Michael Gandolfini Says He Feels 'a Bond' with Late Dad James as a Result of Playing Tony Soprano

James Gandolfini's son Michael portrays a young version of the Sopranos mob boss in the upcoming film The Many Saints of Newark

Keeping it in the family!

Michael Gandolfini steps into his late father James Gandolfini's iconic role of Tony Soprano in the new prequel film to The Sopranos, The Many Saints of Newark.

But Gandolfini, 22, makes it clear, "I didn't play my dad," he tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I played Tony."

Because of that, the actor did his best to nail down his dad's mannerisms from the HBO series.

michael and james gandolfini
Shutterstock; Everett

"I need to get his physicality down," Gandolfini says. "Like I look like my dad, I don't have the gestures. I don't have the accent, the way he uses his eyes. All those things are things I wanted to develop because if I could get his physicality, I might be able to have more leeway to do what I want emotionally."

Channeling a young Tony Soprano allowed the younger Gandolfini to connect with his father, who died at age 51 of a heart attack in 2013, in a new way.

RELATED VIDEO: 'Sopranos' Alum Jamie-Lynn Sigler Says James Gandolfini's Son Michael 'Has a Beautiful Heart'

"I feel a bond," Gandolfini says. "I understand the toll that he went through, the hard work that he put in as an actor that maybe I wouldn't have known as a kid. I respect him as an actor more."

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michael gandolfini
Taylor Hill/Filmmagic

No matter what, "my dad is always going to be my best friend," Gandolfini adds. "He's always just going to be my dad to me."

For more James Gandolfini, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Gandolfini can't wait for audiences to see him as the character his dad made famous. "This moment means so much more to me in many ways. It means a lot to my family," he says. "It's been a long time coming and I'm just so honored."

The Many Saints of Newark opens in theaters and streams on HBO Max this Friday.

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