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Creating A New 1940s Los Angeles, Responding To Aurora & More From The Cast & Crew About 'Gangster Squad'

The Playlist By Charlie Schmidlin | The Playlist January 8, 2013 at 10:03AM

For his third directorial effort following the genre mélange of action comedies “Zombieland” and “30 Minutes or Less,” Ruben Fleischer has taken a leap forward in scope and ambition, while taking the narrative back to 1940s Los Angeles. Inspired by the seven-part LA Times articles by Paul Lieberman, “Gangster Squad” charts the apex of NY gangster Mickey Cohen's westward reign, and the guerilla band of LAPD organized to bring it to an end. Armed with a passion for period detail and a modern sensibility, Fleischer has stepped up to the challenge with a fantastic cast behind him, and at the film's Beverly Hills press conference last month, stars Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone -- along with screenwriter/former LAPD cop Will Beall and producers Dan Lin and Kevin McCormick -- joined the director in describing the experience of bringing the project to the screen.
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Gangster Squad Josh Brolin Ryan Gosling
3. The relationship to the story's real-life characters provided a necessary emotional grounding to the action.
“Gangster Squad” is first and foremost an action film, and as such meets a requisite level of heightened entertainment, but for the cast and filmmakers, there still existed the tale's real-life counterparts for which to appropriately pay tribute. Brolin got to speak to O'Mara's daughter for inspiration and accuracy, while Gosling got to do the same for his portrayal of Sgt. Jerry Wooters. The actor recognized the need for divergence where it counts though, and provided a peculiar motivation for his slippery, fast-talking character. “I kind of admired how Bugs Bunny was never above dressing like a lady in order to get out of trouble, and I thought that could be interesting in this in some way,” he said. “I was also trying to relate that to, well, that this was a real person, who was much braver and more admirable than the version of him in the film.”

Brolin agreed, saying, “You create a composite character and see how it fits, and then Ryan is doing something this way and then Sean is doing something that way, and hopefully you've got to adjust and find the best dynamic that you can create on the set.” Apparently Brolin's portrayal of O'Mara was different to the one seen in the finished film though -- “less of a laconic character” -- and one where they “found it much better to have me shut up and go for more of that Bogey, Eastwood type thing.” He concluded with a smile, “What you do on the set sometimes isn't necessarily right, so thank god for editing.”

As the film's femme fatale Grace Faraday, Emma Stone had what she calls a “nice jumping-point, pressure-wise” being one of the manufactured characters for the film, but that didn't mean she failed to work with Beall to deliver a fully-formed presence. “What [Will and I] had talked about was that she had come out to Los Angeles to be famous, and she ended up on the arm of someone who's really notorious,” said Stone, claiming Grace to be a “reality-show type” who remains “famous by association.” She added, “I thought something pretty heartbreaking is going on under the surface, and I didn't get a lot of time with the guys as much, so each scene was just trying to bring as much of that to the surface as I possibly could.”

Gangster Squad, Sean Penn
4. Sean Penn was naturally a thunderous presence on-set, but Brolin wasn't so fazed.
Tearing into each scene with a sustained energy of violence and power, Penn as Cohen meant for Fleischer a nerve-wracking dream come true, and for the actors a challenge to step up their game. “I was really nervous to work with him, honestly, not only because he's one of the world's greatest living actors, but he's also a great director,” Fleischer commented. “I can promise you I didn't get a lot of sleep the night before shooting with him.” Brolin -- who's known Penn for a large chunk of his career and last worked with him in “Milk” -- had a different experience though.

“I don't find him very intense myself,” he said with a laugh. “The great thing about him to is you go, 'That's the guy who was Harvey Milk.' That's the shocking thing. His conviction is so complete, and has the ability also to be as vulnerable as he is intense.” Stone unfortunately got the latter half of that assessment saying her character's position as the “forgotten girl on his arm” made it so “he's doing his lines elsewhere while I'm watching him more than anything.” Fleischer provided an attempt to showcase the actor's humorous side though, as he took the cast to a Hollywood screening of one of Penn's most famous roles.

“We all went to see 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High' at the Hollywood Forever cemetery and that's who Mickey was: Real scary and intense, but also a real sense of humor.” Brolin added with surprise, “He was frickin' Spicoli, man!”

Gangster Squad Brolin Gosling
5. Recent real-life tragedies have restructured the cast and crew's approach toward their completed film.
Fleischer's film is approaching release for the second time now. "Gangster Squad" was pulled from its original September 2012 slot as its position as an extremely violent film showcasing copious amounts of gunplay had placed it alongside the horrific real-life events that occurred near that date. (It should be noted, this press conference took place prior to the incident in Newtown). As such, Fleischer and co. are left dealing with their feelings on the tragedies while attempting to provide their version of an escapist action spectacle. Brolin said, “We've had a lot of things come up lately that make [the action scenes] very serious,” Brolin explained. “And you've got to understand the impact of that when you're doing something. You've already decided to do that type of film. It was a lot of fun, but for a guy who doesn't have any guns myself -- I live in a very Republican part of California and surrounded by gun-toting guys -- I get a little nervous.”

He added, “Of course there's a sensitivity, but you have to look at the grand scheme of things from a universal standpoint. You have video games, psycho-pharmaceuticals, low employment, parents who aren't at home, CNN who gloms onto the worst and not the best or most heroic. So there's no one factor.” The interim between the film's original release date and its new slot found Fleischer re-shooting the film's theater-set shootout, and he stands behind that decision. “The Aurora shooting was an unspeakable tragedy, and out of respect for the families of the victims, we felt it necessary to reshoot that sequence, and I'm proud of the fact that we did.” He continued, “I think that we didn't compromise the film or our intent, and I think the [newly shot] Chinatown sequence is really well done, and that we should all respect the tragedy and not draw associations to our film.”

“Gangster Squad” opens in wide release January 11th.


This article is related to: Gangster Squad, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Ruben Fleischer


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