Long before The Sopranos, David Chase wanted to make a movie about a rock-and-roll band in the New Jersey suburbs.
And even before that, the writer, director, and creator of one of the most celebrated series in television history -- whose feature film debut, Not Fade Away, opens Dec. 28 -- was in a rock-and-roll band from the Jersey suburbs.
Like Douglas, the curly-haired Rod Serling fan played by John Magaro who steps out from behind his kit in Not Fade Away to become the lead singer of his group, the Twylight Zones, Chase was once a teenage rock drummer.
"I had been in a band when I was 18 or 19," says the 67-year-old auteur, who looks like he could be auditioning for a Men in Black sequel as he sits for an interview in a dark suit, white shirt, and skinny tie in a Philadelphia hotel suite.
"A friend I grew up with came to visit me in the early 1980s," recalls Chase, a writer for the detective show The Rockford Files in the 1970s. "He was still in a rock-and-roll band, and he hadn't changed much in all that time. I thought it would be a good idea to make a movie about these two guys who used to be in a band together, and now they're quote-unquote adults."
That generational buddy movie never got made. But after The Sopranos came to its infamous, ambiguous close in 2007, Chase circled back.
"I whittled it down and made it about the guy who becomes the lead singer," Chase says. In writing for a feature film, "I had to make it about Douglas and the band, Douglas and his girlfriend, Douglas and his father."
Chase sees Douglas as a "separate entity" from his younger self. But the character's relationship with his father -- depicted with hulking, thwarted power by James Gandolfini -- is autobiographical.
"We were enemies," he recalls, speaking deliberately. "We were real enemies. It was just going around then. I think there was an element of jealousy involved. I remember my father's business partner saying: 'These goddamned Spock babies. That's where we went wrong. We read that ... book.' " (He was referring to Dr. Benjamin Spock's influential 1946 book Baby and Child Care.)
"They tried hard not to repeat the parenting style of their parents, who were tough. They had made the planet safe for democracy, and it was a beautiful, idyllic little world they had created, and we weren't happy. That caused tremendous anger and resentment."
The Gandolfini character frequently addresses his son with words out of the mouth of Chase's own father, who died in 1976: "One of these days, my friend, you and I are going to tangle."
"We didn't really make peace, ever. He was always a secret fan of mine, during my show business travails," says the director, who graduated from New York University before studying film at Stanford. "When he was in the hospital he told the nurses, 'Here's my son, he works on The Rockford Files.' But when talking to me, he would not say that."
Not Fade Away also reunites Chase with Steven Van Zandt, the E Street Band guitarist who played mob capo Silvio Dante in The Sopranos. With Chase, he's responsible for the stellar soundtrack -- from Robert Johnson and Bo Diddley to Van Morrison.
"One of the things I wanted to do in this movie is point out that this music that changed everything came from the Mississippi Delta," Chase says. "It was created by the most devalued of our citizenry, and it came along and changed the world."
One song, a 1976 Sex Pistols cover of Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner," is chronologically out of place in the movie, which ends before the '60s are over.
"We auditioned like 500 songs for that spot," Chase says. "And it just felt the best. That song to me is a perfect expression of the young male adolescent suburban experience. . . . It's about realizing that you are in this universe, and it has marvels."
Speaking of marvels, let's cut to the chase. Will there ever be a Sopranos movie, Mr. Chase?
"I don't really foresee it happening," says the writer, who's at work on a potential HBO mini-series called A Ribbon of Dreams about the history of the movie business.
"Anything I say that has a little sniff of possibility, people misquote me and say the next day: 'Chase raises the possibility of Sopranos movie.' Which I really haven't said. What I've said was: I'm never going to say it's never going to happen.
"Why would I do that? Me or Jim or somebody could have a great idea for a Sopranos movie, and we could try to do it. But so far that hasn't happened, and nobody's working on it. I don't think it's ever going to be there. We're going to get to the point where everybody's too old."