David Chase
David Chase on the set of Not Fade Away (Barry Wetcher, Paramount Vantage/Everett Collection)

Ask David Chase a question and he will give you an honest answer. And at 67 years of age, the creator of The Sopranos does not think he can reasonably answer the question I have asked him. The question: do young people today value music the same way that he and his peers did back in the 1960s?

“You know, I don’t really know because I’m not there in their unguarded moments,” he says. “My guess is not quite, but I have no call to say that.”

Chase is in Toronto to promote Not Fade Away. It is his first movie as a director and his first project to see the light since The Sopranos ended in 2007 on the mysterious note that it did. Set mostly in 1960s New Jersey, it stars Joseph Magaro (The Box, The Brave One) as Douglas, a suburban teen who decides to form a rock & roll band after becoming entranced by the music of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Despite the band never going anywhere, Douglas and his ambitious bandmates still go through all the same bonding, ego clashes, and strife of any big rock band of the era, all set against the turbulence of the period, from Kennedy’s assassination through to the Vietnam War.

Chase – who served time as a drummer in a Jersey rock band in his youth (an experience which informs much of the film) – was obsessed by music as a teen, as were all his friends and as are all the young characters in Not Fade Away.

“That’s all I ever talked about with my friends,” he says. “That’s all we ever did was wait for the next Stones album or wait for the next Kinks album. That’s all we ever did was talk about that stuff and play that stuff over and over again.”

Not Fade Away’s young cast is composed of talented actors who are still relative unknowns, including Angelica Huston’s nephew Jack (Boardwalk Empire) as Douglas’s combative lead singer and Australian actress Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows) as Douglas’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Grace. While he was open to working with known names, Chase says the anonymity of his actors worked to the film’s benefit.

“I said to Paramount when we first started – I was kind of lying – but I said, ‘If you want I can keep my mind open to casting name actors.’ But at that age there aren’t a lot of people that mean that much financially, you know? I mean, the whole thing’s about can somebody open a movie in Europe and [in] foreign [markets]. There aren’t that many people in their early twenties who can do that. So it never became so much a concern.

“And in the end I’m glad it turned out that way because I think it would have been bad for the movie to have actor A. You would have known he was going to rise from the crowd.”

Indeed, the only instantly recognizable name in the film is James Gandolfini. He plays Douglas’s father Pat, and of course he was mob patriarch Tony Soprano on The Sopranos. I ask Chase why he wanted to work again with Gandolfini and what the actor does well.

“Well, he’s real smart,” he says. “He knows where the value lies in a scene; he knows what the important parts are in a scene. It doesn’t have to be explained to him.

“But most of all – it’s a hard thing to say: what does Jim bring to it? I don’t know. Maybe it’s in his eyes? He’s got this very... This sounds so stupid - this very human... There’s a sadness to him, or sometimes a little glitter or glint. He goes way deep underneath the surface.”

Shot over 54 days in New York State and then California, Not Fade Away proved to be a challenge for Chase not only physically but personally.

“Honestly, the biggest [challenge] is stamina,” he says. “Being away from your family for that long, you go into a whole other alternate universe, and your personal life suffers. And it’s hard on your loved ones, because even when you’re there, you’re not there. You’re talking to them but you’re thinking about the movie.”

Despite the time period in which the film is set, Chase says that Not Fade Away is no exercise in nostalgia.

“I don’t feel any nostalgia for The Sixties. People always say they’re so nostalgic, or ‘he didn’t really touch on all those things that happened in The Sixties.’ Well, I mean, here we are today and we’re not really touching on things that are going on right now. You’re TV journalists, I’m a writer. None of us are in Afghanistan; none of us are protesting Afghanistan. The majority of people just live their lives, and that’s what I wanted to capture.”

Not Fade Away opens Dec. 28, 2012 in Toronto and nation wide on Jan. 4, 2013.