IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Gangster Squad'

Wednesday, 09 January 2013 11:47 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Gangster Squad'

More than probably any other single city, Los Angles represents the cultural dream that is a California: a bright, endlessly sunny paradise of populated by pretty people living the life on the farthest edge of what was once an unexplored, wild continent.  Gangster Squad, opening nationwide this Friday, January 11th, sleekly evokes this unreal LA with a vision of the city's past while also telling a propulsive action story inspired by 20th Century criminality.

Loosely based on the book by Paul Lieberman, Gangster Squad takes place in a neon-soaked notion of Los Angeles, 1949.  Brooklyn-born criminal Mickey Cohen tightens his vice-like grip on the postwar city, bringing East Coast-style organized crime to the Pacific, where his illicit empire becomes a corrosive influence on the LAPD.  In order to combat Cohen, a team of incorruptible cops are recruited to stand outside the law and take down Cohen by any means necessary.

Working from a screenplay by former LAPD cop Will Beall (Justice League), Ruben Flesicher (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) directs the film as a two-fisted adventure that uses real-life historical figures to tell a pulpy tale of good guys battling gangsters for the soul of a city.  His cast is led by Josh Brolin (No County for Old Men, Men in Black 3) as the squad's leader, with Ryan Gosling (Drive, Blue Valentine), Michael Pena (End of Watch, Observe & Report), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Real Steel), Robert Patrick (Safe House, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Giovanni Ribisi (Ted, Saving Private Ryan) as the titular team.  In addition to Nick Nolte (Warrior, 48 Hrs.) as Chief Parker, along with Sean Penn (Milk, Dead Man Walking) as Mickey Cohen and Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man, The Help) as Grace Faraday, Cohen's ladyfriend.

Last month, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Stone sat down with a group of entertainment journalists on the Los Angeles press day to answer any and all Gangster Squad-related questions.  IAR Managing Editor Jami Philbrick was in attendance to hear the actors discuss playing characters based on real people, working together, the most difficult scenes in the film, wool costumes, and the movie's unexpected tone.

While certain elements of the film's style are distinctly modern, reflecting Fleischer's sensibility and music video background, it is still a period picture.  That means much attention was paid to the 1949-appropriate production and costume design.  The clothes may look incredibly dapper onscreen, but their antiquated nature meant some discomfort for the cast according to Gosling, who said, "The wool was quite itchy, so I had a rash. I channeled that irritation into my hatred for the gangsters."

Similarly, Gangster Squad uses real people from the city's history to tell a story that isn't overly concerned with historical accuracy.  Brolin plays Sergeant John O'Mara, and the actor regarded his character as a symbol of a man from a distinctly different age. "How do I see him? I think he has a lot of integrity," Brolin explained. "I like the fact that it’s this kind of old idea of somebody who has the honor of not following the manual of what they say law is back then. I think law was a lot less paranoid than it is now. I think the boundaries of law were a lot more malleable then than they are now. Guys thought outside the box. So, the good guy was not necessarily the good guy. He had to think dirty in order to snuff out these guys who were trying to create Los Angeles into the Wild West, into a cesspool. After he got back from World War II, I think he was shocked at how much Los Angeles had changed. Instead of being narcissistic and selfish, I think he thought about the future of his kids and all the kind of stuff we think about now and whether we’re truly that kind of country or not. I think we were much more so back then."

For Gosling, there was a very different sort of inspiration, as well as an awareness that the film's take on his character is markedly different from the real Sergeant Jerry Wooters. "I always kind of admired how Bugs Bunny was not above dressing like a lady in order to get out of trouble," he said. "I thought that that could be interesting in this in some way. That this person trying to avoid and make themselves inconspicuous, in some way, that was in my head. But I also was trying to relate that as well to the idea that this is a real person. I think it’s important to note that the man himself was a much braver, more admirable character than the version of him that I play in the film. But I think for dramatic purposes it was necessary to have the character have a conflict and trying to have to be affected personally by the death of this shoeshine kid and then to be provoked into joining the squad. So, it was like trying to balance what felt best for the film and also trying to honor the man himself. So, I did find it difficult."

"We got a chance to meet some family members," he continued. "And his kids came to the set and told me a lot of great stories, a lot of great details. Like apparently when he ashed his cigarette, he would ash in the cuff of his pants. Then at the end of the day, he would dump out his cuffs, dump out all the ashes."

Stone, meanwhile, is playing a fictitious character invented for the film, a fact that was both a relief and a challenge, as she said,"Well, mine wasn’t based on a real person, which was a nice jumping off point pressure-wise. But I guess what we had talked about was the fact that she had come out to Los Angeles to be famous and she ended up on the arm of someone who was really notorious. It was just kind of like what reality show people sometimes are like today. She’s kind of famous by association or by proxy. I thought that was interesting and that something pretty heartbreaking is going on underneath the surface. I didn’t get a lot of time with the guys as much, so I think each scene was just trying to focus on bringing as much of that to the surface as I possibly could."

The film marks a reunion for Stone and Gosling, who previously starred as love interests in the 2011 comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love.  Asked what led them to work as a couple yet again, Gosling jokingly replied, "Well, Emma owes me money. The only way I can try and get that back is by doing movies with her. She still owes me that money."

"I think it was hard for us to be serious," he said of performing with Stone in Gangster Squad. "We had made this comedy together, so we were a couple of knuckleheads. Then we thought this will be fun to work together again. Then we had to try and be serious. I was trying to pretend like I was Humphrey Bogart or something. That kind of made it difficult."

Though they're again playing characters who are romantically linked, Stone and Gosling's characters are part of something of a love triangle with a hypotenuse leading to Mickey Cohen.  For any young actor, working with two-time Academy Award winner Sean Penn would seem like a daunting prospect, but Stone approached it within the context of Grace Faraday and Cohen's relationship, saying, "My character essentially is like the forgotten girl on his arm a lot of the time. So, I said a line to him. But for the most part, he’s kind of doing his business while I’m off to the side. So, I was watching him more than anything. So, however you feel as an audience is how I felt as an actor."

"It’s Sean. He’s great," Brolin said of his co-star. "Sean’s great. We’ve known each other for a long time. I don’t find him very intense, myself. But he’s an amazing actor, we have a lot of fun. That’s why I say that. We have a lot of fun, we work similarly and we have a lot of fun on the set. We don’t go around with furrowed brows and stuff like that. We have a lot of fun so we have a place to springboard from and dive into. So, working with him is actually a great pleasure. Then when you’re looking at somebody in the pupil and they’re doing their best to be as intense as they can and you’re doing the same, when you know each other as well as we do, it’s kind of dumb. But hopefully, you guys will enjoy it."

Despite his affection for his fellow actor, Brolin found one particular scene, a climactic bit of pugilism between O'Mara and Cohen, to be his most difficult in the production, explaining, "I think the fight with Sean was the most difficult because Sean didn’t rehearse as much as I did. So, his fists were flying wildly during the fight hoping that they got something that was useable. It was a tough fight that we rehearsed for many, many weeks. I love the way that it turned out. But I think both of us being the current and ex-smokers that we are, that was the most challenging on an oxygen level."

Asked if any of their punches connected, the actor slyly responded, "Possibly."

"It was challenging for me when I realized that I was not going to get a tommy gun," Gosling joked. "I thought for sure I would have one. Instead, I got a little, tiny lady gun. Josh kind of hogged the tommy gun. So, that was difficult for me."

For some audiences expecting a more staid, fact-based approach to the material, Gangster Squad will prove surprising.  It's crowd-pleasing tone was actually unexpected for some of the cast, as well.  Brolin recalls, "Sean and I, in a cut that was a little bit earlier than this final cut, Sean and I went to a test screening and we snuck in the back. I don’t remember where it was. In Glendale. We snuck in the back. I think Sean even had a hoodie on, which I thought was funny. We got through and not only were there a lot of laughs and all that, but we got through the film and it was wild the reaction. I mean clapping, standing up, hooting, hollering. Not that we didn’t feel; you’re in the movie and you can’t really feel the same way. But to see that kind of reaction is kind of great as an escapist movie. You follow the testosterone or whatever you see it as and just kind of go along for the ride and take it for what it is. It was quite a treat."

"I think we were under the impression that it was a little more character when we first got into it," he continued. "I think we should have known, having seen Zombieland, that it was going to be a little more fast paced and fun and have a little more humor in it. I think that’s how it’s turned out. I think absolutely for the betterment of the film."

Gangster Squad opens nationwide this Friday, January 11, 2013.

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