Michela De Rossi has the breakout story of fairy tales. The Roman actress was plucked from obscurity to join the cast of “The Many Saints of Newark,” also known as “The Sopranos” prequel, which had her rattling off a series of firsts in quick succession: prior to arriving in New York for shooting, she’d never left Europe, never flown by herself and never done a movie in English.
Spend an afternoon with the 28-year-old and it doesn’t take long to see her charms: Though reserved, she is delightfully earnest, sweet and sure of herself, and has a smile that flashes into young Julia Roberts territory when she lights up. For her, landing the role alongside Ray Liotta, Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Vera Farmiga and Michael Gandolfini (as a young Tony Soprano) was obviously a dream come true, but also a moment to show her fellow countrymen what is possible.
“There was a period in which I had lost my…what is the word in English? My hope. There are periods in which it’s not only because you are a great actor, there are all sorts of stars that need to align. And then I thought, ‘Oh my God, it happened, I’m going to America,’” De Rossi says. “I think my country is going to be proud of me. Not only my parents or my friends — everyone was so proud of me, of me being Italian and being there. And then I thought we must hope because it’s possible. I was no one for them and they chose me.”
De Rossi grew up in Rome and, before going to drama school at 18, had always sort of known she would be an actress, even if the career path hadn’t crystalized for her yet.
“I only knew that when I was in front of people, they just liked to watch me,” De Rossi says. “I’ve never been someone who studied, someone who was the first one in something. When I finished high school, I thought, ‘I want to do something in which I can be one of the best.’ The only thing I thought was acting.”
Her family always trusted that vision, and here she is today. “The Sopranos” were new to her when she got the role, but like many other Millennials, she immediately devoured the series. Everything about the shoot was thrilling, from sitting next to Liotta to discovering that, unlike the movies she’d done in Italy, snacks and coffee awaited her at the table read.
“It’s really hard to do a studio movie in that terms. Everything was bigger than everything I did before,” she says.
She has her first leading role in a movie coming out in January in an Italian film, and then recently shot the international Western series “Django.” And while she waits for “The Many Saints of Newark” to blow up, she’s back on the auditioning track. Her dream is to play a real person in a biopic.
“I always thought about Audrey Hepburn just because she was a dancer and I’m a dancer, too. And I can look like her if I work on it,” she says.
“The Many Saints of Newark” hits theaters in the U.S. this weekend, with hopes for a big box office return, as well as simultaneous streaming on HBO Max. De Rossi, however, is thinking she’ll have to wait until the Italian release in November to see her big breakout moment.
“It’s been really, really stressful,” she says. “I need someone to give me HBO Max.” Anyone up for sharing their password?