''Sopranos'' insiders tend to adhere to a code of silence when it comes to plot spoilers, but star James Gandolfini and series creator David Chase let slip a few hints on Thursday at a press conference at the Television Critics Association's annual winter gathering in Hollywood. One aspect of the new season will be a new set of mobsters recently released from prison -- ''the Mafia class of 2004 hitting the streets,'' Chase said, via satellite, from Paris. One of those will be Tony Soprano's cousin, Tony Blundetto, a recurring character to be played by Steve Buscemi, previously attached to the series as the director of the celebrated ''Pine Barrens'' episode. Asked if his character is a candidate for whacking, a la Ralph Cifaretto (Joe Pantoliano), Buscemi said, ''I keep my head, if that's what you mean.''
Chase said the focus of the fifth season, which premieres on HBO on March 7, will be ''the limitations of family relationships and friendships in a materialist world. And Tony Soprano is kind of a mature boss. He's not quite a lion in winter, but he's been doing this for quite a while now.'' The last season ended with Carmela throwing the adulterous Tony out of the house, and Gandolfini said that emotionally wrenching plotline will continue. ''Having gone through something similar personally, it was difficult having to drudge those things up,'' he said. The actor went through a bitter divorce recently from wife Marcy; just this week, the Associated Press reports, he announced his engagement to Lora Somoza, whom he met four years ago on the set of the movie ''The Mexican,'' where she was an assistant to director Gore Verbinski.
Other revelations: Furio, who fled the country after his unconsummated flirtation with Carmela, won't be back, Chase said. Neither will the fugitive Russian gangster whom Christopher and Paulie lost in the woods in ''Pine Barrens.'' And that long-rumored ''Sopranos'' movie? Probably won't happen, Chase said. Rather, the sixth, shortened season (10 episodes) will tie up all loose ends. ''These last 10 episodes will be that movie, I believe,'' Chase said.
Gandolfini, who said that his role has made it hard for casting directors to imagine him as anything else, said he won't be entirely sorry to see the series end. ''I'm not ready to say goodbye to the character but I'm not going to miss him. Does that make sense?'' he said. ''When it's over the right way -- I'll see you later.''