Gandolfini Ready to Rumble as Tony

01/09/2004 at 10:00 AM EST

Mob bosses may be tightlipped, but actors playing them are not.

Tony Soprano's alter ego, Emmy winner James Gandolfini, admitted Thursday that "I'm not ready to say goodbye to the character, but I'm not going to miss him," the Associated Press reports.

When "The Sopranos" returns to HBO on March 7, it will mark the debut of the drama's fifth season, following a 15-month hiatus.

Gandolfini, who just this week announced his engagement to girlfriend Lora Somoza, spoke Thursday during the winter press tour of the Television Critics Association in Hollywood. Of Tony, the actor, 42, says: "He's got a lot of rage, and you have to scrape that up. ... Eight or nine months a year, 14-hours a day, it starts to take its toll after a while," he said.

Last season ended in a veil of tears: Tony's wife, Carmela, played by Edie Falco, bravely ordered her Mob boss husband out of the house. Their split was anything but amicable.

"Having gone through something similar personally, it was difficult having to dredge those things up," said Gandolfini, whose real-life marriage to his wife Marcy ended in divorce in December 2002, as the show's fourth season drew to a close. "Sometimes it was very hard to do some of those scenes."

According to reports at the time, Marcy Gandolfini described James as a serial philanderer and party boy.

Just this week, Gandolfini revealed he was newly engaged to Somoza, who he met on the set of the film "The Mexican." She had been an assistant to the film's director, Gore Verbinski.

As for what this season will bring, producer David Chase told TV reporters that actor Steve Buscemi will join the cast as Tony Soprano's maternal cousin, Tony Blundetto.

Chase, 58, also said Tony will become a "sort of a maturer (sic) boss. He's been doing this for a while now, and he's learning what it takes to be a leader despite his feelings." The season debut episode will also reportedly pick up where last season's finale ended.

As for the future of the show, Chase said he planned to finish off the series after a sixth season of 10 more episodes, though so far no production or air date has been set.

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