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‘The Sopranos’ not ready to call it quits just yet

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Steve Buscemi, left, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Drea DeMatteo of HBO's "The Sopranos."

Steve Buscemi, left, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Drea DeMatteo of HBO’s “The Sopranos.”

Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

HOLLYWOOD — The 13-episode fifth season of "The Sopranos" begins on HBO on Sunday, March 7. The 10-episode final season will air sometime in 2005. And then, that's it. It's over.

That's three fewer episodes than each of the first five seasons, but it's also 10 more episodes than creator/writer/executive producer David Chase planned to do.

"The 10th episode will be the finale and it's not going to be 13," said Chase, who reiterated that he had indeed originally planned to end the show after five seasons, but that he and the writer "came up with a lot of things and it turned out to be too much for five seasons. And it just seemed like 10 (more episodes) would probably do it. That should be enough to tell the story. Or the stories, because we have so many characters in the show that are so great, and that we wanted to pay off — so many great actors that we wanted to see have their moment."

As for reports that there might be "Sopranos" theatrical films after the series ends, that doesn't look like it's going to happen.

"I probably wouldn't say no to that completely, but I think this last 10 episodes will be that movie," Chase said. "That's the plan."

As for the fifth season, it picks up where the fourth season left off — the breakup of the marriage between mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and his wife, Carmela (Edie Falco). And that breakup plays a major part in the upcoming episodes.

"Having gone through something similar personally, it was a little difficult to dredge those things up sometimes," Gandolfini said. "But in terms of acting, anything that huge just makes you dig real deep. Especially if you're acting with someone like Edie Falco, it's just going to take you places that you haven't been before. And sometimes it was hard. It was very difficult some of those days to do some of those things."

Judging by a quick montage of clips HBO showed critics, it does appear that Tony vs. Carmela will be a major plot point.

"I think Carmela is Carmela, you know?" Falco said. "She has, I think, defined herself according to her role as wife and mother, but she is sort of a person in her own right as well. And I think that's part of what her challenge has been, to find out who that is."

With Tony never far away, however.

Chase said the "departure point" for the fifth season was an article he read about how mobsters imprisoned in the 1980s under the RICO laws are now getting out of jail.

"They've served their time and they are hitting the streets again," he said. "And so the show begins with what we call the Mafia class of 2004 hitting the streets."

One of the members of that "class" is Tony Soprano's cousin, Tony Blundetto, played by Steve Buscemi. "They were sort of partners in crime 17, 18 years ago," Chase said.

It will mark Buscemi's first on-screen role on "The Sopranos" after directing two episodes in the third and fourth seasons. (He directed another in the fifth season.)

"I've been a big fan of the show since the very beginning," Buscemi said. "And having directed a couple of episodes and gotten to know everybody, I was thrilled that I was asked. And I had the time of my life. It was really, really fun."

As to whether Buscemi will be back for that sixth and final season, "I keep my head, if that's what you're asking," he said with a laugh — a reference to the fate of the character played by Joe Pantoliano, who didn't keep his head.

As always, Chase was deliberately vague about what to expect from upcoming episodes, not wanting to give too much away. But he did talk in a general away about Season 5.

"I guess I'd say it has to do with the limitations of family and friendship — primary relationships and friendship in a sort of materialist world," Chase said. "And also the fact that Tony Soprano is sort of a mature boss. I don't want to say, 'The Lion in Winter,' because it isn't winter for him. But he's been doing this for quite a while now, and it's about what it takes to be a leader, I suppose, despite your feelings."

If you want to know more, you'll have to subscribe to HBO.

UNSENTIMENTAL: Tony Soprano has made Gandolfini both a star and a rich man, but he certainly doesn't seem overly sentimental about the character.

"I'm not ready to say goodbye to the character, but I'm not going to miss him," he said. "Does that make sense? I want to end this the right way and I know that (Chase) has something in mind and I trust him completely. So when he said 10 more episodes in the sixth year, that's what we need, I said, 'Fine.' And I will do everything I can.

"But when it's over the right way, I'll see you later."

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com