This story first appeared in the Dec. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Ousted Walking Dead showrunner Frank Darabont returns to the small screen Dec. 4 with TNT’s Mob City, a slick six-episode period drama based on John Buntin‘s best-seller L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City. The story of cop Joe Teague’s dogged pursuit of gangster Mickey Cohen also serves as a mini Walking Dead reunion for the writer-director with stars Jon Bernthal and Jeff DeMunn. To mark the launch, THR gathered Darabont and stars DeMunn (Det. Hal Morrison), Milo Ventimiglia (fixer Ned Stax), Neal McDonough (Capt. William Parker), Alexa Davalos (Jasmine) and Ed Burns (Bugsy Siegel) for a video roundtable to discuss changing history and why film noir is so appealing. Here are five things to know about the series.
1. It’s L.A.’s history — but with a few twists
Darabont saw Buntin’s book at the airport and immediately was taken by the title. “Noir is very dear to me in film and literature,” he says. “I spent the first day of my vacation finishing the book because I was so absorbed in it.” Michael DeLuca (The Social Network) had optioned the book, and he and Darabont felt it was best suited for TV and took the adaptation to TNT. “This is the loosest [adaptation] I’ve done,” Darabont says. “I had to give myself permission to invent characters.”
2. Jeff DeMunn is Darabont’s go-to guy
DeMunn, who played moral compass Dale on The Walking Dead, was the first actor cast in Mob City — as he is with everything Darabont produces. “It’s always like, ‘What’s the Jeff DeMunn role? And if there isn’t one, I’ll make one up because I love working with him,” Darabont says. DeMunn asked to be killed off early on The Walking Dead and by January had been given the role of Morrison, the cop who heads the LAPD’s new crime division.
3. Bugsy’s a man of two minds
While DeMunn, Davalos and Ventimiglia’s characters are Darabont creations, McDonough says he did a lot of research to play Parker, the era’s real-life (and embattled) chief of police. The challenge, he says, is that there isn’t a Parker biography, so he wound up going to the police museum. For his part, Burns recalls an early conversation with Darabont about playing the infamous mobster and creating the character to be larger than life. “He’s got to own the room and be super charming to the ladies, and the gang has to want to kill for him,” Burns says of playing Bugsy. “Then when he has to turn into the homicidal maniac, you have to turn on that switch as well.”
4. Gray is the new black
With all its heroes and villains far from perfect, Mob City explores the gray area in its characters. Ventimiglia’s Ned is a budding attorney and fixer for the mob and has to operate on both sides of the law. Darabont told the Heroes alum that Ned serves as the inner workings of everything the mob orchestrates. “It’s incredibly muddled in such a complex way that it’s fun to follow and discover this darker side of Ned,” Ventimiglia says. Should Mob City move forward with a second season, Darabont hopes to explore Ned’s connection to Bernthal’s Teague and the duo’s backstory. “I have endless seasons in mind; let’s do this for 20 years,” Darabont says with a laugh.
5. Darabont loves TNT. AMC? Not so much
Darabont says his experience with TNT and with Michael Wright, president and head of programming for the network, is like night and day when compared with his stint on AMC’s The Walking Dead. “We’re working for human beings here,” he says. “There’s not some committee that ambushes you with pages and pages of ridiculous notes.”
Mob City premieres Dec. 4 on TNT.