Darabont, who has an affinity for period pieces (The Shawshank Redemption) and genre work (The Walking Dead), embraces film noir in the six-hour series, which TNT is presenting as a high-profile event over the next three Wednesdays. He was inspired by John Buntin’s non-fiction book L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City.
Not only is it a great history of an era that I’m fascinated with, but I also did see the clear opportunity to do something in the noir tradition. I have been a lover of the noir in literature and films since I was a kid,” says Darabont, who cites the novelist Raymond Chandler and films such as Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. “I’m so absorbed by that wonderful storytelling where the stakes are high, the guys are desperate, everybody has an angle and the women could be dangerous.”
In Mob City, real-life characters, such as straight-arrow police captain (and eventual chief) William Parker (Neal McDonough) – “He was like the sheriff who rode into town and wanted to clean it up,” Darabont says — and mobsters Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (Ed Burns) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), are set off against fictional creations, including the hard-to-read Marine-turned-cop Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal).
Peppered into the postwar mix are Mob lawyer Ned Stax (Milo Ventimiglia), enforcer Sid Rothman (Robert Knepper), police detective Hal Morrison (Jeffrey DeMunn), MayorFletcher Bowron (Gregory Itzin) and alluring woman of mystery Jasmine Fontaine (Alexa Davalos).
McDonough praises Darabont for staying true to the non-fictional characters while weaving in fictional elements. He wants to “make sure we tell the right story within the confines of the show,” he says.
Teague, whose motives aren’t always clear as his work brings him in contact with the Mob, “is every noir hero I’ve ever wanted to write,” Darabont says. He “is a guy looking for true north on his moral compass. But he’s pretty freshly back from a very ugly and brutal war, and I don’t think this world seems entirely real to him yet. He doesn’t have quite the graces, and his impulses are not entirely under control.”
Teague is a complex product of his era, affected by war and the Depression, and Mob City will tackle related issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, Bernthal says.
“There’s a real sense that because of the things he’s been through and the things he’s been asked to do and the things he has done, especially in war, that he does not feel he is a man fit for happy and healthy relationships. He just wants to keep everybody safe and watch from afar,” says the actor, who worked with Darabont on The Walking Dead.
The actors, who hope Mob City extends beyond the six episodes, say they find the film noir genre appealing.
“We had that night in downtown Los Angeles … where you’ve got the fedora on, the Craftsman houses, the 1940s car, the period street lamps. I half-expected Edward G. Robinson to walk out of one of the houses,” Burns says. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we’re doing that.’ This is our Cagney, Bogey moment.”
Ventimiglia sees a romance to the place and the era, which is reflected in shooting locations that remain from that time, such as historic Union Station.
“In the ’40s, (Los Angeles) was a little kid. It was figuring out who it was. It had very two strong forces, the LAPD and the crime syndicate. A lot of people thought that Mob stories were very East Coast and Midwest, but L.A. was kind of the Guadalcanal of a war,” he says. “There was a lot happening there that people don’t understand or expect to happen because of all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, but there was a very dark side to the city of Los Angeles that we explore.”
Mob City will examine the allure and ugliness of show business, but will also visit other parts of a diverse city that often aren’t given as much attention, Bernthal says.
“The Hollywood studio system and its influence on the police and the (Mob) involvement with that is dealt with,” he says. In addition, “it really goes into Central Avenue, the jazz bars and the African-American community. Los Angeles is very much billed in this time as being this lily-white community with orange trees growing on every street, and people don’t realize it was one of the most racially diverse cities in America. It had big Mexican and African-American populations.”
Darabont, who was unceremoniously pushed from the helm of AMC’s Walking Deadduring its second season, says TNT executives “were really decent people to work for, which is an experience I needed after my last one,” calling the outcome “pretty reprehensible” and “pretty sleazy.” (DeMunn, who has worked in many Darabont productions, asked to leave Walking Dead because of Darabont’s treatment. “I didn’t like what they did,” he says.)
For TNT, Darabont adds a prestigious pedigree along with the ability to attract a well-regarded cast.
“He’s a true, old-fashioned film guy, who has a vision, sticks with it and everyone around him respects him,” Knepper says. “He’s proven, he has an opinion and, at the same time, he’s loving and trusting of his actors.”