TORONTO - He's a giant in the world of cable television, but "The Sopranos" creator David Chase says his true Hollywood ambition was always to make a feature film.
He just didn't think it would take him roughly four decades to do it.
This week, the 67-year-old showrunner releases his debut feature "Not Fade Away," a coming-of-age tale loosely inspired by his own New Jersey youth and rock'n'roll dreams.
Chase says it's been a long journey to the silver screen.
"I never really wanted to be in TV even though I got 'The Sopranos' — (which) I loved doing. But I was not happy in television before then," Chase admits during a recent stop in Toronto to preview the film.
"It was always my long-term goal to make a feature."
Chase says there were stabs over the years at launching a movie career, even while his backup plan in TV soared — four decades of acclaimed writing credits include "The Rockford Files," "Northern Exposure" and "I'll Fly Away," not to mention the Peabody Award-winning "Sopranos."
But scoring a film deal remained frustratingly out of reach.
"I tried a bunch of times to get a movie made while I was in Hollywood. I wrote a lot of scripts and stuff but none of them sold," he sighs.
"The word on me was I was too dark — the material was too dark. I don't know what that means."
Dark is certainly not the way he describes "Not Fade Away," a tribute to the rock'n'roll explosion of the mid-'60s and Chase's own adolescent dreams of becoming a rock star.
Chase writes, directs and produces the period drama, with help from "Sopranos" pals James Gandolfini, who plays a more traditional family patriarch here than his TV character Tony Soprano, and Steven Van Zandt, who executive produces and acts as music supervisor.
Set from 1962 to 1968, the story centres on the brooding teen Douglas, played by John Magaro. Awkward and lonely, he slowly finds himself by joining a band, discovering the Beatles and Rolling Stones and embracing the look and sound of his various musical heroes.
The Jersey-raised Chase says he, too, grew up with dreams of music stardom, but was not nearly as focused or talented as the driven Douglas.
"I played drums when I was in high school and I was an OK drummer and I was an OK rock'n'roll drummer, too, but by the time I got to form this band — this sort of like, really not very successful band — my parents had sold my drums so I had to play on cardboard boxes. And I kept meaning to buy a set but that shows how serious we were," he says.
"I wanted to be up front anyway, singing lead, so I took bass guitar and tried to learn that. (But) I wasn't very good as a bassist."
With the band going nowhere, Chase became more and more interested in film, particularly foreign films from Europe and Japan.
"It changed my view of what filmmaking was," he says.
"Not Fade Away" blends Chase's love for film and music with help from Van Zandt, who insisted the actors know how to play their instruments.
The rocker was adamant they cast musicians who could act — rather than actors who could play — and they embarked on a three-month search for stars. But Chase says that aside from leading them to supporting actor Brahm Vaccarella, who plays the bass player Joe, the search didn't yield much.
In the end, they went a more traditional route and put the actors they cast through a musical boot camp with Van Zandt.
"You can't fake the acting," says Chase. "(But) you can fake playing music. You can fake it technically. It's not as good but you can fake it."
Luckily, Magaro knew how to keep a beat on the drums and could actually sing. Co-star Jack Huston ("Boardwalk Empire") also had a decent set of pipes for his role as Eugene, and Gregory Perri as Skip, really can play, says Chase.
Still, when the band lets loose it's actually Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent, Bob Bandiera and Van Zandt playing the instruments, although the film retains Huston and Magaro's singing.
A secondary storyline centres on Gandolfini's blue-collar dad, Pat, who is increasingly bewildered by his son's musical ambitions.
Although it wasn't initially written for his "Sopranos" star, Chase says an early draft failed until he began building the story around Gandolfini in the supporting role.
He says it's the only time he's ever written a script for a specific actor.
"I'd written a whole draft but I didn't like it. And then I just started thinking of seeing him as the father and once I saw him as the father the whole thing clicked into shape more for me in terms of what the overall tone of the movie should be and I went back and rewrote. Not only his stuff, but everybody's stuff," he says, crediting Gandolfini with being a powerful muse.
"He's a particular kind of actor, if he's in a large part of the movie it's going to be a certain kind of thing."
"Not Fade Away" opens Friday.