In his first project since exiting “The Walking Dead,” executive producer Frank Darabont takes us back in time to 1940s Los Angeles with the noir series “Mob City,” which premieres on TNT Wednesday, Dec. 4, at 9/8c, and tells the story of the epic battle between the L.A.P.D. and the mobsters who tried to get control of the City of Angels.
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Loosely based on John Buntin’s book, L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City, “Mob City” is the fictional story of Detective Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), a former Marine, who has been assigned to a new police task force whose job is to free the city of thugs like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (Ed Burns) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), the head of the mobsters.
Along the way, there are the requisite surprising twists and turns as several people turn out to not be who they first appear to be, several of the cops are corrupt, and in true noir style, there is also the mysterious dame — Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos), who enthralls the men with her beauty and her secrets.
“This cast is like a gift, they’re all so wonderful,” Darabont tells xfinityTV exclusively. “The work that they’re doing is so great. Not to praise them at the expense of the crew. We’ve got such amazing talents in front of and behind the camera on this. I’m so proud of them and grateful for them all.”
As well, in his interview, Darabont gives us an insider’s view of what to expect from TNT’s powerful new drama, “Mob City.” Check it out.
Do you have favorite moments?
I’ve been in the editing room since we wrapped this thing and every day, I’m delighted again by something that an actor has done, whether it’s the way they glance across the table, or the way they delivered their lines.
But I think my favorite little moment, because it just gets so damn noir for a moment, is in Episode 2 when our lead, Joe Teague has been tasked with keeping a character under surveillance. He gets his car down the street from this apartment building, where this character lives, he jumps out of his car and jaunts across the street. He’s got his fedora on, he’s got his overcoat on, and he kind of ducks into this little alley and the camera just closes in on him lurking there.
You’re looking down this street — it’s actually Hennessey Street over at Warner Bros.’ back lot. My production designer did such a great job. We’ve got the old-school neon signs and the wet pavement, so the pavement’s got these reflections going on a little bit. That moment just feels like such a classic noir image to me. The cop lurking in the alleyway looking across the street at the building. The history of that street alone, it kind of sends a chill down my spine because it’s been there forever.
Click on the Image Below to Watch a Behind-the-Scenes Clip of “Mob City”:
I read that you picked up a copy of L.A. Noir at the airport and that is where the inspiration to do “Mob City” came from. What was it about the book that motivated you?
When I picked up the book, I didn’t realize it was non-fiction, but the title L.A. Noir, it was right up my alley. I just grabbed it and said, “Whatever this book is, I’m reading it.” It was very fortunate, a very fortuitous choice. When I read the book, I thought, “This is a history of Los Angeles that is so fascinating, and to my eye, largely unexplored.” We don’t really think of L.A. as a mob city.
I grew up here and I don’t.
You think of New York; you think of Chicago. Those stories have been told and told and retold. I haven’t really seen it in L.A. Even “L.A. Confidential,” which is a brilliant movie based on a superb book, even that just throws a glance toward the mob. It’s got its own story to tell. I felt like we hadn’t really seen the milieu of that L.A. What was the gangster thing here? John Buntin wrote that so brilliantly and with such exhaustive research that it winds up being such an entertaining read. It felt like it had tremendous potential for a good entertaining, pulp, long-term television show.
You can remake clothes in the style of that period, but to actually find all the cars, the telephones and other props, how hard was that to make it authentic?
Well for me, not so hard because I wasn’t the one having to do it. People don’t really ever put the emphasis on the crews, but somebody’s job was to make sure those things showed up, and were the right choice. The effort that people put in, the ones who really care about their jobs, and I’m privileged to work with those people. It’s not easy to find those things and assemble them for that day of shooting.
I have to single out my art department, my production designer and his crew, because the amount of research they’ve put in to give us the black jazz club, or Mickey Cohen’s jazz club, which opened on the white side of town. It’s got such a different vibe.
The same thing in wardrobe and costuming. The show is really a triumph of set design, production design and also costume design. Gigi [Giovanna Ottobre-Melton] is absolutely inexhaustible and will create a tie if she can’t find the right tie. She put the designs together, actually, figured out a way to manufacture them, and do it all within the context of the parameters of a television budget and still do feature-quality work. It’s quite a thing. Quite an achievement.
One of the things that’s happening now with movies that are based on real life is people like to criticize, saying they’re not accurate. Did that concern you at all when you were doing this?
No. I discarded any fear of ‘they’re not accurate enough’ right from the get-go, because we are – I promise you — not accurate. We’re not doing the docudrama approach here. I think if we did, it would be a little bit of a dry approach. An overly earnest sort of “Masterpiece Theater” approach to the mob and the cops in the 1940s, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do a show that was not beholden to fact.
I wanted to follow through on the promise of a show that is a noir show. I’m not trying to masquerade as being a historically accurate drama here. It isn’t a documentary, I promise you. I just want to, hopefully, entertain the audience and get them addicted to the show. So we are playing it fast and loose with facts. I gave myself license to just lie my butt off and say, “Well actually, here’s the history underneath the history.”
I said, “Okay, those people who live for getting online and pointing out where we’re inaccurate, they’re going to be running in circles with the inaccuracies here.” You want the accurate version? Read John’s book. You can’t put it down, a total page turner.
You have a couple of real-life mobsters in “Mob City” — Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen. In casting, did you take into consideration the physicality of the actors? Other than one of them needed to be short, because there were jokes about that, but did they need to resemble the real guys since we don’t really remember what they looked like?
There was something so fascinating about those two guys. The way they looked, their physicality. Mickey Cohen does not look like a gang boss. He looks like a Jewish tailor. He looks like my stepfather. There’s something in that certain era of a guy who grew up in a Jewish family and he was kind of schlubby. He was a schlubby guy and yet he would wear these amazing suits that were tailored for him. He had this great sense of style. What a wonderful and unexpected mixture of things. So I definitely wanted to try to cast somebody … at the of the day you pick the best actor, but I was hoping to find an actor who would at least be in the ball park.
The guy we cast, Jeremy Luke, who is brilliant in the role, I love what he’s doing as Mickey. He’s not nearly as schlubby as the real Mickey looked. Jeremy is actually a pretty handsome guy, but he’s still got this slightly crazy look to him that he looks like a bulldog that you put in a suit and tie. The way he looks and the way he presents himself is actually pretty accurate to Mickey. Mickey was a very elemental guy. He strove to be polished but he wasn’t born with that polish so it was a bit of a struggle.
Ben Siegel, well, Ed has been perfect for that, because it’s the same thing. The sample template applies: Cast the best actor for the part, but he also happens to be tall and handsome. Ben Siegel would walk into a room and he was like a movie star. If he hadn’t been a mobster, and if he had had any talent, he might have been a movie star in that day.
I find that so fascinating and both of them loved being the celebrity gangster. There was this sort of weird publicity hunger that they both had. They loved being celebrities; they loved being the center of attention. They loved getting their name in the paper. Very odd considering the line of work they were in. Then there’s the Meyer Lansky-type who wants to be as low profile and behind the scenes as possible. It is interesting to depict both. What an interesting group of guys, who came up the hard way. From tremendous crushing poverty, they made kings of themselves in their own worlds.
“Mob City,” which also stars also stars Milo Ventimiglia, Neal McDonough, Jeffrey DeMunn, Gregory Itzin, and Robert Knepper, will air in two-hour installments over three Wednesdays, beginning Dec. 4 at 9/8c on TNT.