Meet the cast of TNT's Mob City, debuting Wednesday, December 4 at 9 PM ET
While most TV shows are getting ready to shut down for their holiday break, TNT is getting ready to roll out its latest series Mob City. The six-episode program from creator Frank Darabont (The Walking Dead) will air two back-to-back episodes on three consecutive Wednesdays, starting with "A Guy Walks Into a Bar" and "Reason to Kill a Man" on December 4 at 9 PM ET.
The series, set in 1940s Los Angeles, takes viewers inside an embattled L.A.P.D. that is waging war with notorious mobsters such as Bugsy Siegel (Edward Burns) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke). The show centers on Detective Jon Teague (Jon Bernthal), who is assigned to a new task force as a part of Captain William Parker's (Neal McDonough) mission to to clean up the streets of L.A. and get rid of this mafia scourge for good.
I recently had the chance to sit down with three of the show's stars, Neal McDonough, Jeremy Luke and Gregory Itzin, who plays L.A. mayor Fletcher Bowron. Take a look at what the stars of Mob City had to say about the series in our exclusive interviews.
Jeremy Luke - Mickey Cohen
For something like this, when you approach a character like Mickey Cohen, since he has been played by so many other actors, do you look at other performances to see what to get away from?
Jeremy Luke: You know what, I didn't. I mean, halfway through, I kind of looked through some of the stuff, like Bugsy and Gangster Squad. Harvey Keitel and Sean Penn are two of my favorite actors, and I watched some of their stuff, but I had already made some of the decisions that I had made. It was kind of ironic, to me, the first day I started shooting, James Gandolfini passed away, so for me, I kind of went back and watched all of The Sopranos again. For me, that was kind of inspirational, how he handled his weight, being a bigger guy. I had to gain like 15 to 20 pounds throughout the shoot, so for me to be in that kind of state, using my weight, that's kind of where I got inspired, for Mickey. It was kind of like coincidence, that it all happened like that.
There's such a presence you have to create with a role like this.
Jeremy Luke: Yeah, and he's a little guy, but he's a little guy with a big attitude.
Was there anything that surprised you about Mickey in doing research?
Jeremy Luke: The thing with Mickey is he had a harsh case of obsessive compulsive disorder. He'd wash his hands 50, 60 times a day. This is another good story. He had 300 suits in his closer, and he had some enemies bomb his house. He wasn't so mad about the house being blown up, but these guys ruined his god damn suits! The cool thing, what really intrigued me, is most gangsters enjoy being knuckleheads. Mickey was a knucklehead, there's no doubt about it, but he always tried to better himself. He always tried to educate himself. He looked up to people who were a lot smarter than him, so there's a lot to be said about that kind of gangster. There was respect that I had for him, for doing that.
That must be an interesting line to walk. He is a bad guy, but you have to portray that humanity, because he does have a following.
Jeremy Luke: Yeah, that was a thing I looked at with the script. He is a bad guy, but I think he really likes people. I think he really enjoys people, because someone who runs a nightclub, takes pictures with everyone who comes through the door, shakes everybody's hand, even though he has a harsh case of OCD and he has to wash his hands every five minutes. Somebody like that, in my mind, enjoys to be around people and likes to be the center of attention.
This era not only has a distinct sense of style, but people also talked very differently back then. Was that something you had to approach too?
Jeremy Luke: I didn't, you know. I don't know if some of the other actors did, but I personally didn't. I think we all wanted to bring a humanity to that era, because watching some of those movies, for me personally, it seemed a bit disconnected.
Frank Darabont directed the first two episodes. That had to have been just a thrill as well.
Jeremy Luke: Sure. The first season of The Walking Dead was the first television I had watched in a long time, and that's the truth of the matter. The Shawshank Redemption is probably the greatest movie of all time, so to work with somebody like Frank, I was flattered.
Neal McDonough - L.A.P.D. Police Captain William Parker
When you play a character like this, how much research goes into who he was and what you have to portray in a show like this?
Neal McDonough: Well, it's funny, because Parker is such a historical character, yet there's never been a biography written about him. It's hard to find anything personal. In my acting, I really like to dig in, but it's tough to find any true stories of who Parker really was underneath. I had to go by a lot of what's in the books, and Buck Compton, who I played in Band of Brothers, was great friends with Parker, so I heard stories about Parker, and hear about how he was such a great guy. Once he set his mind to something, he was going to do it, and he loved Los Angeles so much. His job was to really clean up the police force, and he wasn't going to say no to anything. He was going to get it done and stop the corruption. By doing so, being #1 in charge and changing the most corrupt police force there was into the straight and narrow, there was a lot of pressure there. We deal with his alcoholism a little later on. It's a pretty fascinating character to play, to be such a polarizing figure. Some people hated him so much, and some people loved him so much. He didn't care. It was always about the best thing for Los Angeles, not the best thing for himself. Those are the guys you love to root for.
It must be great too, coming into this from a guy like Quarles, who I loved on Justified.
Neal McDonough: Oh, yeah. I just don't understand how Frank and (TNT president) Michael Wright had the wherewithal to say, 'OK, let's take the sickest puppy on television this year and make him Elliot Ness for us.' I'm very, very grateful to those two guys, for allowing that to happen.
Do you look for that kind of polarity though, in your roles?
Neal McDonough: With Quarles, I went in the opposite direction as much as possible. Instead of playing him the heavy tough guy, I played him really light and funny and crazy. At that moment when you need to turn the blue eyes in, oh shit, step back, this guy is actually a nutbag. That was fun to play. Same thing with playing Parker. He's really nice to the guys and fun, but when push comes to shove, those blue eyes are saying the same thing, just in a different tone. It's nice to be able to go from villain to good guy, from movies to TV, commercials and voice-overs. I'm the luckiest guy in Hollywood.
Can you talk a bit about this six-episode format? You don't see it done a whole lot like this. It's about half of the length of a normal cable show, so did you think there was enough time to tell the story there?
Neal McDonough: I thought it was great. I've always said my favorite medium is the mini-series, because the mini-series, you have all the great dialogue, you shoot it in X amount of time, and the PR is through the roof. (At this point, Robert Knepper comes by for a moment). Knepper is the greatest. As great as I think I was as Quarles, you've gotta see him in the show. He's just unbelievable, but everybody was. Edward Burns as Bugsy, again, he's always known as being the good guy, so they went against type again. TNT really doesn't mind going against type. They want to see who the best actors for these characters are. I believe they got each character perfectly cast. That has a lot to do with Deb Aquilla, the greatest casting director in the history of casting. She got it right. The six episode arc, it's great. To make it this mini event feel, the epic event of the year, let's not B.S. each other, it really is. This is such a great, huge event for TNT and for everyone, that to be a part of it, it's like Band of Brothers was such an epic event, or Tin Man was such an epic event for Syfy. This is such an epic event for TNT, and I love being a part of this mini-series format. I've done the 22-episode shows before, and it's a lot of work, and it's not as creative. This gives Frank the time he needs to really write with his team, build characters, and make it damn interesting for people to watch.
Has Frank or anyone else given you any hints about what might happen in Season 2, if it goes forward?
Neal McDonough: Oh yeah. Frank's mind never stops. Even when he sleeps, he's figuring out Season 3, Season 4, Season 5, but the great thing about Frank is he concentrates on what's at hand right now. As much as I'd love to say I know what's going on in the next couple of years, in Frank I trust. For my character, at the end of the first season, it really kicks in for Parker. By the second season, when I'm going nose to nose with Mickey Cohen, it's a brawl, and all bets are off, and all corruption is going to be gone. It's nice to see such a driven character.
Do you think the action will be ramped up a lot more with this ongoing war in Season 2?
Neal McDonough: Oh yeah, because now I'm (L.A.P.D.) Chief. So, to get rid of who I'm going to get rid of on my force, who might be friends of mine but I find out they're corrupt, sorry, you're gone. I hire guys I went to Normandy with, guys from the deep South, who come in here. I didn't care about race or creed or religion, I just wanted good, honest guys. That was misconstrued by a lot of people, that Parker was a racist. That wasn't the case. He was the first guy to have an African-American woman officer on the force. That just wasn't his M.O., and we're going to delve into that a lot also. He was an equal opportunity guy, as long as you paid allegiance to Los Angeles.
With a period setting like this, does wardrobe help you get into character more?
Neal McDonough: Yeah. You look at everyone in their fedoras and their grey suits and ties. Even if you're a guy who didn't have any money at all, you still wore a suit. I kind of pride myself in my life that I wear suits to every place. My mom always said, if you're going to be somebody, look like somebody, and that's what that era was. Everybody looked like somebody. You can't help but feel like there's Benny Goodman in your mind, playing in the background. It was great fun.
Gregory Itzin - L.A. Mayor Fletcher Bowron
Can you talk a bit about what first piqued your interest in the script and this show as a whole?
Gregory Itzin: I kind of came in at the 11th hour. I wasn't cast in the original pilot. A couple of months ago, I was working on Covert Affairs in Toronto, which makes this a blast. It's 15 minutes from my home. Anyway, they offered me the role of Fletcher Bowron. I came in after they shot the pilot, my scenes were put in, so really, in a way, I felt like this is a family, and I'm busting into it. I don't have all the details of the show. By the time I got there, they decided to give it a six-show arc and run it up the flagpole, see who salutes it.
We see a lot of mini-series, but this seems really unique, especially in how they're promoting it, as this three-night, huge special event.
Gregory Itzin: As I understand, it gathers traction as it goes, and by the end it's really jaw-dropping. I had to do some ADR for Episode 6, and it's really exciting.
With coming in so late, was there any time to do any research into this character?
Gregory Itzin: I did a bit. I immediately started looking him up when the deal came through. I looked at the book, L.A. Noir, and there's also a book about Fletcher Bowron and what he did for the city, so I started reading that and got an idea of him. Then, I wasn't sure what Frank wanted. I'm usually hired for my nastyness, so I wondered what he wanted this guy to be. This is a nice guy, and there's layers, because he's a politician. He knows how the game is played, and he plays it well. Pretty much, I was aligned with William Parker, straight up, so that gave me the hint as to what I'd be doing.
Can you talk about Frank's style as a director? He has such a phenomenal canon of work. Is there something that really sets him apart from others you've worked with?
Gregory Itzin: He's warm and he's personable, and when he has what he wants, he's got it. The first couple of scenes I did with other directors, and then I did one with Frank. I was worried and I went to Neal McDonough and said, 'He won't move on if he's not happy with it, right?' He said, 'No, don't worry about it. He's happy with it.' I found him very personable, approachable, easy to work with. Hopefully if this goes, I'll have more experience to fall back on. I enjoyed it tremendously.
What would you like to say to anyone who is on the fence about checking this out, about why they should tune in?
Gregory Itzin: It's not done very well, very often, and I think it's worth a go. The first episode is just filled with action, so if you like action, that's a good thing. I think it's got a great, dark look, in keeping with the noir aspects of it, and I hope it's exciting.