Sam Rivman ’18 and P.T Philben ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writers
By the Gun, a modern day Mafia movie written by Emilio Mauro and directed by James Mottern, held a red carpet event in Boston last night. The film stars big names like Ben Barnes, Jay Giannone, Kenny Wormald and Slaine. The cast and crew of the film were kind enough to answer some of our questions on the red carpet.
First, we spoke with James Mottern, the director.
Emertainment Monthly: Ben Barnes has previously been associated with fantasy films, so this is a bit of a different turn for him. What was it like working with Ben on this film?
James Mottern: Well, when Ben first came on set, he had done Narnia, and he had been in a couple of films where he plays more of an English character or a doctored kind of character. When he got to my set, he was really ready to something different. And the fact is, inside of Ben, he is really different. He’s kind of a gritty, tough character. Ben also knows, as a lot of actors know, when you first start playing one character you end up only playing that kind of character forever. And so, when he got to my set, he was really open to something that is a little bit closer to what’s going on inside of him. When we first talked to him about the film, it was the kind of thing where he really understood the nature of the character. Never once did I think “oh, here’s Prince Caspian”, because Ben did such a great job with the character of Nick Tortano.
This is clearly a Mafia movie, but it differs from typical mafia films in that it takes place in modern day. By the Gun takes place during the decline of the mafia rather than during its glory days, so how did you approach directing this film differently?
Mottern: Well that’s a real film nerd question, which I am! Emilio Mauro is the writer on the film, and so when he gave me the script, we kind of went through the script moment by moment. We’re both real fans of films, and fans of The Godfather films and other mafia movies dating all the way back to the 40’s. When we looked at the schedule of mafia movies, we were thinking “well, maybe there’s some sort of trajectory, and this is the last moment of this great empire”. And when we approached the film, we just kept thinking “this is the last mafia movie, this is the last mafia movie!” even though it’s not. But it’s an approach, and we wanted to see what that would look like. We added a kind of vacancy to it, almost like a sparsely populated ghost town, and even the people involved in it were losing the will to do it themselves. And so that’s how we approached it. We weren’t necessarily trying to make it different from other mafia movies, but we did want to capture a moment in time, and a place.
Speaking of the way that you approached the film, obviously when you think of Boston, you don’t think of the Italian mafia. How did the setting being in Boston change the dynamic of your approach?
Mottern: Well, I think that the mafia in Boston, unlike New York, is a very insular, small area in the North End. It’s just a few blocks, really. And so, you get the feeling that not only are people in the North End trying to hold onto this ideal of family, brotherhood, and manhood, but they literally are trying to hang on to the small little thread of culture to a world that has now vanished. What we tried to do was capture that specific place, and how it truly is just a few square blocks. The Italian guys that are in the North End all had watched mafia films like The Godfather, and their experience was derivative of the movies that had been based on real life. In terms of the Boston Mob, that little insular world was one approach, and then also the characters that are in it are almost like derivative characters that imitate something that was maybe never even true. Ben very well captured the idea of someone being nostalgic for something that almost never even existed.
We also know that you have a really big film coming out in 2015, Zendog, starring Ben Barnes once again, alongside other huge stars like William H. Macy and Peter Dinklage. What can you tell us about this project?
Mottern: It’s really a great script. It’s kind of a heist film, and I’m just going to say that as shorthand, because it isn’t entirely just that. There are some really great characters, and it’s a really great role for Ben, a great role for Macy, and Dinklage. It’s a little bit like a film like No Country for Old Men or Dog Day Afternoon. It’s a bit of a mixture between those two films. I think Aubrey Plaza is going to play the lead female role. We’re really excited to work on it.
Next, we talked to star Jay Giannone.
Emertainment Monthly: Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the film?
Jay Giannone: Sure, my name is Jay Giannone, and I play the role of Joe. Joe is this guy who wants to come up in the mob, and he wants to be somebody. So Joe is basically a guy who takes the initiative upon himself to make some really bad things happen. He wants to take over, and become a number two or a number three guy. So I have a lot of conflict in the movie with Ben Barnes’ character and Kenny Wormald’s character.
So what was the chemistry like on set between you and Ben? It sounds like you guys are going to be butting heads quite a bit.
Giannone: First of all, off set Ben and I are very good friends now. He’s a real class gentleman and a great guy. On set, it was amazing. You could really feel the tension between us as actors playing two characters in fierce opposition.
Then we spoke with Ben Barnes, the lead of the film.
Emertainment Monthly: Ben, you’re best know for playing Prince Caspian in the Chronicles of Narnia film series, as well as playing Dorian Gray in the film Dorian Gray. Both characters are fantastical and hold a level of prestige within their respective worlds. What was it like to play a very realistic character, set in the real modern world, coming from nothing in By the Gun?
Ben Barnes: I was definitely, definitely looking for a role more like this, with more sort of grounded, gritty characters. I love the urban type of stories, and this script sort of popped up one day and it was just one of those ones that I read cover to cover. Once I finished, I instantly thought “well, I have to play this guy”. I’ve been walking around saying “why always with the flowery shirts and swords? Why can’t I get a car and a gun? I want a car, a gun, and a goatee!” It was all there; it was all presented to me in one easy package. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew than this in terms of working with Slaine and Jay and Kenny, all of these guys that are from Boston. They’re essentially the real deal, they’re guys who know all the characters in the film for real and they introduced me to half of them. We had a great couple of weeks in the North End just roaming around the streets, meeting all kinds of wonderful characters. Once they slap the tattoo on your neck, and you get the walk and accent down, these boys will give you a quick slap if the accent sounds wrong to them, because they’re so concerned with it being authentic and macho. And as they should be, because they’re very proud to be from Boston and proud of its history.
So you had to play this character very straightforward as a tough and macho guy. How do you transition as an actor from previous “flowery shirt” roles to one such as this?
Barnes: I think you have to find a way to make that violence and anger your own. If I was to scream and shout and throw a chair, it wouldn’t be that scary, and would feel a bit out of place. So I have to come at it from a different angle, maybe a sort of quieter, non-reactionary angle. And you find all of these different moments and try to make each moment feel as real as you can. This is a movie full of those kinds of moments, where it’s scarier for someone not to react to you than it is for you to blow up at somebody. Sometimes shouting isn’t always the scariest thing. So it was a nice challenge for me to find my inner gangster. You also have to look at the other side of any character you play. He is kind of a badass, but he has a kind of vulnerability to him. He’s a man that finds it difficult to take lives, like any normal person would. So I think that’s why you empathize when you’re on the side of my character when watching this film. You’re seeing his inner conflicts in the difficult situations that he is being put through.
What was it like to work with Harvey Keitel?
Barnes: Oh yeah, he was magnificent! He just came in for quite a short time during the last week of shooting, and he just came in as the character. The first time I ever met him, he was in an old Italian suit with his hair slicked back, sitting in a chair. He looked up at me, and it was terrifying. He brought this mob boss that you’d always wanted to see Harvey Keitel play, and he was there from the first minute.
We also heard that you’re going to be starring in a movie, Zendog, coming out in 2015 directed once again by Mottern. What can you tell us about this project?
Barnes: Unfortunately, not really anything at this point. It’s just sort of something that I’ve read and liked and been attached to for a while. But we’ll just have to see what comes of it. I’d love to work with James again if it comes to fruition.
Next up was Kenny Wormald, who plays Vito in the film.
Emertainment Monthly: Kenny, this is a bit of a different film from others, like Footloose, that you’ve done in the past. What was it like joining this project?
Kenny Wormald: I always wanted to do a Boston film and be a part of the Boston film family. I knew that if I did something right that one day I could be a part of a film in Boston, so to actually do this was such an honor. I’m from here [Boston], so I take a lot of pride in the films that come from here.
So in some ways, it was like working from home.
Wormald: Oh yeah, it was awesome. I got to see my family and all of my friends while I was working. I have been living in L.A for 12 years, so I don’t get to see my family as much as I’d like. It was a win-win, for sure.
Many of the actors in this film are actually from Boston, or have strong connections from Boston. How do your roots influence how you act in the film? Did a certain level of comfort change the dynamic at all?
Wormald: Yeah, ever since I finished Footloose, I’ve had to lose my Boston accent for all of my other roles. Whenever they audition you for a film, they make you lose your accent. They’ll ask “where are you from?” and I’m like “shit, they can hear it!” So I saw some dialect coaches and I tried really hard to change my accent and live my normal life without a Boston accent. So to get to come home and unleash it again was incredible. I knew that my accent wasn’t fake and I didn’t have to really work on my Boston accent or mannerisms at all. They were something that I already had in my back pocket. The fact that most of the cast is from Boston really made it easy. I felt like I was at my uncle’s house or something.
Then we talked with George Carroll, also known as the rapper Slaine, who plays Geroge in the film.
Emertainment Monthly: Hi Slaine, tell us a little bit about how you got involved with this picture.
Slaine: Well, Emilio Mauro wrote the script, and he’s a friend of mine. I was on tour in 2011, so I couldn’t read it until I got home. I eventually read it, I loved it, and I said “alright, how are we gonna get it made?”
How about your character? What role do you play in By the Gun?
Slaine: My guy is different than the other characters in the movie because I’m not Italian and I’m not really a mob guy. I’m more of a lone wolf assassin and I don’t like these guys. I’m just really loyal to Ben Barnes’ character, just trying to steer him away not from the criminal life, but from being affiliated with the old mafia.
You’ve been in a few Boston crime films in the past. What made By the Gun a different and unique experience for you?
Slaine: Well, I think they’re all different, you know. But this is more of a modern day mob story where the mob is not what it once was. It’s kind of like the remnants of what used to be the mob, and a kid who looks up to it.
Finally we talked to writer Emilio Mauro.
Emertainment Monthly: Mauro, what inspired you to place the end of the mob in Boston? That’s not really the first place that comes to mind.
Emilio Mauro: No, no, I’m just familiar with the city and the people and the neighborhoods. I knew I wanted to do a Boston movie. So it really didn’t go much further than that. I was able to use some of the local talent that I had become friends with, and showcase their talents a little bit.
Where did you pull inspiration for the romantic relationship in the film?
Mauro: Well I knew that I wanted there to be a love interest for Ben’s character, because it put him in a situation that made him go against everything in the oath that he took. What you see on screen is really a testament to the directing, as well as the actors themselves. I used that chemistry as another plot device to push the story forward.
At the end of the film, you have a tragic ending, which isn’t quite so typical. It really gave the film a good finishing punch. What was your inspiration for making that bold choice?
Mauro: I think a lot of the themes are Shakespearean in nature. Because it’s about a dying empire, which of course relates to Julius Caeser. I wanted the film to end logically too. George was always a survivor, which is why he doesn’t die. But everyone else involved with the Mob ultimately had to die.
Do you have any other future projects that you’d like to talk about?
Mauro: I have a television series in development with Fox, called The Middle Man with Ben Affleck. I’m producing a script of Michael Yebba’s, who was in By the Gun as well. I’m also writing James Mottern’s next script.
By the Gun hits theaters in a limited release this Friday.