Your address will show here +12 34 56 78
Rob the Mob
It may be hard to find a city as celebrated in film as New York; its rich pastiche of cultures, gritty underbelly, and ability to mold to fit whatever genre a director needs makes it one of the perfect cinematic backdrops. In particular, New York often serves as the canvas on which true crime stories and mob movies play out in spectacular fashion, leaving a trail of bodies and less-than-salubrious activity in their wake. The latest in the grand canon of New York crime films is Raymond De Felitta’s Rob the Mob, based on a true story, which tells the story of Queens’ very own Bonnie and Clyde, a pair of working class Robin Hoods that stole from the rich (the Mafia) and gave to the poor (themselves). With a dynamite cast including Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire), Nina Arianda (Midnight in Paris), Andy Garcia (The Untouchables), Griffin Dunne (After Hours), Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond), and many more, Rob the Mob covers many familiar mob movie tropes, but manages to put its own unique spin on the well-worn genre, thanks to a pervasive sense of heart that underlies the morally gray proceedings. To take you deeper into the world of Rob the Mob, I caught up with director Raymond De Felitta to talk about how to innovate in a been-there, done-that genre, the challenges of adapting true life stories, where to get the best Italian food in New York City, and much more. Nerdist: So the first thing I want to talk about is, these New York mob stories are sort of a classic genre at this point, so I was wondering what in particular about this trope speaks to you, and what do you think that Rob the Mob adds to it that sets it apart? RDF: Honestly, it never had been of any interest to me to do a mob story, as much as I love the really great ones. You’ve already done it. The Godfather has done it, Goodfellas has done it, The Sopranos has done it. You’re not going to top those guys. And personally, as an Italian-American, I always sort of feel like – you know, my other work, my films City Island and Two-Family House, they were about Italian-Americans who aren’t in the mob, and I never think that those guys really get any coverage. So I was not a person who was lining up to make a mob movie. But when I read it, what I loved about it – several different things converged. First of all, I loved the story of Tommy and Rosie, and the fact that he had this vengeance, that he had to get rid of his father’s story, and he couldn’t do it without acting out this insane plan. I also loved that I hadn’t seen this mob movie, and I thought it’s so hard to find a new wrinkle. It’s like finding a new wrinkle on a TV cop show. How do you do it? It’s been done. But every so often someone does, and you go “Wow! All right, now I’m interested again.” This time I read it and I thought the mob are not the goofy mob, which I always find silly and boring, and they’re not really that scary or flashy. This is just the worn-out guys – that period, with [John] Gotti on trial for what’s clearly going to be the last time, you know, it’s New York in that era that’s kind of beat and broke and depressed. And they were in a sense the victims, which I thought was so peculiar. It’s like they’re the guys who are getting robbed, and they don’t know how to deal with this humiliation. So I just thought that was a great ‘in.’ And then, in a sense, not a clichéd look at your usual group of goombas. Because, enough of that – we’ve already done that. These are just guys that sit in the club and play cards and don’t really know what to do with their life anymore. N: Exactly! That was something that really stood out, because like you said, you’re so used to seeing these mobsters in different positions of power, and they’re used to getting what they want and being able to rough their way through things. Seeing the table turned on them was really interesting. At this point, they’re just a bunch of dads and uncles trying to hold on to the crumbling remains of their empire, and just keep their heads. RDF: Exactly. Yeah, exactly, which I just thought was really original and probably closer to the truth than what we usually get in most popular culture representations. N: What in particular attracted you to Rosie and Tommy’s story, and what’s the challenge when you have to adapt a story like this for the big screen? RDF: Well, one of the movies that has always inspired me as a movie maker and storyteller is Sidney Lumet’s movie Dog Day Afternoon with Al Pacino, and one of the things that I always loved about that movie is that it was a true crime, and it had all of these big, emotional journeys and themes to it. It was committed for reasons that were financial and romantic and it had elements that didn’t work. It was a fiasco. But it also really wasn’t on the radar of anyone for very long. That crime came and went on the news in a couple of days. And in a sense, I always felt like that was part of the beauty of that story. It’s not telling a story you’ve ever heard; it just happened, there it is, this lonely event out there. So when I read the screenplay that I was first sent for Rob the Mob, I thought they really found that. Rosie and Tommy were not famous. Yes, they made the papers, but on, like, page eight, on kind of a small – and then the story went away, and then a few months later they were murdered. It was a blip on the radar of true crime, but it had all of the major emotional reasons that people commit crimes, and all of the things that we look for in really strong drama, and especially reality-based drama. So I just thought that was a huge, huge lure to me. And then, in terms of what the challenges are, I think always the challenge when you’re dealing with real events – you want to honor them, you don’t want to twist them up, and you certainly don’t want to get them wrong, but you’re also not making a documentary, so you also have to be – you have to have one foot in the camp of the artist, the storyteller. I can’t get absolutely all of this right, and I’m not supposed to get it all right. I’m supposed to get the essence of it right, and sometimes I’m going to have to step back and say cut these scenes, I don’t need to explain this event, I may not even want to go into some of these other complexities going on around them, because that’s just going to confuse things. So that’s always a bit of a hot topic with people when you do reality-based stories. Are you cheating if you don’t tell exactly what happened, or if you add in a character who didn’t exist? I just don’t think you can go there. I think you’re ultimately taking care of the story, not every true event around it, and along as the essence of the story is preserved and hopefully enhanced by dramatizing it, that’s what you’re there to do. rob1 N: You were talking about how they were just kind of a blip on the radar, and you kind of get that sense, even in the film. It’s so heartbreaking when Rosie is talking to Ray Romano’s character, because you can tell they just really want to be known for something, and knowing what happens to them, it was a real gut-punch.  RDF: Yeah. Well, they’re so good in that scene too. Nina’s so terrific, and what I think that she really got about Rosie was the combination of – it’s not really stupidity at work at all, it’s pride. She finally sees Tommy, who she’s always had all the belief in the world in, he’s actually pulled this thing off. She wants to share it. She wants people to finally know that she was right – Tommy’s a genius! And yet, of course, she buys into the idea that they’re never going to get bothered by anyone. N: You pulled together a really terrific cast for this film. When I saw Ray Romano and Griffin Dunne and Michael Pitt and Nina [Arianda] – it was just very impressive. What attracted you to this group of performers, and who surprised you the most during the filming process? RDF: Well, a lot of what I was trying to do in the casting process was create both excellent actors who were going to bring reality and truth to it, but also I liked the idea of using actors who you might associate with other New York crime movies, just so it felt like – I always think a sort of meta-film is going on. Like, oh, OK, for a second, I’m in Once Upon a Time in America, because Burt Young is here. Now I’m in Raging Bull for a minute – there’s Cathy [Moriarty]. So I like that idea of filling it out with really iconic crime movie faces. But I’ll tell you who – I wouldn’t say surprised me the most, but who really impressed me the most – I wanted Burt Young. I’ve always admired him. I’ve always thought he was a fascinating actor, and a very curious individual, and he’s hard to get to, and he doesn’t really want to do much. You’ve got to kind of – he’s got to get to know you. And I went there, I went the distance, I went and met him, Michael Pitt and I went and met him. And he said, “There’s not a lot for me to do here. It’s really one scene.” And I said, “Yeah, but it’s really important, because you’re the guy – you end up, your whole life goes away with this one robbery, and you give up the list. And the guy realizes that after years of carrying the paper around, you’ve fucked up and it’s all,” you know. And he bought that, and he came and we shot the scene, and when we got to the end of the scene, he said, “Let me just do a little something for you.” And so much pain, and so much confusion and sadness came over his face, and it suddenly kicked everything up such a big notch. It made that story point, and it was just an act of pantomime on Burt’s part. It was just watching his face emote. And that, to me, was just an amazing kind of moment – lesson, I guess you would say, in what an actor can do. He took what I needed – he understood what that guy did, and just by experiencing it and being open with it and wandering a way out, and just devoting a little, it went from a point that you understood on the page, to a much more impressive emotional and understandable thing that he had. N: Yeah, that was definitely one of the most affecting scenes in the film. And it’s so unexpected, because you’ve got this young guy with a sub-machine gun, and three old fogeys just sitting around playing cards in the club! RDF: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah, it was a fun scene to shoot, too. All three of them were great. N: I have to say this film gave me a powerful hunger for Italian food.  RDF: Yeah, I know – me too, unfortunately! It’s one of the few films that I didn’t lose weight on. N: [laughs] Well, hopefully it was a tasty process. What is your favorite Italian restaurant, and/or dish? RDF: In Manhattan? N: Yeah, let’s say in Manhattan, given the film’s locale. RDF: You know, it’s funny – the ones that I really prize are – they’re not the ‘foodie’ Italian places. They’re the neighborhood. In the West Village, where I lived for many years, there’s two that I’ve always loved: Gene’s [Restaurant] on West 11th, and Volare on West 4th. And each time I go I think I’m going to try something else, but in each place I always end up getting – I love veal stuffed with prosciutto and ham. That’s just it – that, and a little pasta on the side, and four or five bottles of wine, and I’m happy! N: I understand you have a background as a jazz pianist, which I think is awesome. I’m curious if that musical or lyrical sensibility influences how you approach film making? RDF: Yeah, I guess it does. I’ve played literally since I was a kid. Music’s been a part of my life forever. I can’t edit a film without immediately trying to score it. Since I don’t score my own films – before Rob the Mob, I would always temp-score something while we’re editing, because I just don’t know how film and music are separate. They have to be married. I guess the thing with jazz, if I were to make any kind of comparison – and this might feel a little wobbly, but I play jazz, I don’t play classical music, so I don’t rehearse – I’m never trying to get it right, I’m trying to get feeling out of what I do as a musician. The longer I work with actors, the more, for me, that’s the key for working with actors. I don’t want them to get something right, I don’t want them to feel like they have to get something right. I want them to get in the moment and behave. And so I love improvising. I love letting the actors have that space, and I guess it’s really in that sense, really-and I feel comfortable with it. I don’t feel like anything unruly is happening, because I think as a musician, as a jazz musician, that’s what we do. We give each other some space, and we try to make something emotional happen. N: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s a smart way to approach it. Obviously, you want to have a strong foundation with the script, but you also want to give yourselves a chance to explore. RDF: That’s why good jazz usually picks a great song, and then you can play through the chords and you can let it go. ROB THE MOB_11.jpg
0

Interviews, Rob the Mob
By  [From Cinephiled.com] New York City, 1991. Small-time crooks Tommy (Michael Pitt) and Rosie have two things in common: a crazy-passionate love for each other and — after they’re caught robbing a florist on Valentine’s Day — prison records. Trying to go straight, Rosie lands a job at a debt-collection agency run by Dave Lovell (Griffin Dunne) and persuades Tommy to join her. But he he soon starts skipping shifts to do something much more interesting — attend the trial of Gambino-family boss John Gotti. Tommy’s fascination with the mob is personal: when he was a boy he saw his father suffer a brutal beating at the hands of local gangsters. When he hears about a Mafia-owned social club where no guns are permitted, he has an idea: Why not job the joint? And so begins a series of Bonnie-and-Clyde-style stickups of mob hangouts around the city, with Tommy wielding an Uzi and Rosie driving the beat-up getaway car. The brazen daylight raids infuriate crime-family boss Big Al Fiorello (Andy Garcia) and draw the attention of verteran mob reporter Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano). The only question is who will get to the young couple first. Rob the Mob, based on a true story, also features Michael Rispoli, Frank Whaley, Cathy Moriarty and Burt Young. I recently sat down with Oscar-nominated director Raymond De Felitta. raymonddefelittoDanny Miller: What a fun movie! I was surprised by how much it made me miss the sleaziness of New York in the early 90s! Raymond De Felitta: It’s amazing what you can get nostalgic for, isn’t it? Yeah. And I also find it hard to believe that the 1990s already constitute “period!”   I know! I feel like I’m the same age as I was then! Turns out I’m much older. I’ve definitely noticed that you have to explain what the early 90s was like to so many younger people these days. What a great cast. I’ve always liked Michael Pitt but I was completely won over by Nina Arianda as Rosie. Michael was the very first person we sent the script to. I always loved him — he’s sort of reminiscent of the old Actors Studio types  — there’s an intensity in Michael that I find very charismatic. But for a long time we were stalled trying to find a girl. Our original financiers said that they loved Michael but that we needed a big name for the other lead. So you get the list and go through it — Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, all these people who are just not looking to do a movie like this! At some point, Bill Teitler, the producer, and I just decided we’d cut the budget and re-conceive the movie as one that would cost about half of what we had planned. That loosened up the casting restrictions. I knew Nina from Venus in Fur on Broadway (she won a Tony Award for that performance) and she’d been in a few movies likeMidnight in Paris. I thought she was fantastic on stage and was very happy when she agreed to do it. She loved the script. I have no idea what Arianda sounds like in real life but she seemed so natural in this role — not like she was “doing” an accent!  The thing she did that I think was so interesting is that she didn’t just do a generic “outer-borough girl.” She’s a very detailed actress and did a ton of research. She came in and did this whole monologue on how a girl from Queens talks and uses her hands — compared to a way a woman from the Bronx talks! I went, “My God, you’re right!” She could go from borough to borough. So she’s definitely not just doing an accent here, she really helped to build that character! Ripping Off The MobI had never heard of that real-life couple that the movie is based on — Thomas and Rosemarie Uva. How much did you have to stick to the facts of their story? Pretty much everything you see them going through actually happened. They were both drug addicts, they both got out of jail, they had a fresh start, they worked for that collection agency, all that stuff happened. But the stuff with the mob and the FBI was considerably more complicated and lengthy and in some ways not as interesting. I thought it was very important that all the main important facts of their lives be integrated into the story but we took some liberties. I always wanted the center of the story to be Tommy and Rosie. It’s just crazy all the amazing people you got to play the supporting parts — Ray Romano, Andy Garcia, Burt Young, Frank Whaley, and so on. I was especially delighted to see Cathy Moriarty as Tommy’s mom. She is amazing! She did all of her scenes in just a day and she just completely blew us out of the water. Here’s the thing: These people are all there in New York, that’s where they live, that’s where they want to work, and they want to do good things. It’s just a different attitude out there — they don’t get bogged down in big negotiations through their agents, they’re very open to a few good days of work in the city. That’s how you can get these amazing casts together in New York. And the “baggage” they bring to their roles is really fun. I really wanted iconic New York faces in this movie. I love that you see Michael interacting with his mother and flash to Raging Bull for a second. It’s okay to look at Burt Young and think “There’s Paulie!” These are actors who can’t deliver a false note! Did you have any reticence in making a movie about the mob? Any reticence I had was more about the fact that they’re hard to do well — I didn’t want to make another crap mob movie! Look, I’m Italian-American. I’ve made movies about people like my family members who were certainly not gangsters! I wasn’t necessarily motivated to contribute to the pile of literature out there on the mob — it was  more the Tommy-Rosie story that I was interested in and the fact that the mob guys you see in this movie are different than what we’re used to seeing. They’re these exhausted broken-down guys. I thought that was intriguing. Given some of the violence that surrounds the film, did you have discussions on how much actual gore to show? We never planned to show any murders in the movie except for what happens to Tommy and Rosie at the end. I don’t think I’m giving any big secret away there! But the closer we got to shooting that scene, the stronger I felt that the actual shoot-out on the street was not what I was going to focus on. robthemob2 Right, even the fact that they were called Bonnie and Clyde, I wondered if you were going to evoke the ending of that movie at all. Arthur Penn already did that scene beautifully, I sure wasn’t going to try to repeat it. I decided to go for something that was more emotional than violent. We never see them covered in blood. Does it ever make you nervous to touch on that world in a movie? Do you find yourself checking under your car at some point? (Laughs.) No, not at all! The the vibe I’ve always gotten is that they don’t seem to mind being dramatized. I mean, look how often it’s been done! And some of the guys from that world have actually become actors and have appeared in those movies! I think they find it flattering. I really loved the music throughout the film, from the opening credits on. I know you’re a musician — did you have a hand in choosing all of the songs? Yes, I did that myself, but I have to tell you, the person who picked the opening song was Steven Soderbergh! I showed him a cut of the movie and he liked it but he said he thought the opening could be better. He said, “If you just send me the footage, I’ll give you an idea of what I have in mind!” Because Soderbergh doesn’t have enough to do in his life, right — he also needs to edit my film on his day off! So he sent back the opening with the song “Groove Is in the Heart” and he had cut in some stock footage. I was like, “Oh, this is the movie! He nailed it!” Do you think it’s harder these days to get smaller movies like this off the ground? It was always hard. Every year you hear people talking about how impossible it’s getting but the truth is it’s always been an uphill battle. And yet many films like this still get made. It’s all about trusting that you can do it and getting people who are willing to work for not a lot of money. Unfortunately that usually means there’s just not a lot of money to be had in doing this kind of work anymore, but that’s what tends to happen in the arts. Hell — people used to make a living playing jazz! Or writing — Or writing, for sure! Now you’re supposed to write for free. And be glad someone is giving you the space! What’s next on your docket? I’m doing a comedy I wrote called Married and Cheating. And I’m shooting a documentary about Burt Young! He’s such an interesting cat — an actor, a painter, an ex-boxer. He’s got a lot going on and we’ve just been shooting him as much as we can.  
0

Interviews, Rob the Mob
When it comes to New York City filmmakers, you have your Woody Allens and your Spike Lees and Martin Scorseses, but in recent years, a new breed of filmmakers has emerged trying to tell some of the other 8 million stories set in the city. Granted, filmmaker Raymond De Felitta is not exactly a young new face, having made his first short back in 1990, but with his last movie City Island and his most recent one, Rob the Mob, he has painted two very specific portraits of New York City and its people that makes him a filmmaker that really understands how to translate that onto the big screen. Rob the Mob stars Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as young married couple Tommy and Marie Uva, who after being released from prison on two-bit crimes get the idea to use the crime family’s problems during the John Gotti trial to rob their local hang-outs. They get away with a number of these robberies until they get their hands on an important list that finally gets the attention of the local mob boss, played by Andy Garcia. ComingSoon.net spoke with De Felitta over the phone a few weeks back about making a movie set in a very specific period of New York City history and adapting a true story into what ends up being a very funny and entertaining film. ComingSoon.net: I’m pretty familiar with your previous films. I first heard about this movie and heard Andy was playing a gangster in it, and all I could think about was that audition he did in “City Island,” though this was a very different type of role for him. What made you want to make a movie about this particular story, especially after “City Island,” which I think was a more personal story than I’d imagined? Raymond De Felitta: It’s funny because this came to me. First of all, it’s someone else’s script, Jonathan Fernandez’s script, and I usually write my own scripts, but when it was sent to me, I’d just made “City Island.” I was sort of looking to get attached to something that I hadn’t written just because writing gets increasingly hard for me and slow the more I do it, somehow. I thought it would be good to find something. There was really nothing out there. I would just get sent these sort of sexy rom-com things, and I was like, “Is that really how far people can see me?” I love true crime and Bill Teitler sent me the script. I really liked it, because it converged on a few different things that I like. It’s a New York story, it is is true crime, which I thought would be an exciting genre to work in. I really felt more at home with the fact that it was about two people and a love story and an offbeat and bizarre one, one that wasn’t clearly normal, rational or understandable, even. It kind of intersected all these different things, and it was an opportunity to work and to develop it further. It wasn’t specifically the script that you saw on screen that I originally read, but Jonathan was very open to working with me on it. I also sort of felt in a way, I would’ve never have said that I was going to sign up to go make a mob movie because you’re not going to win. The best ones have been done. The ones that aren’t the best, the ones that aren’t “Goodfellas” or “Casino” or “The Godfather” are probably some of the worst movies ever made, so it’s kind of a losing game. But I didn’t really see this as a mob movie, because when I read it I thought, “Well, this is so weird. The mob are the victims.” They’re not the mob as you’ve seen them portrayed. They’re like this kind of weird, exhausted, barely functional thing sitting in their little clubs. I thought that there was something sort of sad and even kind of humane about that. Really the approach to the whole movie from the beginning was let’s take material that you potentially could say you’ve seen before, and let’s always turn it on its head. Let’s never be satisfied with doing something that you’ve seen in that genre before. With Andy, I got the idea of asking Andy to be the boss, and he and I sat and started talking about, “Well, who’s a boss we’ve never met?” What we eventually came to was the idea of a character who we didn’t know him as the boss. In fact, you only really know him in one scene as the boss, when he goes to the club finally – you know him as like a grandfather. You know him as this sad, aging man, kind of an Italian-American foodie in his kitchen with his grandson. I loved that idea because again, we don’t even see him as a threatening presence until that one moment when he finally blows with Rispoli and tells him to go get the list. So again, all those things were ways that I guess of saying that I thought this would be great to do only if there was a way it could always be twisted or turned in an interesting and different way. CS: You do have romance in this with the relationship between Tommy and Rosie, which plays a big part in the movie, and there’s also a lot of humor, so there’s more than just a crime story here. In a way “Goodfellas” was also a funny movie even though it’s considered a serious crime movie. De Felitta: It is, because it’s not played sort of funny. I mean, it’s just the truth. It’s who they are. That’s what I always think. Those are my favorite comedies, are the ones that aren’t comedies. That was always the thing with this. I always thought, this will be funny if you’ve seen the tragicomedy of it, like the guys who are going to hold up the club. You’re actually going to root for Tommy, because you can’t believe he’s going to do it, but it can’t be done as a joke. It’s got to be done as a straight scene. Then, what Michael did, which gave it its truth, which is I think what makes it funny, is he went like, “Well, who would this guy be? He’d be a guy who has the brains to think up this bizarre idea and to get an Uzi, and he doesn’t know how to work an Uzi.” So when he did that. He said “What if I do this, like I can’t stop firing it?” it killed me. I was like, “That’ll be funny because of course he wouldn’t know how to do it.” It’s like he doesn’t have the patience to do anything, certainly not learn to use an Uzi. So yeah, but as you can tell this is a funny movie, because they’re playing it for real. CS: It’s interesting to see Michael doing that sort of comedy or any kind of humor, because I think we’ve mainly seen him in darker stuff. De Felitta: I think what happens so quickly is that if somebody’s great at something, people just want them to be great at that. Early on, Michael was just a great, brooding young brooder. It was in the fashion ads, it’s in the Gus Van Sant movie, but he’s got a lot of colors. He was the first person that we ever sent the script to for Tommy, and he got it right away. He always thought that there was some humanity and a goofy charm about Tommy that he got that he wanted to tap into. He also said an interesting thing before we got to Nina, which is partly why we decided to go to someone like Nina. He would say to me, “The girl is as important if not more important than me, because if you don’t buy the two of them, the movie is not going to have any real core.” I think that is really right. You gotta believe their story and the two of them for the movie to have size, so we were always looking for an actress of real chops who was going to bring something really big to it. CS: I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Nina in many things over the years, but I think a lot of people when they walk out of the movie are talking about her. De Felitta: Yeah, I’m glad. I do hear that from lots of people and I’m really happy about it, too, because she brought so much and she’s so unusually funny and energized and dark. She’s really a powerful actor. There’s so much research and so much craft that goes into it. Yeah, I think she’s just a major, major actress. CS: Not sure if I mentioned this earlier but when Andy first appeared on screen with the gray beard, I didn’t know it was him, because it’s such a different look for him. De Felitta: You know who he kind of partly used as a model for that whole look? Francis Coppola. He was saying, “Francis used to be the baggy, long hair, Northern Cal overweight film geek. Now, it’s all about tailored vintage suits and classical hats and his beard is really carefully kept.” I loved that. He said, “I kinda want to do a little bit of what Francis looks right now.” I thought that was very cool. CS: Obviously, you’ve lived in New York a long time, and you must’ve been around in ’92 when this happened so were you aware of this story? (SPOILER WARNING: The end of this paragraph and the next question/response may spoil the movie if you don’t know the original story on which it’s based.) De Felitta: Strangely enough, I wasn’t, and that was one of the things that I actually really like about the script when I got it. Sometimes, you hear about a true crime story that’s going to be great. Well, the truth is if everyone already knows the story, it’s harder to tell it. Sometimes, when these stories are less known and they’re more like blips on the crime scene, in a way, they become more poignant. The example I always use is “Dog Day Afternoon,” because that crime that was on TV for five minutes, but the movie will be remembered forever because it took something that, like I say, was a blip, but it really showed the scope of “How do people get involved in crime? What’s the extent that people will go to? What are the reasons for it? Why will Sonny rob a bank in Brooklyn to finance his boyfriend’s sex change?” You know, because that’s what humans do. We want to love each other, support each other, and we get into desperate situations. We think of ways we can somehow turn the earth our direction when we can’t otherwise. So in a way, the fact that you don’t really know much about that makes “Dog Day Afternoon” even more impactful. When I got sent this and I didn’t know the story, I thought, “Wow, it’s kind of major because it really wasn’t that major.” (REPEAT! SPOILER WARNING!) It came and went, but it was a huge story for Tommy, Rosie, and for the mob at that moment in their history and it completely f**ked with them. Yet, at the end of the day, it was two guys who did something stupid and they got shot in the end by the mob. CS: What kind of research were you able to do considering that the two main characters on who this was based were already dead? De Felitta: You know, this story was pretty well laid out, because by the time they were killed, there had been enough newspaper articles about it and there was enough coverage. There’s a whole other piece of the story that isn’t in the film, which is after they died, there was all this arguing between families as to who got the credit for the hit. That wound up turning into a war within the families. Originally, that was in the script, but the truth is, the movie is done – it’s Tommy and Rosie’s story, not the mob’s. So I never wanted to go there. I just felt like this is done when they’re killed. But the fact is that there was coverage of it out there. For those who are deeply interested in mafia stuff, you can find it. It was there. CS: I’m sure a lot of the attention was still on the Gotti trial, too. De Felitta: Well, yeah, exactly, which was also part of Tommy’s whole plan, and it’s like, do they need more trouble? They’ve got Gotti on trial. They’re not going to f**k with us. CS: As someone who has lived in New York for 25 years, I was curious about recreating New York in 1992. Were there any particular challenges as far as doing that? It hasn’t changed that much, but I’m sure things must have come up, like having smartphones everywhere. De Felitta: Well, actually, yeah, there’s more than you think largely because of the phones. It’s like if you shoot on the street, it’ll just be the cars. Now it’s like I can clear some cars, I can’t clear others. But now, people are like looking at that thing and using their fingers on their phone, and before you know it, you don’t even notice it anymore. We don’t think of that as non-period behavior. It’s hard just to find phone booths. There aren’t very many. We didn’t have a lot of money to do this, so we were always looking for streets that didn’t look… I mean, we were on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. I mean, that really hasn’t changed since longer than 20 years, but that sai, what we did was carry a whole bunch of trash bags and graffiti paint and we’d dirty anything up that looked too clean, because New York just looked really different then. It was in the texture of it, though. The buildings are the same. They were just ill kept and neighborhoods just didn’t have nearly the amounts of prams and Starbucks and lattes and all that. None of that was there. Subways looked really different because the subways were all old cars and all graffiti. I mean, there’s still a couple of lines that still have old cars, but yeah, they don’t have any graffiti. CS: So when looking at the script, do you have to find ways to avoid the subway? Because you did shoot in the subway for a couple scenes. De Felitta: Yeah, I actually did want to shoot in the subway. There’s subway stuff that’s in there that’s stock footage, but yeah, it’s hard, you know? It’s like, you want to go and do this stuff. You want the scope. You want to be able to do it and it’s all about time and money and that’s the stuff there’s never enough of when you make a film this size, and this isn’t even nearly as cheap as people are making films now. As independent films go, this is a sizeable budget, but it’s still only five, five-and-a-half weeks of time to shoot, and that’s a lot of script for us to get in five-and-a-half weeks. CS: Most of the made guys at the bar are character actors we’ve seen before in other movies and television shows, so was it hard avoiding so many familiar faces while casting those roles? De Felitta: Well, I kind of wanted a mix. It wasn’t so much that you can’t avoid it. I wanted faces that didn’t just look like your standard lineup of, you know, “Here are the mob guys or here are the extras who were in ‘The Sopranos.’” But I also wanted actors who would make you think of other New York crime movies, so that for a second with Michael Rispoli and suddenly, yeah, you’re in “The Sopranos” for a minute or here’s Burt Young and I’m in “Once Upon a Time in America” for a minute. Here’s Cathy (Moriarty) and I’m in “Raging Bull.” I just liked that idea as making a kind of iconography of New York film as well as telling a New York story. CS: By the way, was there an actual list? Was that something that was really part of this story that they found a list of all the members of the family? De Felitta: Yeah, they got something that wound up in the FBI’s hands. The big thing they got, which we couldn’t dramatize, which in a sense the list stood in for was the fact that the mob had on tape argued about who got the hit. That’s what put a bunch of these guys away. One of the things he did was craft the list into standing in for that, because the important thing I felt wasn’t exactly what the information was. It was more did Tommy and Rosie actually do something that went to something much larger than what they thought they were doing, which they did. They had no idea they were going to help the put guys away, and they never found out, either. This is what happens when you adapt nonfiction into fiction. It’s like you want the essence of the story to be there. You don’t want to violate the reality of the main character’s stories. Sometimes, in the story around it, you kind of need to craft and simplify or kind of make shapely something that’s more unwieldy in reality. Look, we’re not making a documentary. We’re not writing a news magazine piece. We’re trying to take reality and a true story and honor its reality while making art out of it that satisfies people who are actually looking at it for two hours of entertainment, not two hours of documentary–not that documentaries aren’t entertaining. CS: So what’s next for you? As someone who usually writes their own material, do you have other scripts you’ve been developing before making “Rob the Mob”? De Felitta: Yeah, I have a movie that I’ve been trying to make since before “Rob the Mob” actually, which I’m hoping we’re going to do this summer called “Married and Cheating,” which is a comedy that I wrote a few years ago, back when I was married and cheating. CS: I think I remember you mentioned that when we talked about “Booker’s Place.” De Felitta: Yeah, so there’s that. I’ve been developing a series for TV. I haven’t had one bought yet, but I’ve been working with Warner Brothers Television on a few different things and I’m very eager to get into that, because I feel like what I do… Listen, movies aren’t going to go away no matter what people say, but it’s getting longer in between and harder and cheaper and I’m getting older. What I do I feel is maybe better served in branching out into storytelling where I can do 12 hours about Tommy and Rosie and their world, because I would love to do that. I’d love to spend a lot more time with people like that and a story like this so that’s also where my interest is turning in the coming year. CS: Have you actually directed for television? De Felitta: No, I’ve created three pilots, but I’ve not ever directed for television. I once trailed a director on a show, because I thought that, all right, it was something I could get into. I didn’t last the first week. I slithered away because I just thought, “This isn’t directing as I know it,” because you’re serving the writer, producers, and I think that’s just how it has to work, and you’re not really free to create much. You’re also working with actors who already have what they’re going to do down. It just didn’t really speak to me, but what I did notice from it was that I was like, “If I do this, I’d really like to be the creator or the producer of it,” because that’s really the person who’s the auteur of making television. I know a lot of guys do that for money, but I’ve usually written for money between films, not directed. (Photo Credit: Johnny Louis / WENN.com)
 
0

Rob the Mob
[From The New Yorker] Do you remember “Babette’s Feast” in Denmark and “Like Water for Chocolate” in Mexico and that “Big Night” on the Jersey Shore? Of course you do. Who could forget the caille en sarcophage avec sauce périgourdine that melts the resolve of all those God-besotted, pleasure-abjuring Jutland villagers, or the kitchen magic with which Tita makes a hundred compadres weep for lost love at the wedding that should have been hers, or the big, beautiful timballo that Primo serves on the night before his Paradise restaurant has to close. Movies have been making metaphors of food since Charlie Chaplin ate his shoe in “The Gold Rush.” But how do you make a metaphor like that for a Mafia don? Forget the party that Vito Corleone threw for his daughter’s wedding, in “The Godfather,” or, for that matter, Carmela’s kitchen lessons for her infatuated parish priest, in “The Sopranos.” Those were arrivista fantasies. For meaning like Chaplin’s—meaning in a few bites—the movie to see is the wonderful indie “Rob the Mob,” now playing at the Angelika, and the bites to watch for are the ragu-stuffed, bread-crumb-coated, and deep-fried balls of saffron risotto known to Sicilians as arancini (as in “little oranges,” which is what they look like if you stick an orange twig with a leaf on it in them). “Rob the Mob” is a crime caper based on an arguably less amusing, and, until now, mainly forgotten true story from the early nineties. A young crook named Tommy Uva, fresh from jail for robbing a flower shop in the Bronx, starts slipping into the back benches at the John Gotti trial, and hears a weary hit man testify about the “social clubs” where the Mafia’s aging lieutenants hang out, like Chelsea pensioners, drinking and playing cards. When the mobster mentions their honor-among-thieves agreement—no one will enter any of those clubs armed—Tommy’s small but actually quite genial brain starts working. In no time, he acquires an Uzi, starts holding up those clubs, and makes a bundle. His girlfriend, Rosie, drives the getaway car. You have to love Tommy and Rosie, at least the celluloid pair—Michael Pitt, of “Boardwalk Empire,” and Nina Arianda, the Venus of “Venus in Fur.” They’ve had rum lives, but they’re lovebirds now, working for a debt collector—not the Mob kind—building a nest, and saving to get married. Rosie buys bed-linen sets, and Tommy uses the pillowcases to carry away fancy watches and fat wallets, which pile up on the floor of every social club the minute he fires a warning salvo at the ceiling and the Uzi (not the easiest weapon to control) starts jumping in his hand. For a year, it seems like a pretty good way to earn a living. The crooks robbed by Tommy and Rosie are unlikely to dial 911, and the press treats the pair like a latter-day Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Then, emptying a pillowcase one night, Tommy discovers a curious list in one of the wallets. It turns out to be a chart of the hierarchy within the Mafia family they have spent their time humiliating—from the extortionists and enforcers to the hit men and neighborhood bosses to the heretofore unassailable don himself. The don in this case is Big Al—a man, as Andy Garcia plays him, of decorous menace, who rules his turf under the cover of a gleaming Brooklyn deli, and whose particular passion is making arancini. “What we did was eat and observe,” Raymond De Felitta, who directed the movie, said. “We shot it in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. We did a lot of scouting. We were in the van all day, and we saw that every neighborhood we used, or even drove through, had an Italian deli. I said to Bill”—Bill Teitler, the producer—“ ‘That’s the sense of neighborhood I want.’ We all gained weight!” “Rob the Mob” is De Felitta’s first Mafia movie; the movies he made before had names like “Two Family House” and “City Island” and “Bronx Cheers.” (The last, a short, was his film-school thesis and an Oscar nominee.) But he had worked with actors from “The Sopranos.” Two of them, Michael Rispoli and Joseph R. Gannascoli, are in “Rob the Mob,” along with a few he describes as “guys who were once ‘the neighbors’—who’d grown up in Mob neighborhoods, and shopped at delis like Big Al’s, and ‘reinvented’ themselves when the acting bug bit.” De Felitta himself lives on the Upper East Side, and gets his Italy fixes around the corner from his apartment, at Salumeria Rosi. But his grandfather, Pasquale de Felitta, came from Naples, where everyone is a kitchen connoisseur, and his father, Frank, in Los Angeles—he wrote the famous thriller “Audrey Rose”—is a home cook of such local renown that the Los Angeles Times called one of his parties a culinary “event.” “My father was cooking pasta when it wasn’t yet pasta, it was spaghetti,” De Felitta said. You can see why he gained weight, scouting Italian delis. “We knew that most Mafia dons are hidden behind other kinds of businesses—look at Tony Soprano—but a deli seemed right for Andy Garcia,” he said. “We developed Big Al for him, and we wanted something, well, delicate–something different, a kind of gravitas and measure that set him apart from his men, hanging out in those dark, dusty clubs. We found a mansion on the water in Mill Basin, Brooklyn, for him to live in. We gave him a beautiful home kitchen, with a big table for putting together his arancini. We made him the guy who had gone from a food truck to that table.” Garcia uses his arancini to riveting effect, crafting a character as rich and complicated as the recipe. His rice balls can be menacing—arancini deployed to enforce respect, obedience, and more than a little fear and trembling—or tender. Consider this scene: Big Al is in the kitchen with his grandson, who has come to visit him. The boy is a quiet, serious kid, and he watches intently as Big Al demonstrates the artistry, diligence, and perseverance involved in making those intricate little balls, all the while delivering a monologue on a different kind of respect: the self-respect that comes from a job well done. This time, it’s rice balls deployed to turn Big Al into Exemplary Al, for his grandson and for himself. De Felitta doesn’t really like arancini. “We made arancini on the set, and I wasn’t mad for them,” he said. “I’m more of a mortadella man. I don’t know why people are terrified of mortadella. It’s the ‘real bologna,’ the caviar of bologna.” Still, you couldn’t turn mortadella into a metaphor for Big Al. The recipe may be just as long and just as complicated as arancini’s, but mortadella comes from Emilia-Romagna, while arancini are as Sicilian as the Mafia family that, in fact, produced Big Al. (It’s worth noting that when old Neapolitan families like De Felitta’s made rice balls, they called them palle di riso, as if to say, nothing special.) De Felitta himself is pitching a new movie he hopes to make—“Married and Cheating”—and he doesn’t have much time for cooking. “When I do cook, I make a Sunday sauce, and it’s an all-day affair,” he said. “I begin in the morning with the ribs and sausages. I add carrots, onions, and red wine, and watch it percolate for hours.” Not a metaphor. Not a movie. Dinner.
0