John Magaro turned heads earlier this year as an emotionally tortured, David Foster Wallace–obsessed undergrad in Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts before appearing as the daydreaming lead in David Chase’s Not Fade Away, the writer and director’s first feature film and first notable project since creating The Sopranos. After he was cast, Magaro found himself in his own private episode of Making the Band, holing up in executive producer Steven Van Zandt’s studio with fellow actors Will Brill and Jack Huston in a method attempt to portray the film’s hero, a teenage garage band singer aspiring to fame in 1960s suburban New Jersey. “I don’t think any rock- ’n’-roll films are like this. It’s almost like a French film from the ’60s,” says the 29-year-old actor, who’ll next appear opposite Tom Hanks and Catherine Keener in the Somali pirate–centered drama, Captain Phillips.
After this experience, do you consider yourself a musician? Would you want to go somewhere with it?
I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to call myself a musician. [Laughs] There are people who are much more capable of creating music than I will ever be able to, but, I would consider it a hobby and something that’s a lot of fun to do. And I’m glad that I have the skill now. I think it would take many more years for me to develop to a point where I could actually be in a real band that wasn’t just playing covers or easy covers.
Maybe because I’m just used to thinking of David Chase,as a TV person—I feel like the film could so easily have been expanded into a television format. Do you feel the same way?
I can see people feeling like it could be expanded more. I mean, there wasn’t much more to the story, we had a cut that was a much longer version and that he had to kind of condense it. But I think this version sort of was what he was going for; in the script it always ended with him in LA, with him hitchhiking down the street. David sort of doesn’t do a convention ending; I don’t think that’s in his nature; he always likes to do something that’s sort of different or pushing the boundaries of a conventional television or conventional film ending—especially for a rock n’ roll story. I don’t feel like any rock n’ roll movies end like this, almost like a French film from the ’60s or something. Certainly, I guess, it could be expanded—maybe there’ll be a sequel. Who knows? But like The Sopranos film, I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.
Were you a huge fan of The Sopranos beforehand?
Yeah, I grew up watching them. I don’t watch a ton of TV, and I was in high school when that came out, so that was like the show that I watched every single Sunday night. I got into it at that time because it was cool, and it had mob elements, and it was like Goodfellas and all that. But then as you watch it, it’s so much more than that. David delves into some really profound stuff.
Did you relate to the family dynamic in the film?
Yeah, to a degree. My family’s a little different, but the balancing of your own dreams with your parents’ or your family’s expectations for you is something that a lot of people go through, and I think it’s also not just a suburban thing, but maybe it’s more prevalent in the suburbs, this idea of: This is the route we want you to take. This will lead you to safe adulthood. And then, if you try and infuse becoming an artist, which is something that they might not know about and that might seem very risky and dangerous, I think that can lead to a lot of tension between parents and children. My parents aren’t together, but my mother always was supportive of what I wanted to do. I feel like my Dad would have preferred if I got like a law degree or something, and he was questioning me jumping into this career, but I think once they see you doing well, and capable of taking care of yourself, then that fear that they had for you sort of starts to vanish a little bit. And they start to understand it maybe a bit more.
What is your most surreal memory or moment?
I think it’s probably my dreams. I have really weird dreams, and I get very lost and confused with reality. In fact, today I woke up and in my dream last night, I was slogging – is that the word? – slogging through mud and I was getting sucked into quicksand, and somehow I got out of it, and I was wearing these jeans, and I woke up, and I was like, “Oh god I can’t wear these jeans because they’re really dirty and covered in mud.” And I was like smelling them this morning, trying to figure out if they were dirty and covered in mud, and I couldn’t. This happens to me a lot. I get confused with my dreams and reality.
That’s a super stressful dream.
Well I often have dreams of getting killed a lot. It’s really weird.
Do you survive?
No, it’s not like Inception. No, I will sit there, dead, until I wake up, and then I’ll go back to sleep, and then I’ll start a new dream again. I get very affected by it.