This Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 photo shows director and producer David Chase in New York. Chase makes his directorial debut in the film, "Not Fade Away." In a recent interview with Chase about his new film, ìNot Fade Away,î the conversation inevitably turned to ìThe Sopranosî and its infamous ending. (Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP, File)
Updated: January 29, 2013 6:01AM
Before Emmy-winning television writer David Chase created HBO’s celebrated series “The Sopranos,” he worked on several well-regarded shows — among them “The Rockford Files” and “Northern Exposure.” But his big-screen aspirations were stymied by the lack of outside interest and a jam-packed production schedule.
“Before ‘The Sopranos,’ I just didn’t have any heat,” he said shortly before screening his first film, “Not Fade Away,” at the Chicago International Film Festival in October. “And my scripts were considered too complicated or too dark or too whatever. During ‘The Sopranos,’ possibilities started to open up. But I was doing the show then, so I didn’t really have time.”
When it ended in 2007, after a critically acclaimed six-season run, Chase was able to refocus his attention on celluloid. But it took another five years for “Not Fade Away” to get made.
Opening Friday, it’s the story of a hippie kid with rock ’n’ roll dreams that his parents don’t understand. As Chase explained during a conversation at his Gold Coast hotel, the subject matter hits close to home.
Q. In “Not Fade Away,” the main character’s parents aren’t excited about his musical pursuits. Your parents weren’t excited about you going to film school.
A. They didn’t know what it was. “Film school? What?” Before I went to film school [at Stanford University], I remember coming home from college my senior year. My father said, “So what are you taking this semester?” And I knew what I was good at on some level. I said, “Stage lighting and existentialism.” And my father said something like, “How can they teach crap like that in college? They should be teaching you how to be successful in the world.” He wanted me to go to law school, I’m sure. Or be a teacher. They wanted me to go into the diplomatic service. Neither one of them was the least bit diplomatic. And neither was I.
Q. How much are the parents in this movie based on your own?
A. The father [played by James Gandolfini] says some things that my father said. My father really hated my appearance back then. I don’t think he minded the music or the drugs as much as he minded how I looked: long hair and scruffy army jacket and Beatle boots. He just hated that. He hated it. One of his lines that’s in the movie is, “You look like you just got off the boat.” He was the son of immigrants, and that generation of people in the ’50s and ’60s wanted to assimilate. They didn’t want to stand out.
Q. Was it harder to prove yourself to your father than your mother?
A. No, both. My mother was never satisfied with anything. She was just one of those people.
Q. What about when you won your first Emmy (in 1980)? Did you at least get some plaudits then?
A. No. She didn’t get it. Just didn’t get it. It was too far [out] and it was threatening, I’m sure. In other words, she knew really well that this kind of thing was pulling me away from her and her life — it had taken me away to California — and that I was meeting the kind of people she would never meet. I was living a life that was not at all like hers, not like a straight, middle-class existence. And on some level I think she resented that, and she also felt that she didn’t know me as well — couldn’t know me. That’s just the way she was. My mother was very easily put off and defensive.
Q. You’ve talked about her needing to be the center of attention.
A. I don’t think she would have said she needed to be the center of attention, but she always wound up being the center of attention. She didn’t perform or clown or anything like that, but she needed babying all the time.
Q. Do you think your success stole some of her thunder?
A. Yeah, that’s true. It was threatening. And my mother was a great one for, “Who are you to think that you can do this?” Or, “Who are you to do that?” Her whole idea was that we should just be happy with what we’ve got — not that she was ever happy — and not to put on airs, not to think too much of yourself. That was anathema to her. For example, when my sister-in-law was 25, she died of a brain aneurysm. She was going to graduate school for psychology at the University of Maryland. So I called my mother and told her [the news], and she said, “You see, David? She was too smart.”
Q. Did you have to learn how to be ambitious after growing up in an environment like that? How to tout yourself?
A. Oh, yeah. I was never good at it. I was told you should never talk about yourself. Never, ever say anything, except “please” and “thank you.” But I guess it made me ambitious, to want to do better than that.
Q. That’s a big psychological hump for a kid to get over.
A. One of the key moments in the film is something that actually happened to me when I was playing in my band, and we were going to make this demo record. And we were each going to take turns doing a song. And so my friend Bobby went first. He picked this Fred Neil song that Lovin’ Spoonful had done, and we practiced and we practiced and we practiced. And he just didn’t have a very good voice. We stopped playing at one point, and it was quiet and I said, “I gotta tell you something: I think I can sing that song better than you.” And as I look back on it, that was my first show business move or moment — actually [saying], “I am better than you at this, and I’m going to take it away from you.” It was a big deal.
Q. Do you still play the drums?
A. No, not at all. I inherited a set of drums when “The Sopranos” was over, but I never played them. The kid in the show, Anthony Jr., played drums for a while, so I got those.
Q. A lot of the dialogue you write seems very musical. Is that partly an effect of your early musical training?
A. Maybe so. I was saying to somebody this morning that I think I learned as much about filmmaking from playing the drums as I did from going to film school — just rhythm and peaks and valleys and explosions of energy and then periods of quiet. I look at it as kind of a rhythmic thing.
Q. Have you done anything musical in recent years, even karaoke?
A. I freeze up at karaoke. This was recently, and I got hyper-competitive. My daughter, my assistant, my wife and some other people went out to karaoke. My daughter loves it. And my assistant got up, and he was really good at it, and that made me shut down, ’cause I couldn’t dominate it. And so I didn’t want to do anything.