Run by former The Walking Dead showrunner and The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, TNT’s anticipated series event Mob City tells an embellished version of the true story of how Mickey Cohen and his organized crime forces squared off against Los Angeles Police Chief William H. Parker.
Milo Ventimiglia, best known for his work on the NBC series Heroes, plays Ned Stax on Mob City, which premiers Tuesday, December 4, at 9:00 pm Eastern and Pacific on the cable network. He joined a group of reporters earlier this week on a conference call to discuss the project.
Talk about working with Frank Darabont and what was the biggest draw for you when you found out he was doing this noir type of show loosely based on the mob of the 40s.
Milo Ventimiglia: You know, for me, and I’ve been very vocal about this, you know, Frank’s the reason why I’m doing this. I’ve been a huge fan of his work for years, his films - Shawshank is probably one of my all-time favorites and then also following the Walking Dead when he was involved - so when I knew he was doing a new show - but then when I knew he was doing a new show and it was based in 1947 Los Angeles, you know, the town that I kind of grew up near and around, I was just dying to be in. So it was one of those things that, you know, being a fan of Frank and then ultimately getting a chance to work with him and seeing his passion and compassion and excitement and everything - and every way that he approached film making was, you know, infectious to all of us where we were excited and we wanted to be on set.
We were working our hardest and giving our all and really trying to be respectful and give the words that he wrote a bit of pride and honor.
I was just wondering what the difference was between what working on, you know, a show like Heroes to something like Mob City, which is a very different series. I just wondered what the contrast was like?
Ventimiglia: You know, I think both the shows were pretty anticipated, I think they were things - subject maters that people wanted to explore and be a part of and watch, so there was that - that anticipation.
But also, you know, just the major difference was, you know, thematic. I think Heroes was a show that was huge, huge and it reached such a vast audience, whereas, you know, Mob City may feel like kind of, you know, anybody that’s been to an noir-esque or a 40s-esque drama, you know, it’s only going to them, but you see the cast assembled and everybody knows Frank’s work and it like, well, s--t, that’s just going to be interesting and awesome and dynamic and exciting and nothing short of brilliant, hopefully - you know, there two different, you know, fruits in the market, Heroes and Mob City but they’re the same thing. It’s like - it’s good television, good programming, good stories and great characters.
Just to throw in a little fun question, this is such a wonderful, sensual, you know, series that we get to see. If this the sexiest you’ve ever felt in a show or in a movie?
Ventimiglia: The sexiest I’ve ever felt in a movie...you’re right, this is a fun question.
You know, I think there’s definitely a romance to the age of the '40s. Particularly in the United States, actually you know what, anywhere in the world - but in Los Angeles, you know, there was an emerging city and a changing city and I think given what we had to do - I’ll tell you what, this is the sexiest I’ve felt fully clothed.
I’ve done a lot of other sexy scenes and things like that, but there was far more skin - but there’s more of a romance to it. This idea of the 40s, this idea of the 1940s in Los Angeles and it was very apparent while we were shooting, so yes, I would say I felt the romance of the era, very, very strongly.
Ventimiglia: Well, it’s not necessarily a go-between. He’s just...his bills are paid by the mob. His bosses are Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen, you know, he’s just a guy who’s smart enough to understand all the players in the game of the streets of Los Angeles and lucky enough to have, let’s just say, an in with what’s going on - a personal relationship with what’s going on in the LAPD side.
It doesn’t mean that they’re working together, it doesn’t mean that they are particularly looking out for one another, I think no matter what, there is self-interest and then beyond that there’s what’s possible. So where we kind of go with Ned - we see that he is a darker - a darker shade of gray than what I think he’s kind of introduced as, you know, yes, he is the legal face of the mob, but he also very much knows the inter-workings, yet he is strangely untouchable to the law side because, well - he - they can’t figure him out.
So that’s always been, you know, over the course of the six episodes that we shot and as we were working on it, it was something that was fun to play with - this idea of a guy who is completely, you know, completely in the boiling pot, but he’s not being burned by it.
Since you are kind of from Los Angeles, how much do you welcome that this city gets kind of gets to enjoy the glamor of the mob era? Because usually, that’s left to the East Coast, New York or Chicago, you know, those kinds of noir-themed movies and TV shows.
Ventimiglia: I mean, I like the idea, not only because I grew up here, but also if you look at the history of Los Angeles from John Bonham’s book to his other titles or other things that I’ve learned, you know, it was nice to be able to tell those stories. It was nice to be able to explore that side of an emerging Los Angeles, you know? Because the truth is, you know, it was very apparent what was happening in Los Angeles in the 40s, you know, between organized crime as well as William Parker trying to put a new face on the LAPD. There definitely was a war over the heart of the city.
Are you a fan of that gangster genre in general?
Ventimiglia: Who isn’t? I think, I mean, I’ve grown up with old movies and, you know, the idea of like Public Enemy and Cagney and all that and I think it’s definitely cool and some of my more favored movies - Goodfellas, The Godfather, I mean stories of these families, you know, it’s always fascinating and interesting - it’s a great playground to be in but also what really kind of pulls at me and draws me in are the stories of these men and women in these kind of not really seen often or in the shadows kind of lives.
Should fashion bring back the hats?
Ventimiglia: I mean, I think back then there was a function to them and now a days, it’s a lot of baseball caps. I mean, I personally still wear a lot of full brimmed hats and whatnot, but that’s just me. You can’t slow down modern devices by hanging on to the old and antiquated; you have to hold on to the old and antiquated if that’s your passion, if that’s your heritage, you know?
What did you do as far as research to study this particular era in mob history and how did you bring that to Ned’s character?
Ventimiglia: Of course, we had all read the John Bonham book, L.A. Noir, and I’d also read several chapters of a book called Super Mob about Sidney Korshak, who’s an attorney for the mob and a lot of larger Unions and whatnot.
And then also, you know, I’d kind of hear stories from my father about when he was growing up in Chicago. That was definitely and epicenter of syndicated crime going on out there, particularly where he grew up, to just kind of like get a better understanding of like who these guys in this world were. That was pretty much what I went to, but then also it was just, you know, talking to Frank and believing in the stories that he wanted to tell and then, you know, very simply learn the words, show up and play.
What kind of atmosphere do you guys have on set?
Ventimiglia: I tell you what man, a fun one. A really fun atmosphere.
It was one of those sets that you just don’t go walking back to your trailer, you actually sit around and you tell stories and I mean, to be around actors like Ed Burns and Jeff DeMunn and, you know, guys that have been doing this for a long time that I’d always admired, I mean, even, you know, getting back together with my buddy Rob Knepper and, you know, John Bernthal and his work and even you know, Jeremy Luke, who plays our Mickey Cohen, who’s relatively new but, man, I’m so excited for people to see how dynamic he is as an actor.
You know, it was just a fun environment, we were all enjoying ourselves. You know, any TV show is hard work but at the end of the day you can walk away saying that was a great experience, then you’ve won.
You’ve played three super heroes by my count, because you were Peter Petrelli, Wolverine and my favorite, Green Arrow.
Ventimiglia: I was Green Arrow?
In Robot Chicken.
Ventimiglia: Oh yes, wow man - you’re really reaching for that one - I had totally forgot!
You were in that and you’ve done a Rocky movie - you do a lot of things that are - where the stakes are very high and the world is kind of over the top and that’s something that Ed Burns talked about - that this in a lot of ways a very over the top world. But you’re a fairly understated actor a lot of the time, how do you kind of make sure you fit into that world?
Ventimiglia: You know, I kind of fit in each world individually, you know, look at the character I’m playing and does my character serve his personal arc as well as the arc of the story.
And I think I’ve been very lucky with the people that I’ve been in business with, you know, and the fact that I’ve been able to kind of act a bit like a chameleon and change a lot or roles and go from, you know, Mob City med-stacks, very sharp put together debonair kind of guy to complete idiot with Adam Sandler, drinking beers and getting into fistfights and whatnot. But for me, I don’t know, I just try to be respectful to each project that I’m in and bring as much as what I do for a living as an actor to the role and to the movie or TV show. Or digital show or, you know, comic book or anything.