In the opening scene of The Many Saints of Newark—the hotly anticipated Sopranos prequel film—you meet Giuseppina Bruno, a beautiful 20-something who has just landed stateside from Italy with her new husband. She is every bit a ’60s muse, wearing a sunny floral-print dress with her hair perfectly coiffed and tucked under a woven wide-brim hat. Although she barely speaks English, her body language and infectious smile tell you all you need to know: keep an eye on this one.
The start of Bruno’s story is not unlike that of the young actress who portrays her. Michela De Rossi, too, hails from Italy (Rome, to be precise) and traveled to the U.S. for the very first time with her sights set on a bright future. In this case, it was her Hollywood debut. Her casting as Bruno, a highly sought-after role, is almost serendipitous when you consider the near parallel beginnings coupled with her parents’ love of The Sopranos and the fact that her brother had a puppet of her now co-star Alessandro Nivola. And much like her on-screen counterpart, she made a big impression from the get-go, landing the part almost immediately after her chemistry read with Nivola. “It’s a funny story,” she recalls over Zoom. “I did the chemistry test, and I remember Alan [Taylor] said, ‘Okay, have a safe flight back. We will let you know.’ And then, I was in the elevator, jumped in the car, and 10 minutes later, my phone rang, and it was Alan saying, ‘We want you to be her!’”
Following an immediate fitting for the character at her hotel, De Rossi jumped on a plane back to Rome and spent the next month binging all six seasons (86 episodes!) of The Sopranos in preparation for the film. The fact that the drama is considered one of the greatest television series of all time is not lost on the 28-year-old. “It’s like a great long movie,” she says, admitting she is already rewatching it. “Of course, it’s the actors, the script, the music, the characters, but I love to say it’s like Hamlet for television.” The Many Saints of Newark takes place 30-plus years before the infamous series when Tony Soprano—played by James Gandolfini’s son Michael Gandolfini—is just a teen. It’s partly an origin story for Soprano, but it’s more of a backstory for his “uncle” Dickie Moltisanti, played by Alessandro Nivola, and Moltisanti’s rise and fall with the DiMeo crime family amid the Newark race riots of 1967. The movie has all the makings of a classic American gangster flick (shoot-outs, unexpected Mob hits, family tension) and a stellar ensemble cast that also includes Vera Farmiga, Ray Liotta, and Leslie Odom Jr. “I remember the table reading and realizing it was me in front of those actors,” De Rossi says. “I was a fan. I had Ray Liotta next to me playing my husband, and I grew up watching Goodfellas.”
Even if you haven’t seen The Sopranos—as this editor is embarrassed to admit—The Many Saints of Newark stands firmly on its own. And it’s not just the thrilling story line that makes the film essential viewing this month. The incredible costumes offer a treasure trove of glamorous ’60s style. De Rossi has her fair share of noteworthy looks as Bruno. Think hourglass dresses in rich hues and prints, prim accessories, and a pair of white go-go boots that she begged the wardrobe team to take home. The looks were key to De Rossi’s character development. “When I saw myself in front of the mirror in the costumes, I thought, ‘Okay, this is her,” she tells me. “This will be the way I’m going to walk, the way I’m going to move my hands.”
Fashion has long played a leading role in De Rossi’s real life, too. It gives her another opportunity to play a character and craft an image for a specific outing or her mood that day. She credits the big Italian brands, such as Valentino, Alberta Ferretti, and Gucci, for influencing her style growing up, and she has most recently taken note of all the amazing dresses at this year’s Venice Film Festival. At the time of our call, The Many Saints of Newark’s own big premiere was just around the corner, so I ask if she knows what she’s wearing yet. “I am deciding between Armani and Chanel,” she says. Spoiler alert: She opted for a gorgeous white Armani suit accented with pink pumps.
Photo:Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
For as long as De Rossi can remember, she’s loved performing in front of people. She grew up watching musicals (thanks to her mom’s obsession with Hair and Grease), and upon graduating high school, she made the decision to enter drama school in lieu of university. Since landing her very first role in 2017, she’s starred in a steady stream of projects in Italy, including the popular series The Rats and the upcoming international series Django. But this month marks her big Hollywood debut, and based on her spectacular performance in The Many Saints of Newark, I predict we will be seeing more of the actress in U.S. roles.
Like I said, keep an eye on this one.