We’ve waited long enough for the much-anticipated Gangster Squad, but with a cast led by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, it’s definitely worth the wait.
Under the direction of Reuben Fleischer (Zombieland), Gangster Squad (read our review) is an action-packed story of redemption, of right, wrong, and men on a bloody mission to save Los Angeles, the city they love, from being overrun by Mickey Cohen’s (Sean Penn) East Coast Mafia.
Set in the 1940s, Josh Brolin plays Sgt. John O’Mara who heads up a secret LAPD special unit, hiring the a team of officers including his right hand man, Sgt Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) to keep out Cohen and the bad guys. At the press conference in LA, Brolin – who is seventh generation Californian – stated: “If it wasn’t for the heroic officers like O’Mara and Wooters and the team they recruited who put their lives on the line, Los Angelinos would be living in fear. This is the reason why the West Coast never had gangsters like they did in Chicago and New York back then.”
Based on Paul Lieberman’s seven-part Los Angeles Times article and subsequent book, Tales of the Gangster Squad, Will Beall, a former LAPD homicide detective, penned the script.Interestingly enough, this movie features a lot of reunions. Of course Brolin and Penn grew up together and starred in Milk, for which Brolin received an Oscar nomination while Penn won a Best Actor award; actor Anthony Mackie and Gosling were co-stars in Half Nelson; Fleischer directed Stone in Zombieland (the sequel is supposedly in the works); Stone and Gosling also played love interests in Crazy, Stupid, Love., and Mackie and actor Michael Peña worked together in Million Dollar Baby.
Screen Rant spoke with Brolin, Gosling and Stone, where they talked about everything from getting into their 1940s garb, to the fight scenes and just how intense Sean Penn can be….
SR: This is a mix between nonfiction and fanciful creation, how did each of you approach your character and how do you see your character?
JB: I like that you said fanciful. That means something more than what you say. How do I see him? I think he has a lot of integrity. 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.
In talking to my pop (James Brolin Sr.), my dad came to visit us. We were doing the scene at O’Mara’s house one day. I had asked my pop a bunch of stories like what was it like back then? I’m seventh generation Californian and he didn’t tell me anything. (Laughter) But when he finally got to the set and we were looking out on the street that had been recreated, he just kind of went off on these stories about when he was nine years old, and how he used to go in the back and peek in the back door of Slapsy Maxie’s and he’d go down the street to Ciro’s looking for Mickey Cohen and his goons and all that kind of stuff. Yet, he was talking about all this kind of corruption and all these kind of gangster stories or the idea of gangsters as celebrities back then. And yet, there was innocence in everything he was saying. I think that was the difference. The innocence of who this guy is and the idea that you can actually manifest something honorable and it have an impact.
ES: Well, my character wasn’t based on a real person, which was a nice jumping off point pressure-wise. But we had talked about 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. 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.
RG: I always kind of admired how Bugs Bunny was not above dressing like a lady in order to get out of trouble. I thought that that could be interesting in this in some way. That this person was trying to avoid and make themselves inconspicuous is sort of…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.
SR: Did you find a lot of material on the actual guy, Sgt Gerry Wooters?
RG: Yeah. We got a chance to meet some family members and his kids came to the set and they told me a lot of great stories. 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 all the ashes in his cuffs.
SR: Was any kind of additional research that anybody else did to fit in with that period? Ryan, I caught something in your voice that sounded almost like you were trying to do an early talkie thing, just a higher octave almost early on.
RG: That was more of a wardrobe issue. (Laughter). The wool was quite itchy, so I had a rash. I channeled that irritation into my hatred for the gangsters.
JB: I talked to John O’Mara’s daughter. You kind of create a composite character and see how it works. Then you get to the set and Ryan’s doing something this way and Sean’s doing something that way. Then you’ve got to adjust and hopefully find the best dynamic that you can create on the set. But it was the same thing with American Gangster. There was a very specific character that I was going after, more like Bob Lucci. Then you find out about somebody else who just feels more dynamic and right for the time, you know? This was less of a laconic character when we filmed it. Then in editing and all that, we found it much better to have me shut up and go for more of that Bogey, Clint Eastwood type thing. It seemed to balance things out better. Thank God for editing. But this was more of a composite thing. Also, you kind of lend yourself to the romantic idea that you have of that time and what that is for you personally.