of The Sopranos, which is listed by Rolling Stone as The Greatest TV Show of all time.

In this second part of our chat, David talks about the origins of the idea for The Sopranos, making a gangster show in the shadow of The Godfather and Goodfellas, how it landed at HBO and the process of getting it to the screen, ending the series and the impact and legacy of the Sopranos.

And so with all that said, here is part one of my conversation with David Chase.

Kary Antholis:

When did the first germ of the idea for the story of The Sopranos come to you?

David Chase:

My wife told me that my mother always got laughs when I told stories about her. Which was true. And I should make a movie about her. And someone else mentioned it to me, too. And I kept thinking about it, but then I thought, well, who’s going to go to see a movie about TV producer and his mother? And so the idea came to me that it should be a tough guy having troubles with his mother. Or kind of flattened by his mother. And I love gangster movies. And that’s how I came up with it.

Kary Antholis:

Using your own experiences with therapy in the show, when did that enter your thinking about the show?

David Chase:

From the very beginning.

Kary Antholis:

‘Cause that was a big part of you working through the stuff with your mother?

David Chase:

Yeah. And then we were gonna go, in the show, finally three or four years later. The show was green lit, and we were gonna go, and I was at the Brentwood Country Mart with Lawrence Konner. And I was telling him about it. He said, “You’ve heard about this thing, Analyze This, have you?” I said, “No, what’s that?” And he told me, and my stomach just dropped. So I spent the next year and a half praying that that thing didn’t open before us. And we got lucky.

Kary Antholis:

Had you thought about making a gangster movie before that? Obviously, Public Enemy had a big impact on you when you were a kid. But you were also living in the shadow of The Godfather and Goodfellas

David Chase:

Yeah. Yeah. I guess, I don’t remember what the story would have been. But I think I wanted to do a story about a kid who wanted to join. But then there was that movie, Marlon Brando, The Freshman. I did want to do a gangster movie. I just don’t remember what the stories were.

Kary Antholis:

What kind of a deal were you under? Who did you first write The Sopranos for?

David Chase:

Well, what happened was, I went to Brillstein Grey. And I told them that I had this story, but that my agents had said that mob comedies were dead. But for some reason they decided we should go to HBO. I had always wanted to go to HBO. In fact, when I first went to Brillstein and Grey, I said, “Can’t we take this thing to HBO?” Because they had a couple of shows on. They had the football show. And I loved, uh …

Kary Antholis:

Larry Sanders?

David Chase:

Ah! That was really the spark. And he said, “No, they’re really not that … They don’t have the money to make it. Or they don’t want to spend the money to make original programming.” And so I did it for Fox at first. It went to all the networks, they all passed. That took two years. And during that time, Bewkes came in. And he was changing things there. And so Brad went back to them, went back to Chris Albrecht, and they said yeah.

Kary Antholis:

It started as a movie concept.

David Chase:

I wrote it as a pilot for Fox.

Kary Antholis: (01:32:45)

And then after HBO bought the pilot, you did a rewrite for-

David Chase:

I did a rewrite for them. What I did was put in a murder, which the, the first one, the one for Fox, because I thought because it was a network show, couldn’t have a murder in it. And I changed the language, and some other kind of cutesy shit that I had in there for it being a network show.

Kary Antholis:

You did a rewrite and then they ordered a pilot?

David Chase:

They ordered a pilot.

Kary Antholis:

Was it understood that you would direct the pilot?

David Chase:

No. I wanted to direct it. At the same time, my deal at Brillstein was coming to an end. And I was going to have to go to work. So I went and talked to the people at Fox. I talked to Chris Carter about maybe coming on to one of his shows, doing another development deal, running a TV show. It was discussed that I would take over Millennium. So I was going to do that. At the same time, HBO was reading The Sopranos. And I believe it was on the same day that I had a meeting at Fox where I was going to say, “Yes, I’m going to do it,” and sign the paperwork. I believe it was the same day, but that might be me just, my writer sort of head. And then I went to HBO and I had wanted to direct the pilot and HBO said yes, finally. And that was it for me and network television.

Kary Antholis:

And um, how many days did you have to shoot the pilot?

David Chase: (01:34:56)

15.

Kary Antholis:

And was that luxurious at the time? For a television pilot? Or was it kind of standard?

David Chase:

No. I think it was standard. I think. I never felt it was luxurious. I think it was normal. $3 million.

Kary Antholis:

How did you approach directing that pilot?

David Chase:

Well, I started really thinking about it. What it should look like. And a lot of people expected me to do it in Los Angeles, and I said no to that. Before HBO bought it. I had been around to all the networks, and they all said uh, “So what are you going to do? Are you going to shoot it in LA?” And I said, “No, I want to shoot it in New Jersey.” And they said, “Oh, I see. So you’ll do it like like the Bochco shows. Like, you do it three days a month in New Jersey, and then the rest back here. And I said, “No, I want to shoot it in New Jersey.” And I talked to Dick Wolf about what it was like to shoot in New York. And he said, “What do you want to shoot at New Jersey for? I mean, if you want to shoot in Manhattan, that’s one thing, but New Jersey?”

David Chase:

I said, “I just think it’s picturesque. I grew up there.” Then I went to HBO, and one of the conditions, Chris Albrecht said to me, “Now you’re going to shoot this. It says here, ‘New Jersey.’ You’re going to shoot this in New Jersey, right?” And I said, “Yeah.” So I knew it was the place for me.

Kary Antholis:

Tell me a little bit about your conversation with HBO about you directing it. I was always under the assumption that you were always assumed to be directing it.

David Chase:

I didn’t have the conversations. Brad and Chris has the conversations. I wanted to direct, Brad passed that onto Chris, he told Brad that, “No, no, you know, I don’t think so. He’s never directed anything.” Although I had, but, “Not, he really is not, we can get somebody better than that.” But they never confronted me directly—

Kary Antholis:

I see.

David Chase:

And it never really happened that way.

Kary Antholis:

Given that your, most of your past directing experiences were television, when you went into it, I assume you went into it thinking, “I’m not going to direct this like a television show. I’m going to direct this like a movie.”

David Chase:

Yes, I did. Yes, I did.

Kary Antholis:

And so when I ask what was your approach, what did that mean to you as you broke down the script and thought about shooting it?

David Chase:

Play it wide. That was mostly what I thought about.

David Chase:

We had no storyboards. My self and Alex Zakharov, the DP, went over, we shot listed. I wanted to leave it wide. I wanted the pace not to be hurried. There was something else, but I don’t remember what it was.

Kary Antholis:

Talk to me about casting. I assume, with the exception of Lorraine, everybody read for the part, yes?

David Chase:

Yes. And I think Lorraine did, too.

Kary Antholis:

What were the roles that cast themselves quickly? What were the roles that took a long time to cast?

David Chase:

They all took a long time. Either it’s me and the way I write, it always seems to take a long time. And maybe everybody takes a long time. But, what happens with me is I write a script, people come in and read it. You know, they audition. “No. No, not right. No, not right.” Then, you start to go, “I know what the problem is. This script is shit. This script doesn’t work. It’s not well-written. None of the, the scenes aren’t playing.” But you don’t rewrite it. And then somebody comes in, and it plays great. And that’s what happened with this. That’s what happened with Jim, that’s what happened with Edie, with all of them. Michael, Dominic.

Kary Antholis:

Tell me about, well, two roles in particular, Livia and Tony. Tell me about both Nancy’s and Jim’s auditions, and your experience in-

David Chase:

Well, Jim’s audition as I remember it, Jim came in. We had a little casting studio up on 79th Street, or something. Jim came in, started to read, and then stopped halfway through. He said, “This is shit, I can’t do this,” and he left. That was like, on a Wednesday. He was supposed to come back on a Friday. And I believe my memory is right about this, where we heard that somebody died in his family, and he couldn’t come on Friday. And then we finally got him to come back, and we read him in my garage in Santa Monica. And we taped it. And he went through the whole thing, and it was great. But I since know this about him, that it’s hard to tie him down. He never feels it’s happening, or he’s got it right.

Kary Antholis:

Did you have a feeling in the room that, “I think this is going to work?”

David Chase:

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. At network that would have been, I don’t know of how many people, but there were three guys. I brought three guys because at networks, if you brought, if you said to them, “I got just the guy,” you would inflame then, and they would demand to see more people. So I brought two other guys with me. Michael Rispoli was very good, and Steven Van Zandt, who I thought was very good. With the Steven Van Zandt thing, I thought to myself, “Well, maybe this could be like a live action Simpsons.” So, because it already had some comedy in the script. But once we saw Jim do it, he just owned it.

Kary Antholis:

Take me through the, Nancy Marchand’s audition.

David Chase:

Nancy Marchand, I would say, I say 200, it couldn’t have been 200. We had a, a lot of actresses come in. And a lot of Italian actresses come in. And they invariably would do their stereotypical, or their crazy Italian mama. And Nancy came in and somehow just did my mother. She just channeled it, I don’t know. I mean, I sat there like this, “Holy fuck, it’s my mother.”

Kary Antholis:

Crazy.

David Chase:

Really crazy. And then when my relatives saw her on the screen, they said, “David that’s, that’s Aunt Norma, oh my God.” (Laughs), it was amazing. And she later said, she said to my wife, “Darling, I trust that this creature that I’m playing is deceased?” (Laughs).

Kary Antholis:

When did, when did your mom die?

David Chase:

’92.

Kary Antholis:

And your dad in the ’70s? ’80s?

David Chase:

My dad died, yeah, in the ’70s.

Kary Antholis:

Tell me about the green-lighting process by HBO at that time.

David Chase:

Well, we made the pilot. There was a few months where nothing happened. I said to HBO and to Brillstein-Grey, “I’d like to have a little thing, a screening room, for just some friends of mine and some people. Like a family and friends screening, with Italian food.” They refused. Both of them. So I did it myself. And the bill was $600. And I saw how people reacted, and I knew we were in really good shape. They were laughing. They came up to me afterward, they said, “Oh, this is really good.” So then HBO tested it.

David Chase:

They tested it in Hartford, Dallas, I forget, somewhere else in the Midwest, and somewhere in California, maybe LA. And the only place that tested, tested halfway decent was New York, was Hartford. And it took them then forever, it seemed I was just waiting, and waiting, and waiting. They would not give me, they did not give me an answer. And then finally, about six months after that, they said, “Okay, we’re going to do it.”

Kary Antholis:

I had just kind of made the transition from the documentary group to the scripted group at HBO at that time.

David Chase:

Oh, you were there?

Kary Antholis:

Yeah, I was there, and I was actually working for Chris and Anne Thomopoulos on a miniseries side. I worked on From the Earth to the Moon.

David Chase:

Oh.

Kary Antholis:

And then I was working on, I think I was working on The Corner as it was finishing.

David Chase:

Right.

Kary Antholis:

We moved to New Jersey, my wife and I, near Flemington. And I was kind of commuting out to LA, and I remember getting the cassette of the pilot-

David Chase:

All right.

Kary Antholis:

And bringing it, bringing it home, like, because I asked, “I’ve heard about this thing. I’m from New Jersey, I grew up in, in Florham Park, there was a mob presence there. Like, I, I’m dying to see it.” And I couldn’t contain my excitement about it. And I was like, “What is the-“

David Chase:

Really?

Kary Antholis:

“Hamlet thing here?”

David Chase:

Really?

Kary Antholis:

“This is so insanely great.” Anyway, I was befuddled by the delay. But I remember it.

David Chase:

It was a big delay. And I think they had, I think I remember Richard Plepler saying that he was going to talk to Russell Simmons and his people on the street to get their impression, and, (laughs)..

David Chase:

It’s interesting you mention Florham Park, because two weeks ago, Scorsese said that he didn’t relate to The Sopranos. He’s said this before. Um, he said, a long time ago he said, “I don’t know. There’s all these trees and stuff. I don’t get it, I don’t relate to it.” And this past two weeks ago, he said, “They live in these big houses in New Jersey, and I don’t get it.” But anyway, the fact is that that’s the history of the mob in New Jersey, is they started in Newark, and they went from Newark to Florham Park. And Hanover…

Kary Antholis:

Livingston.

David Chase:

Livingston. Whooof. Even when I was living there, right before we moved out in, ’67, a guy in North [inaudible] got blown up in his garage. And then somebody in Roseland got popped. So that’s the truth of it, you know. But he said he doesn’t relate to that, so.

Kary Antholis:

So finally they said, “We’re going to pick this up.”

David Chase:

Yeah.

Kary Antholis:

And they gave you an order for an additional 12?

David Chase:

Yes.

Kary Antholis:

And so what did you do logistically to prepare for the storytelling of the 12 episodes?

David Chase:

After I thought, “Holy fuck, now what do I do?” See, because I was hoping, I’m sure you’ve heard this story, I was hoping that they wouldn’t pick it up, and they’d give me another $50,000 so I could finish it as a movie and take it to festivals.

Kary Antholis:

Oh I see.

David Chase:

So when that didn’t happen, I was very disappointed. Because I didn’t want to be in television. I never had, really. And I had gone there for the money, and I was ashamed of that, and, then the show got started. It was the second time this had happened. And I had to do it, and, and then I got to, just fell in love with it.

Kary Antholis:

What do you mean, it was the second time?

David Chase:

Well, I did a show called Almost Grown in ’88 or something.

David Chase:

And they picked that show up. I directed the two hour pilot for that. I wrote it with another guy, Lawrence Connor. They picked that up, and I remember calling up Peter Benedek, my agent, and saying, “Well, I’m completely fucked. They picked that show up.”

Kary Antholis:

(Laughs).

David Chase:

You know, he didn’t understand it. Kept saying, “You’re crazy. You just got a series picked up.” But I didn’t want that.

David Chase:

And the same thing happened with The Sopranos. But the, but they canceled Almost Grown, but The Sopranos, they just, it grew on me very quickly.

Kary Antholis:

So, so tell me about the planning of it. And also in the course of talking about this, you’ve mentioned kind of conversations with your wife about story. I’d love to know a little bit more about that kind of working relationship. Or like, how you and she communicate about your work.

David Chase:

I mean, I always wrote screenplays. And then when I started working in television, she wasn’t really reading the stuff anymore. She would watch it. But I continued to write screenplays, and she would always read them, and we’d talk about them. And then the story you mentioned before called Female Suspects about the women, I asked her to read it, and she said, ” No, I’m not reading your screenplays anymore.” And I said, “Why?”

David Chase:

She said, “Because you always argue with me. You never like what I have to say. It doesn’t pay for me to do it. It comes between us. When I say I don’t like something, you say, ‘No. You don’t understand it. What’s really going, blah, blah, blah, blah.'” So she hadn’t read a screenplay of mine after 1980. Once The Sopranos got started, and we would go off for a break, I would come up with story ideas and things, and I would run them past her. And she would usually get excited about, we had fun doing it.

Kary Antholis:

That, but that’s second season forward.

David Chase:

Yeah.

Kary Antholis:

So you have this, “Oh, fuck,” moment, where, “Oh, I got to do this now.” And then, what’s the first thing you do? Do you reach out to writers?

David Chase:

No. No, what I did first was I thought I had this hour story — don’t forget, this was going to be a feature. So what you have to do is take that feature story, stretch it out like saltwater taffy, to make 12 episodes out of it. Which is what I did. And Livia was supposed to die at the end of that feature, and she was supposed to die at the end of The Sopranos 12 hours. But she was just too good, and she said to me, “David,” she was sick. She said, “David, please just keep me working.” So that’s what we did.

David Chase:

S, I just stretched that out, and then we began to talk about like three basic points. Tony puts mother in nursing home. Gang warfare. Tony finds out his mother is his enemy. The end. Four. And I thought, “Okay, got to stretch that out over.” And then I put a writing team together, and we started to plot out story with those four bench posts.

Kary Antholis:

How, how did you assemble the writing team?

David Chase:

Well, I went to Robin Green and Mitch Burgess, who had, I’d worked with on Northern Exposure. And I had worked with Robin on the show Almost Grown, the one that got canceled. And they liked it, they loved it, in fact, was what they said. And they came aboard. And then it was just reading material.

Kary Antholis:

And then who else was in that first group?

David Chase:

Robin and Mitch, Frank Renzulli. Jason Cahill, maybe? James Manos, and a, another Italian guy, forget his name.

David Chase:

I asked for a thing where I could, I could terminate any of them after five episodes. I knew what it was like to get somebody, and it doesn’t work out, and you’re paying them money.

Kary Antholis:

And how far ahead of production did you publish scripts?

David Chase:

I think we had five scripts by the time we started. Five scripts ready to go, I think. Because that was usually what we tried for, and I think that’s what we had.

Kary Antholis:

What was the kind of working process of the room? In other words, did you just sit back and let people talk? Did you go in and kind of lay out the broad structure of the, what the-

David Chase:

I did that. But it was very, very broad. And by the time we got to the room, I had some ideas for various episodes, and we just started talking. And Frank Renzulli had a lot to say. Frank was sort of a gofer kid, in a mob social club in Boston. So he had a lot of cultural stuff, details and things. And he showed us a tape of the boss in Boston in the room. And he told us a lot of things about it, and he was very funny. And then we started trying to just put the stories together.

Kary Antholis:

What was your kind of M.O. in observing, processing, and kind of calling what worked and didn’t work?

David Chase:

I don’t know how to explain that, except to say that, except for Frank, mostly on the local color and all that stuff, I believe, I was the only one coming up with stories. Maybe egotistically, I was the only one I listened to.

But it was all, it was all me doing it. I don’t remember anybody else coming up with anything. Um, except I did, by episode five, I said, “I’m tired of this show already. These guys in Newark, and I’d like to get, take it out of town.” And I had just taken my daughter on, you know, the college tour. And I thought, “Well, that’d be cool if Tony took his daughter on a college tour.” And then Frank came up with the idea that he sees a snitch up there and murders him. So that was done.

Kary Antholis:

And I seem to recall that there was some conversation about the idea of Tony killing somebody with their bare hands?

David Chase:

Yes. After that episode, in which he killed that rat with his bare hands. Chris called me up, very upset. He saw the episode, and said, “What are you doing here? You’ve had, you know, you have your lead guy kill somebody.” And I said, “Yeah, well, you read the script.” And he said, “Well, I don’t know, I read the script, but this is,” he said, “You, you’ve created one of the most compelling characters in the last 20 years, and you’re going to kill it now when he does this to this guy.” I said, “I don’t agree with you.” I said, “I think if he doesn’t kill that guy, he’s not worth us looking at. He’s not really a criminal, not really a mob boss. He’s got to do it.”

David Chase:

“It’s, I, we can’t. We can’t, we can’t. This is…” And I said, I wasn’t being a wiseguy, I said, “Well then don’t air it. We’ll just go onto the next one.” And he flipped out. “Don’t air it?” You know, (laughs). So we came to a compromise where there’d be a scene which would portray the rat as living in this small town in New England as now selling dope to kids or something. And I agreed to that. And we shot it, and we did it, and there it is. I mean, I really regret it now, that I even, you know. That was the only two times we had a fight.

Kary Antholis:

Only two times?

David Chase:

We fought about the name of the, of the show, and we fought about that.

Kary Antholis:

I remember the fight about the name. What did they want to call it?

David Chase:

They had some company, you know, they do that all the time. They had some company come up with I think 1,000 other names. Just terrible shit. And the one, and the one that they liked the most was called Family Man. And they were going to go with it. This was right before we were ready to go on the air. And I remember telling the, the cast, “This is going to be called Family Man, this is, or that’s what they want.” And I’m trying to fight it. And I remember Steven Van Zandt went ape shit.. “We can’t let them do that.” And, uh, we didn’t know what to do. And then along comes a show called Family Guy. So-

Kary Antholis:

Solved the problem.

David Chase:

Yeah.

Kary Antholis:

Let’s talk about Steve for a second. Tell me about how he came into the orbit of auditioning for the show in the first place, because there was kind of an unconventional-

David Chase:

Yeah.

Kary Antholis:

Was he out there reading for parts or—

David Chase:

No, no. He… You know, I was, I was, and still am, I’d gotten on the Springsteen bandwagon pretty close to the beginning. The first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, I didn’t know about that. But Born to Run… So I would buy Springsteen albums. And they were, you know, big 12 by 12 things by then. And this little Italian guy always caught my eye. He, to me, he looked like Al Pacino. And I thought, “Who is that guy?” Then I came to realize who he was, and by reading about it. And I always thought, “Oh, that guy’s got a great look.”

David Chase:

And then we were casting the show, and my wife and I were watching the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Awards, and they inducted The Rascals, New Jersey band. And Steven did the induction. And he was dressed in a Rascals costume with the collar and the shorts. And he was so compelling and so funny. Your eye just went to him. I said, “That guy has got to be in the show.”

So by that time, he was out of the E Street Band. And he had his own band, which I had bought the albums from, too, called Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. And again, I thought, “This guy is great.”

David Chase:

Meanwhile, he got involved with the whole South Africa thing. That was over, and he wasn’t doing anything. As he tells it now, he was at home. And the phone rang, and somebody wanted to put him in a TV pilot. He came in and he read for, he read for Tony. He went to the store in Caldwell where all the Jersey wiseguys bought their clothes, and he bought some, bought a suit, or whatever he did. He had a little bit of personal connection with it, too. He just made it. It was great.

Kary Antholis:

Was the Silvio role a role that you had conceived?

David Chase:

No. I wanted him to be in the show. But the script was already written, I believe. And we were talking, and he told me that he had wanted to do a movie about a guy called Silvio Dante. A mobster who ran a ’40s style, in present day, but a ’40s style supper club, big club. So I said, “Well, why don’t we do that? Why don’t you play that guy, but instead of it being a supper club, it’ll be a strip club?” He agreed. As he always says, he says, “I was walking my dog in those days. That’s all I did.” On he came, and the Bada Bing came to be.

David Chase:

If you were to re-watch the pilot, you’ll notice that Van Zandt, when he comes on, the guys all go, “Hey, what’re you doing here?” And they have some conversation. He wasn’t really even a member of the crew at that point. And we sort of skate over that, but that was the case.

David Chase:

In the pilot, there was a meeting in The Bada Bing, and he has lines in The Bada Bing. He became a member of the crew in the pilot.

Kary Antholis:

I mean I’m a big Springsteen fan, and I’ve often thought that the Silvio – Tony relationship was kind of the mob version of the Bruce – Steve relationship.

David Chase:

Yes. And I think that’s the way he wanted it, too. We would talk, and he’d say that he advised Bruce to do this, he advised Bruce to do that. And it was like… that’s just the way it worked.

Kary Antholis:

You know, they call him The Boss.

Commercial for crimestory.com

Kary Antholis:

When was it in the course of that season, you mentioned by the time you got to episode five you were getting a little bit weary. When was it that you realized this was fun?

David Chase:

I was enjoying it, even then. But I was bored with the stuff in town. I don’t know. I didn’t want to think up any more stories, I guess. And I thought, “Why can’t they just go somewhere else, and do something else?” I guess I kind of get bored easily. But it was fun from the very beginning. The pilot was fun. The whole first season, which we made and finished before it went on the air. We had a ball. Everybody did. And I remember Edie Falco saying to me at the end, “Well… well, it’s all done. What, what happens now?”

David Chase:

And I said, “Well, it is a lot of fun, and for that reason, I think we’re finished, because they’re not paying us to have a lot of fun.” I said, “I think we’ll probably be on the air for one year. That’s it. We won’t do anymore shooting.” Everybody was disappointed. Because as you know, a TV show is a tiny, tiny target. It starts out here, with the idea, and then do they pick up the script or not? It goes like that, right? Yes, they did. Then, we’re gonna make the pilot. Yep, they’re gonna make the pilot. That’s a big deal. Okay, so it goes like that. Then they finish the pilot. It goes like that. Then, they look at the pilot. It goes like that. We test the pilot. Does it go for six episodes, or ten? So I thought, like most shows, it’s gonna go nowhere. And that’s what I told them.

Kary Antholis:

It’s funny, I… when I interviewed David Simon, ’cause one of the first things I worked on was The Corner with him. And I remember having a cup of coffee with him, and saying-

David Chase:

Back then.

Kary Antholis:

Back then. Like right at the beginning, as HBO was about to green light, on certain conditions, The Corner.

Kary Antholis: (02:10:55)

I remember thinking, “This guy does not get that he’s part of the lucky sperm club.” He wrote a book called Homicide. That got turned into a TV show that went six seasons.

David Chase:

Right.

Kary Antholis:

He wrote a book about a crack neighborhood in Baltimore and that’s getting turned into a TV show. (laughs)

David Chase:

(laughs) Sperm… lucky sperm club, I like that. Yeah.

Kary Antholis:

I mean, to this day, like the fact that, that David has the body of work that he has, is to me one of the most unlikely stories, particularly for anybody who knows how the business works.

David Chase:

I remember, I think it was Josh Brand said, “This is a great life, having noble failures.” (laughs)

Kary Antholis:

(laughs) In the course of making that first season, and, and coming to really enjoy it, was there any epiphany, that after all of that time, aspiring to make feature films that you were actually able to do things creatively, that were as fulfilling as anything you might have done in the feature world?

David Chase:

I don’t remember whether that was a realization that that’s what was going on. Or whether I was saying, “Fuck it, that’s what I’m gonna do.” I don’t recall. I don’t know whether I sort of floated into it. I sort of knew that’s what I wanted to do. I had been working on TV shows for so long, and I had narrowly escaped going to work on Millennium, which is a good show. But I was done. And I didn’t know what was gonna happen. So I didn’t care. I was just like, “I’m just gonna do this.”

Kary Antholis:

When did you first experience that The Sopranos was becoming a kind of cultural phenomenon?

David Chase:

Um, I’m not sure. But I do recall that I had said to some people, I think even before The Sopranos started, I’m an Elvis Costello fan and he used to have a song “Radio, Radio.” And the lyrics are “I wanna bite the hand that feeds me. I wanna bite that hand so badly. I wanna make them wish they never seen me.” I used to think about that lyric all the time. And I told people, that’s what was my goal.

David Chase:

Well I was making a living doing network television. And I wanted to bite that hand. And it was feeding me very well. And I wanted to bite it very badly. I wanna make ’em wish they’d never seen me. And that’s what happened. And we did wish they never saw me.

Kary Antholis:

And you think The Sopranos was that-

David Chase:

Was that.

Kary Antholis:

… that statement.

David Chase:

People think… I’m misunderstood. You know, I have the reputation as hating television. I mean, I hated some television. I never really did hate network television. I hated the meetings. I hated the thought process. I hated the compromises. Mostly it was the meetings, that I really hated. Where they always had a knack for finding the best thing about it, and saying, “That doesn’t work for me.” I was really done with it.

David Chase:

Tom Fontana, somebody asked him, he said, “Well, a meeting at HBO is like a meeting in Paris. A meeting at a network, is like a meeting in Albuquerque.” (laughs)

Kary Antholis:

(laughs) I also feel like I remember you talking about the purpose of a network show is to sell soap. Something like that. And that, that with The Sopranos, especially given Tony’s voracious appetites, it was actually, in some ways a critique of consumerism. I mean, when you quoted the Elvis Costello song, and you talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Beyond just the meetings —

David Chase:

I thought television had a long way to go, creatively. To be about people. To reach something called “art.” There was a few things that got there, but I thought it was just so generic, and so vanilla. And really, had squandered so much of its potential.

Kary Antholis:

And I don’t wanna get kinda professorial here, but as I think about that Tony character, and these appetites that has. His crudeness, his gluttony, his sexual voraciousness. It’s almost kind of an implicit criticism of the appetites that Madison Avenue is appealing to on television.

David Chase:

Yes, it was. It definitely was that. It was definitely that. In fact, some journalist wrote a story around that time, maybe before the show came on, saying, “We’re gonna entertain ourselves to death.” Because that’s all people were doing, was escapism. That’s all they wanted to know. I agreed with that. And it was a criticism, but that’s why Tony watched a lot of TV. We had an episode called “Watching Too Much Television.” And very much, that was in there. What I began to believe was that network advertising was propaganda for the capitalist state.

Kary Antholis:

I remember when I was working at HBO and all my father’s friends who became obsessed with The Sopranos, they were the guys who were out screwing around. They were the guys who were gluttons, like the guys he played poker with. They weren’t mobsters. But they were capitalists.

Kary Antholis:

And I remember thinking-

David Chase:

And male. Very male. Take. Take. Agglomerate.

Kary Antholis:

Yes.

David Chase:

You know.

Kary Antholis:

You know, misogynistic-

David Chase:

It was about fucking money.

Kary Antholis:

Interesting.

David Chase:

That’s what the show was about. At least initially, it was about money. And, and there was no other shows on TV, on this advertising networks, that was about money. That was kind of crazy to me.

David Chase:

That was the male… more money, we’ve gotta get that promotion. We’ve gotta take over that store. It was all that. My brother in law, who was a banker, said that his boss, after watching the show one night, said to his wife, “I wish I was Tony Soprano.” He was the bank president. Now, some of that, and some of the things you talked about, obviously the womanizing, coming home late, or not coming home at all, all that stuff.

Kary Antholis:

I’m gonna go back to a question I asked earlier. I’m not sure we got there. After the show came out, how long was it before you started to feel… it becoming this cultural phenomenon?

David Chase:

First of all what happened was, we made the show. We were gonna have a party. And a woman named Francess, she called me up, and said, “I want to explain something to you. We’re having a party. And you know where it is, and all that.” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “Well, we have two kinds of parties at HBO. There’s that kind of party, and then we have a party which is really bigger, in a more important theater, with better projection, and a better restaurant. And we have decided that you’re gonna have that party.” So I thought, “Oh, well that’s interesting.”

David Chase:

Then the show came on the air. There was one bad review. And the TCA convention was happening at that time. And one of those people who was writing there said, “The one guy with the bad review, that knucklehead, they’re gonna find him in Miami Bay in a barrel.”

Kary Antholis:

(laughs)

David Chase:

And I thought, “That’s right, there’s no bad reviews here. What is going on?” And then once Vincent Canby wrote that, best whatever it was, piece of pop art in the last 25 years… I thought, “Wow, something is really happening here.” But I don’t think the ratings reflected that, right away.

Kary Antholis:

How long was it before you and HBO figured out you were gonna do a second season?

David Chase:

You worked there. You probably understand this better than I do. They never told me. Every year, I was never told we were coming back. In other words, you would have thought they would have said, while the show was on, it was gaining all this momentum, “Okay, well next year.” Show ended. I sat there. Nothing. And then finally, a couple months later, they would decide. Every year it was like that. No matter how hot it got. And I don’t know what that was about.

Kary Antholis:

And did they make you pitch?

David Chase:

No. They never made me pitch anything again. I never did pitch it. No.

Kary Antholis:

Did they ask you, “Do you wanna do another one?”

David Chase:

No. They would finally say, “Okay, we’re gonna pick the show up.” Well let’s talk to Business Affairs. See what you want, all that. (laughs) I think what it had to do with… this is only a… possibility… is that Chris felt that the show had too much control over the rest of his life. How much it cost, and how much hullaballoo there was about it. He became too dependent on it. I think that’s what it was. And one time he told me he wouldn’t have enough money for new development if it came back. And somehow he found it.

Kary Antholis:

How many months after it had finished airing did you get picked up for a second season? A few months?

David Chase:

Yeah, a couple months.

Kary Antholis:

And so how did you approach crafting a story for that second season? In other words, you’d done this for a season, you told the story of a mobster and his mother who tried to kill him.

Kary Antholis:

What more was there to say? How did you come to the notion of what else you wanted to say about this guy?

David Chase:

I think I came to that through character, which is usually how I come up with stories. But I, I come up with stories either as gimmicks or through… like showmanship, or through character. And I think I came up with that real… thinking about, well what happens to him and Uncle Junior? And what happens to him and his mother? And I think that was the story into where Junior became the boss, and Tony set him up as the boss, and all that.

Kary Antholis: m

Talk to me about bringing the show to an end. When did you come to the conclusion that it was time to wrap it up.

David Chase:

I was getting a little bit tired of it. And I was also thinking this show couldn’t be any hotter. Now is the time for you to go make a movie. Right around then, Chris Albrecht said to me, “I think the show should come to an ending. I think we should have an ending, instead of it just ending. So I think you should start thinking about that.” That was about a year, a season and a half before. And so that, he’s got me started thinking about it.

Kary Antholis:

You’ve talked a lot about the ending, and the way it played out. Were there any conversations with Chris about the ending?

David Chase:

No. I never spoke with Chris about the ending. Even afterward. Carolyn yes.

David Chase:

She read the script, and she was like, “Wow, so, um… and it’s just gonna go to black?” “Well, yeah.” “Well, maybe…”. I forget what she said. She had something to maybe help a little. And I said, “No, no, it should be like this.” It was a very brief conversation. And I could tell she was worried.

David Chase:

And this is why it was great to work at HBO. Because yes, I could tell she was worried. But she didn’t pass that worry on to me. Um, or say, “Uh, this is not… you, we can’t do this.” Now, they had good reason. The show had been, you know… golden for them for a many years.

Kary Antholis:

To this day, are you happy you ended the show that way?

David Chase:

Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Kary Antholis:

Why do you think it was the right ending for the show?

David Chase:

Well, you know, life is very ambiguous. It’s hard to figure out the meanings of life. And the show kind of specialized in that. And I thought this was a continuation of that. I also thought, okay, so it’s a story about a mobster. So you can have him, like, keel over in his chair like Al Pacino. Is he gonna die on the steps of the cathedral?

Kary Antholis:

(laughs)

David Chase:

Is it going to be, “Aw, is this the end of Rico?” And I thought, no. You can’t do crime doesn’t pay. Because it does pay. We’ve said it all along on this show. Because besides the Soprano family, we talked about Enron, and all these people making lots of money. So we know that crime pays. Everybody in America knows that crime pays. And we can’t do it and say crime pays. Because not everybody is a criminal. So that was that. I just didn’t wanna do either of those two. I didn’t do the crime pays like a dark, existential hip kind of thing.

Kary Antholis:

Two last questions. I’m not gonna ask you to talk about the new movie. What I would like to do is ask you about revisiting that mythology, and that world. Did you always have in the back of your head that you wanted to revisit that mythology?

David Chase:

No.

Kary Antholis:

When did you come to the notion of doing that in a movie?

David Chase:

It first came to me… the writers guild wanted to do an interview with me, in like the second or third season. And somehow we did it at Tom Fontana’s house. And he was involved in it somehow. Uh, whether they interviewed both of us, or he interviewed me, I, uh, I don’t know what it was. And he said, “Must be interesting to you to think about Johnny and Junior and the old days in Newark.” And I s- said, “Yeah, it is.” Um, ’cause that’s where my mother was brought up. And we used to go down there to shop for prosciutto and all that stuff. And yeah, and it was interesting. So that was the first time I thought, “Well that’s an interesting story.”

David Chase:

And then we did a couple of flashbacks. I always had this in the back of my mind… Doing a little bit more of the immigrant story, would be interesting.

Kary Antholis:

Last question. What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?

David Chase:

I mean in terms of work or art or whatever, the best piece of advice I ever got was just do it. Just do what, what you think, and what you want. And, in general, the best piece of advice I ever got was from my wife, who said to me, ” Just smile. Smile. Um, people want to see you smile.” ‘Cause I was, you know, sort of a surly kid. She was, she was right. It was really good advice.

Kary Antholis:

David Chase, thank you so much for your time.

David Chase:

Thank you.

End of Part 2