Film noir ain't just for the big screen anymore. The Frank Darabont-created, TNT-backed L.A. gangster tale, Mob City is setting itself up to be one of the holiday's season's big-ticket items, airing its six-part first season in two weekly installments over three weeks, starting December 4. Three of the show's impressive ensemble cast -- Milo Ventimiglia, Robert Knepper and Ed Burns -- came to NYCC with guns blazing to talk up this cross between L.A. Confidential and The Godfather.
On the Show's Premise
Ed Burns: I play Bugsy Siegel, who is obviously a real character and the head of the L.A. crime syndicate. Miles is Ned Stax -- a fictional character -- who is a lawyer, but playing both sides of the fence. Robert is Syd, also a fictional character, who is Bugsy's hitman and the muscle of the operation. It's 1947 and a cop William Parker, played by Neal McDonaugh, wants to squash the mob. So that's what goes on in the first season.
The Stars on What Attracted them to the Material
Milo Ventimiglia: It's the war in 1947 between the L.A. cops and the Mob. So there was no thought for me -- it was sort of a no-brainer. Who doesn't love gangster fiction? So I put myself on tape and I heard that Frank [Darabont] said "Who the fuck is this guy?" In a good way! [Laughs]
Robert Knepper: On the pilot, Simon Pegg told me, "I was dying to work with Frank," and I felt that way myself for years. The fact that he likes you and wants you in one of his projects is a really nice feeling. We each have our own things that he probably saw, and for me it was Prison Break, which I realize is a beautiful rip-off of The Shawshank Redemption. The fact that Frank appreciated that and that he loved T-Bag was great.
Edward Burns: I've done so many romantic comedies, that I couldn't wait to have an opportunity to beat the shit out of somebody on screen. [Laughs] It was very easy to tap into my dark and more violent side. I think most actors love playing the bad guys -- they're always so much more fun.
On Getting into Character
Burns: I purposely did not look at the Warren Beatty film, but I watched a doc on Bugsy and did a little research on the time period. But really, what helped most was Frank saying to me, "This guy has to be larger than life. He walks into the room and people automatically have to love him and fear him. So have fun with that." And when I did my research and saw he was from Brooklyn, I was like, "Okay, now I don't have to work on accent. That works for me, because I've basically got one accent I do very well.
Knepper: Before shooting my scenes with Ed, I'm sitting there thinking, "I've got to seem like I'm best friends with this guy since I was a little kid." And you can't manufacture that kind of relationship -- you have it or you don't. Ed came onto the set and immediately reached out to everybody and really pulled us together. That's a beautiful thing, because you don't have any time to figure it out. Every day we told stories and cracked each other up and wanted to know about our pasts and families and that's what these guys were like in real life. That real-life bonding came into the characters.
Burns: Yeah, on the show, we feel like real friends, because we clicked immediately off-screen, which doesn't always happen.
On the Attraction of Playing Bad Guys
Ventimiglia: I just look like trouble. [Laughs] My character is a guy who operates on both sides of the law; he's an attorney for the mob and is so entwined with it, you have to wonder how much of the dark side he's already in. So it was kind of like playing real life for me -- sometimes you're good and sometimes you're bad.
Kepper: I learned years ago to always play the opposite. Bad guys don't think they're bad guys -- they think they're doing something really great. So that's how I go about it; I ask myself, "What am I doing positive here?" Not negative. Then that usually works out.
Burns: Part of it is wish-fulfillment. You guys know what it feels like for a guy bumps into you or a cab to cut you off. You want to go Walter White or Bugsy Siegel on them -- you want to take that fucker and bash his head through the window. I know you do. [Laughs] But you can't do that, so you put on Breaking Bad and you get to live through those characters. In those situations, we wish we could act the way the gangster does. The other thing is, they're fascinating characters. I mean, Bugsy lived a crazy, wild life and that makes for great drama.
On Being Period-Appropriate
Knepper: Originally, I kept hearing Sterling Hayden in my head and I stupidly went for his voice, then had to go back and organically find what it was and who this guy was. The trick I realized, especially with the '40s, is don't go for that voice. It's just a cliché and you'll shoot yourself in the foot. Both of these guys are very good at not doing that.
On Being Concerned About Frank Darabont's Penchant for Killing Characters
Knepper: Nothing in this business lasts forever; no show lasts forever and no character lasts forever. And when you're dealing with a genius, you just have to step back and let him do that for you. I can't go to Frank and say "Can you please keep my character alive for the whole series?" [To Ventimiglia:] Did you feel that on Heroes ever? No you were a superhero, so they'd never have killed you…
Ventimiglia: No, but they'd do shit like take my powers away. [Laughs] With this show, we had such a short amount of time -- six episodes and two months of production -- I knew that I personally wasn't thinking who was buying it and who was sticking around. I just thought, "Hey let me enjoy the hell out of this!"
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