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.
Sceen Rant: Everyone has heard about how intense Sean Penn can be. What do you learn from a guy like Sean?
Josh Brolin: I don’t know, man. It’s Sean. He’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. 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.
Emma Stone: 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.
JB: The great thing about him too is you ask the guy who was Harvey Milk. That was the…you know what I mean? That’s the shocking thing about Sean. It’s not necessarily…like his conviction is so complete when he’s doing something. But then you’re remember as a fan, holy shit, this is the same guy who did this and this is the guy who has the ability to be as vulnerable as he is intense. That’s kind of what makes him, at least to me as a fan, so special.
SR: Ryan and Josh, you had some nail-biting fight scenes. Which one was particularly challenging for each of you?
RG: Well, I’m sorry, I just had a Red Bull. It was challenging for me when I realized that I was not going to get a Tommy gun. 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. How about you Josh?
JB: Thanks, Ryan. 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.
SR: Any punches connect?
JB: Possibly. (Laughter) We did the fight sequences at night, usually starting at midnight and until six a.m. and we didn’t use stunt doubles. They were incredibly brutal, physical, wet fight at all hours of the night.
SR: Ryan and Emma, this is your second movie together. What do each like most about working with the other?
RG: 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.
ES: How much more?
RG: How much more do you owe me?
RG: Well, I’m glad we’re finally talking about that. It’s a shame we had to come here and do this. Well, I mean did you like working with me?
ES: No. Did you like working with me?
RG: No. I think it was hard for us to be serious. 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. Did you find that hard?
ES: I found that hard. Yeah. I mean I really liked it. I want to work with you a lot, if you’ll have me. Thanks so much for bearing with us.
SR: There’s such a wonderful supporting cast, Robert Patrick, Nick Nolte, Mereille Enos and Michael Peña. Can you talk working with them?
JB: You start these things out and you have this studio-propelled, value dream team and you’re trying to get…I won’t mention any names. But you’re trying to get who’s of most value. It’s kind of great when that doesn’t necessarily work. You go down this idea of a ladder and they turn out to be the best actors you could possibly get for those parts. I think we came out with an amazing cast …why would they do smaller parts like that? A lot of those guys are lead guys now. It was great because I’m usually the guy who’s fu*king around all the time on the set. This one, I just kind of got to stand back. When you have Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick on set together, its absolute fu*king chaos. It’s a lot of fun to be able to watch. So, they created a kind of vortex that became what you see on film, which I think is the great exhale of this film. Within all this testosterone, it’s because of them that you get to take a breath. Then the impact of all the other stuff is much more apparent because of them.
SR: So what can we expect from Gangster Squad?
JB: I’ll tell you, just a quick thing. 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 think it was in… Glendale? 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. When you’re in the movie, 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. 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 is now in theaters. Be sure to Read Our Review.