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Does Tony Soprano have a future as a matinee idol?

While David Chase, mastermind of The Sopranos, is reiterating that the upcoming extended sixth season will be the last the last we see of the mob family on HBO, he isn't saying fuhgeddaboudit to a big-screen sequel.

"This is the absolute end," Chase tells the New York Times. But, he teases, "I could not promise that we would not come back and do a movie. It may be that in two or three or four years I could be sitting around and get an idea for a really great Sopranos movie."

Of course, long waits are nothing new to fans of Emmy-winning show.

The first 12 episodes of the sixth season kick off Mar. 12, nearly two years after the last new episodes aired in June 2004. Chase & Co. have already tested the patience of die-hards with a 15-month break between the fourth and fifth seasons and a 16-month wait between the third and fourth.

"Honestly, the last break affected me detrimentally," James Gandolfini tells the Times. "It was long. I think your brain starts to eke out other places. I don't think I was horribly affected--I hope not. But it was long."

Part of the reason for the abnormally elongated hiatus was the renegotiation process between HBO and Chase.

Chase, who has flirted with the idea of each season since the fourth as being the show's last, agreed to extend The Sopranos' final season order last year.

After the first dozen new episodes air, there will be another several month break before the final eight episodes begin unspooling in January 2007.

For all his hemming and hawing over the latter few seasons, Chase tells the Times that he has known generally known how he will end the series "for a couple of years now."

"He told me one thing," Gandolfini says. "But I think it's different now."

Could that one thing could be the fate of a seemingly ill-fated central character now that a movie may someday be in the works? Maybe, maybe not.

"I don't think [a movie] will happen," Chase says. "But if one morning somebody woke me up and said this would make a really good, concise, contained Sopranos story, I wouldn't rule that out."

Last June, while still toying with the idea of a bonus mini-season, Chase admitted that the show could live on in either a seventh season or a film version without altering his vision. Fans leapt on the statement, taking it as confirmation that the show's protagonist, Tony, would not be getting whacked and that he would be heading for the big screen.

As of right now, Chase asserts, a Sopranos movie is pure speculation and should not overshadow the show's remaining TV life.

"I do think that I've been a part of something extraordinary here," he says in the Times. "It's been an amazing ride. This is not being coy...We still try to do work that pleases us. But, you know, a lot of things happened. For some reason there was a zeitgeist going on, where this thing connected to whatever was out there. Who knows why that happens?"