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Interview: Jeffrey DeMunn and Jeremy Luke talk 'Mob City'
A TV mobster and TV cop talk Darabont, noir and more
Last week, I posted my "Mob City" interview with Ed Burns & Robert Knepper, who discussed playing a real-life and fictional mobster respectively in the TNT drama from Frank Darabont.
The "mobster" hook gave a through-line to that interview. The pairing of Jeffrey DeMunn and Jeremy Luke offered no such through-line. DeMunn plays a fictionalized LAPD officer, while Luke plays the very real Mickey Cohen. DeMunn has worked with Darabont at every step through his career, while Luke is a first-timer in the Frank Darabont Repertory Acting Company.
The disconnect led to some amusing detours in the conversation, including which actress provided DeMunn's surprising inspiration and which video game experiences the two men share. They also discuss working with Darabont and the advantages of working in Los Angeles on a project like this.
Click through for the full Q&A, which was initially filmed for video, but ended up being audio-only. Apologies.
HitFix: So Jeffrey, you're the president of the Frank Darabont Repertory Acting Company. What does that mean when you get on set on a Frank Darabont production?
Jeffrey DeMunn: It means I can relax and do my work.
HitFix: What is it about sort of the atmosphere that he creates on set that you find so comfortable?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Oh it's all focused on the work. It's not focused on ego. He surrounds himself with such extraordinary talent that everybody is playing, they're really playing a very high, high level game, everybody. Every department. Sound mixing, everybody has got it. They've got it and they're bringing it. And there's Frank. He's got your back. You know that when you're working you can try anything you want and if you go off-kilter you don't have to correct it yourself because Frank will say, "You know, let's do this. I like that." It's really comfortable to get.
HitFix: Well Jeremy, what is it like as sort of a newcomer in Frank's world?
Jeremy Luke: You know, I said this before but the first day of shooting I was like, "How did I wind up playing Mickey Cohen in Frank Darabont's baby?" The first day I worked, I was like working with Frank and it was going good, but like the whole time up to that for the three weeks I was like, "God, I better not get fired. I'm gonna get fired. He's gonna see something that he does not like in me. I think somebody is smoking something over there. I don't know who's high or drunk or crazy or what." But at the end of the day he walked up to me and he's like, "Now I know I got the right f***ing guy." And for me it was just like all the weight just... Pheww. And that's been great. You know, we had breakfast and he just said like, "You know, you may have hard days and it may be really tough, but you'll get through it and I've got your back." He's like, "You're gonna get through it and I have your back." And just to hear all that kind of stuff and that kind of support of, you know, a director who really knows actors. I mean he treats people with respect, everybody with respect. It's cool man. It's the way it should be. And then we all just roll like a great ensemble, like no ego on set. I didn't know coming into this, I didn't know if there was gonna be divas or who's gonna be what. And I came in and everybody's on the same page -- Me, you're the grip, you know, you do catering. We're all on the same page. We're all just like a good crew.
Jeffrey DeMunn: A team.
HitFix: Well you sort of talked about sort of knowing how to communicate with actors and it seems to me looking at the first couple of episodes of this that everything is so visually precise from the costumes to the lighting and all of that. Is it sometimes hard to find sort of an acting rhythm when everything has to be so aesthetically precise?
Jeffrey DeMunn: I think it maybe is quite the opposite.
Jeremy Luke: Yeah. Yeah, that's what I was gonna say.
Jeffrey DeMunn: Because the world around him is so perfect it's easy to just relax like, "He's doing it." Sometimes you're defined -- If you and I, the three of us were talking in a barn now it would have a subtle effect on what this would feel like to us. And he creates a world that has, it has a subtle effect on how it feels to you and you respond accordingly.
HitFix: And Jeremy, you're playing an iconic figure, both an iconic figure, historically iconic, but also one who's been played in movies in the past. What is the pressure and the responsibility to make this Mickey Cohen your Mickey Cohen?
Jeremy Luke: You know for me I didn't watch the movies until about halfway through shooting. I didn't really feel much pressure in that aspect. I thought maybe I'd get fired for playing something, but I didn't feel pressure as like, you know, "You have to do this." Because I made some decisions and if I didn't make the decisions or if I was uncomfortable with what I was doing then I would feel pressure or insecure about it. But as far as the work goes I felt I like I made some decisions and I went with those decisions and Frank helped me cultivate Mickey and made this thing, this character, this three-dimensional character. I didn't necessarily go for the mean bad guy, because in my eyes from what I've read and the things that I've seen, the biographies and stuff, he liked people. You know? He wanted to be loved just like everybody else. Like he really wanted to be loved and accepted and wanted to be a better person and better, in some cases... not necessarily a better citizen but a better person. Like he wanted to learn how to read, write, do those things that that we all want to do and we all want to strive to be. And those were small things for Mickey. But I think that he did enjoy people. I think he did enjoy having people at his club and take pictures with people. But if you crossed him in this world that he lived in. You know. Bad news.
HitFix: And Jeff, is your character based on a real guy or is he a composite for this?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Frank made him up.
HitFix: Okay. So does that make it sort of easier that you get to sort of work and sculpt him yourself and you don't have the pressure of people having a sense of like, for example, who Mickey Cohen is?
Jeffrey DeMunn: I don't know. You know I've done characters who were in existence and characters who have been played before and, geez, I'm a theater actor. I don't know how many different guys have done Willie Loman? I mean you just don't think about it. You just take the material and say "What do we got?" And if it's a historical figure then, "Oh neat, then I've got this." In my case it wasn't a historical figure, but it was a figure that's been depicted within a certain capsule of time. And so I just studied the capsule of time and, you know, looked at a lot of photographs and read a lot of books and absorbed what I could from it and said, "Well, whatever sticks, sticks."
HitFix: Did Frank sort of have prescribed readings and movies that he was sort of recommending to you guys to get a feeling of this time and this world?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Boy, he never mentioned it to me but I know that he, if people asked, you know, "What are the 10 movies I should watch?"
Jeremy Luke: They probably knew that you knew those.
Jeffrey DeMunn: Well, yeah, he probably knew I was in some of them. You know, noir films are something I've enjoyed for many, many, many years. And I did ask a friend of mine, "Got any tips? And so I watched a few extra that way. But I don't know if...
HitFix: So did you get a list, Jeremy?
Jeremy Luke: I got cast, but I didn't really speak to Frank yet, but I started looking online. Like I looked at the New York Times and he said he really liked "LA Confidential" and "Sunset Boulevard," so I watched those films right away. But, yeah, and then I read "LA Noir," which is a really complicated book to read. It's a really complicated book to read, especially for a guy like me who hasn't read a book in about a year or since fifth grade. But I got through it. It was an interesting book but I read that book also just to get a feel for the story and everything.
HitFix: Well did you look at sort of any of the classic gangsters? The John Garfields? The James Cagneys, et cetera?
Jeremy Luke: I didn't. You know, I didn't. I kinds I didn't want to go for that, you know, like, "Hey, what are ya doing here? What's going on?" That wasn't what I wanted to do. I really wanted to put my stamp and my print on it. I figured if that was something that needed to be done that Frank would just take me and just say, "Hey, look I want you to make this and do this and watch that and get really inspired by these people" or whatever. But, you know, somebody who inspired me, it was like the first day of shooting, James Gandolfini passed away. So me and my roommate went, I went home and I just started watching a lot of "The Sopranos" and what he did. You know, by the end I gained 20 pounds from the beginning of the shoot. Frank wanted me to gain some weight. And I just watched the way like, the breathing and, you know, the holding yourself and just for me to get comfortable being a bigger guy -- A short little big guy -- But, you know, I'm using the nasal stuff and the stuff that I usually try to get rid of, I'm just really embracing that stuff and making it even more. That was really helpful for me, you know.
HitFix: Is that hard to sort of unlearn what you've been sort of taught to avoid? Or is it just fun to be able to go and...
Jeremy Luke: It's fun to be able to go have a bunch of beers, you know. I don't have to drink Coors Light no more at the bar. I can eat whatever I want. Pizza actually, you know, bring a whole pie over. There's something fun about doing it, you know. It's like all these other actors are trying to lean up and I'm just getting like "Uhhh."
HitFix: Have you ever had an acting role where you've had the opportunity to gain 20 pounds over the course of production?
Jeffrey DeMunn: No.
HitFix: Does it sound like fun?
Jeffrey DeMunn: I'm not sure I would jump at it at this point. No, I've never encountered that.
HitFix: Well now you mentioned that you went and watched a few specific noir movies. Which ones were you looking at?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Oh Jesus. That's not fair.
HitFix: Or you can give me some favorite...
Jeffrey DeMunn: Yeah, "Sunset." I watched several with Barbara Stanwyck. I became quite fascinated by her because I thought she had the capacity within the world of these noir films to simply talk. I thought, "That's what I want. I want to be Barbara Stanwyck. I want to be able to just talk and still look like every pore of me is part of this world." How close I came to that I have no idea, but she became my beacon.
HitFix: Any particular performances?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Don't ask me to name them. [He laughs.]
HitFix: I like specifics.
Jeffrey DeMunn: I don't remember what I saw. I don't remember the name of the book I'm reading right now and it's a hell of a book.
HitFix: What book are you reading right now?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Oh my God! "The Sense of an Ending." Won the Booker Prize. Won the Mann-Booker Prize in England. Unbelievable.
HitFix: Now runaway productions happen all the time. People film Toronto as everywhere. People film in Vancouver as everywhere. What was it like shooting this in Los Angeles and could you have filmed it anywhere else do you think?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Boy.
Jeremy Luke: You could probably answer this better because I was in my club and in my office most of the time.
Jeffrey DeMunn: It was wonderful to have Los Angeles to use. And moving it somewhere else would have other problems besides the architecture. But it was great to be shooting outside of, we were shooting outside of the City Hall and Frank said to Greg, our scenic designer, he said, "Now was that building here?" And Greg said, "Yes, that was. And you've got that." So that he knew what he could use that was in situ you back in the day. So it was still legit. Going into placed like just City Hall. Have you been inside the City Hall?
HitFix: I've never been inside.
Jeffrey DeMunn: Oh my God! Didn't have to touch a thing. That place is astounding. So that was really a diamond. We went into rooms that just felt old and yet still were very usable for sets and stuff. So, you know, it was neat.
HitFix: We don't think of this city as having sort of history and yet it does have history in certain periods. Are you looking at things differently as you drive through the city now? Do you go, "Okay, that is actually something from…"
Jeffrey DeMunn: Yes, I have started to notice that. Also there's that video game, "LA Noir."
Jeremy Luke: You play that?
Jeffrey DeMunn: No. I had a friend who said, "Oh look, you've got to see this." He had just gotten it. And he sat me down and he knew everything. He said, "Oh look. That's still there. No that's a deli." And all these buildings from that which were legit. Those are all supposedly legit. All those buildings are still here.
Jeremy Luke: Yeah, even like, you know, I was on the Sunset Strip...
Jeffrey DeMunn: Do you play?
Jeremy Luke: What?
Jeffrey DeMunn: Do you play?
Jeremy Luke: No, I don't play the game. I'm bad with that kind of stuff. I suck at video games. I played like Super Mario Brothers when Nintendo…
Jeffrey DeMunn: I did the Tetris.
Jeremy Luke: Mike Tyson's Punchout.
HitFix: That's a different interview. We can talk Glass Joe all day long if you want to but...
Jeremy Luke: Right. You're in!
HitFix: But you were saying though about the Sunset Strip.
Jeremy Luke: I was saying, oh, I went to the Sunset Strip, I was there last week and I was just looking around and most of the strip was owned by Mickey Cohen. The Comedy Store was a place called Ciro's. And I had a conversation with Milo [Ventimiglia] and supposedly the Comedy Store basement is haunted because Mickey was killing people down there. And the Biker Room and the Whiskey-a-Go-Go. He had to move out of LA County so he went to Beverly Hills. That's why the Sunset Strip, that's why he owned it because he wasn't allowed to work. He wasn't allowed to own places in LA anymore. His businesses out of LA, he got kicked. That's why right on the Sunset Strip, right there at Beverly Hills, that was his stomping grounds where he opened all his businesses. Michael's Haberdashery, his suit store. I don't know where that is. He had like 300 suits.
"Mob City" airs two more episodes on Wednesday, December 11 on TNT.