Giovanni Ribisi Talks Gangster Fascination, 1940s Technology, and His Character Moustache on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD

     December 13, 2012

gangster squad giovanni ribisi

Though there was a while there where they tried to turn him into a star, Giovanni Ribisi has settled into to being a great character actor, and as a supporting player, he’s proved himself to be one of the most reliable supporting performers working today. In Gangster Squad he plays the techie, which if the film is to be compared to The Untouchables, is the Charles Martin Smith role. But Ribisi was ready to play and we talked about his character and acting in our interview, which follows after the jump.

Can you talk about your take on the fascination with gangsters and that period in time. Is it, do you think, is it kind of theme romanticized?

gangster squad brolin patrick mackie pena gosling giovanni ribisiGiovanni Ribisi: Yeah. I mean, I guess so. There’s sort of a history of making gangster movies all the way back to, you know, D.W. Griffith and before that. And, I don’t know, it’s just – as far as having a story to tell it’s dynamic and as a filmmaker I think that there was something that was sort of – it was more or less, for lack of a better expression, it was like the lowest hanging fruit as far as being able to pull guns out and do things that had shock value. But also I think at the time back in the day, especially in the late 30s, actual gangsters were celebrities as well. You know, like the John Dillingers and all that. They were bigger than movie stars at one point.

They looked good as well.

Ribisi: Exactly.

How is it to be part of this ensemble with so many talented actors?

Ribisi: I think everybody involved – I feel really privileged to be able to work with everybody. You know, Josh and Ryan. It’s just a dream cast for me to be able to work with these guys. And it’s been a learning experience to say the least.

Having done Sky Captain which is sort of in the same historical vicinity as this movie – how do they sort of compare in terms of that movie being very…

Ribisi: I just remember everything on that movie was blue basically because it was like the first movie I think – or one of the first movies where they just did everything – they decided to do all the sets and literally even the props that you interacted with were done in post so it’s just totally different. And we were on – we were in the UK at the time and this is Los Angeles which is, oddly enough, rare, but we’re finally doing a movie again in Los Angeles.

gangster-squad-poster-giovanni-ribisiI just meant in terms of like the tone of that movie – in terms of its depiction of that historical era and this one. I mean, they seemed to be interested in creating a very authentic look and at the same time making it more sort of contemporary in terms of maybe its energy or…

Ribisi: Nostalgia. This is based on a true story and so there is definitely the stylistic noir thing and using light as a tool to tell the story which I think is fantastic. And maybe not done as much as it has been in the past. And, you know, (cinematographer) Dion Beebe’s just a master of anything cinematic in that way. And so, yeah, I don’t know – I actually haven’t really seen a whole lot of this movie so I don’t know how it’s gonna turn out. But I think we were probably referencing a comic book movie. But this is something that’s trying to be a little bit more gritty than that and down to earth, and gets into the real underbelly of Los Angeles. There’s definitely fun aspects of the movie but I think it’s gonna be more like an LA Confidential style.

Robert Patrick talked about how he was asked to watch some westerns for his character. What sort of movies were you advised to watch for this?

Ribisi: Benji, for some reason. (laughs) There were definitely movies that – which is great – it kind of feels like old school filmmaking where Ruben was screening a bunch of movies that I wasn’t really able to get down to all of them but there were – oh gosh, there were a bunch of different films that were references for him as a filmmaker and touched on certain aspects stylistically. But for me I don’t know if I had any movies. Sorry, that was a long winded answer to just say no.

Do you like Ruben’s style of filmmaking thus far?

Ribisi: Oh man, yeah. He’s fantastic. You can really see sort of like the morale on the set is really predicated on the director’s disposition and his know how. Just how to direct everybody. And he’s just a master of that. He’s newer on the block than a lot of the people that are involved and he’s just handling it beautifully. It’s like he’s been around forever.

gangster-squadCan you talk about the physical transformation of your character. The physical transformation like your growing a moustache.

Ribisi: Oh yeah. Well – I thought you were talking about within the movie. This seems to be like a permanent fixture on my face.

You forget about it, right?

Ribisi: It’s the mammal that won’t go away. I had a moustache in the last movie as well. It just seemed appropriate. Ruben had talked about it and, you know, occasionally I wear glasses but then I didn’t want to fall into – because my character’s a technical guy – I didn’t want to fall into too much nerd stuff, so it’s more using them for when I needed them. And, you know, moustaches – they were just a lot more common. There were a lot of moustaches and fedoras.

Is your character real or fictional?

Ribisi: There was a gentleman that came by who was actually in the gangster squad who was, I think, a hybrid – or maybe O’Mara is a hybrid of this one gentleman and another character and he actually knew (my character) Con(way) Keeler and told some stories. He was a judge and he was here for a couple of hours. It was cool.

Did you take anything from that or did you just do your own thing?

Ribisi: You want to and you do, but at the same time it depends. Every movie is different and every movie has its own style and its own necessities. And sometimes it’s just better to focus on the script and structure of that, you know, because this is definitely a stylistic movie and, sometimes maybe it might get watered down.

gangster squad poster giovanni ribisiAll bogged in the details…

Ribisi: It’s important to be detailed but there’s that’s the thing about being an actor or even being a filmmaker that you have to reinvent your process every time out too – one, to not get bored and then also two, to sort of like fulfill what the story requires and the genre.

And your character’s the resident tech expert of the group?

Ribisi: Yeah.

What’s the high tech of 1949?

Ribisi: A wire man. And that was some of the things that – stories that this gentleman had as far as like the techniques that they would have because it was – you know, they were – it a newer thing. But in 1947, 48 and 49 they had wiring capabilities and bugs and things like that. And he was telling us stories how they would peel back the wallpaper in hotel rooms and slide these wafer thin bugs into the wallpaper and then with bubblegum put it closed.

No iPhones back then.

Ribisi: No. No Instagram or whatever.

So what are you shooting tonight?

Ribisi: We are scoping out – it’s the beginning scene of like when we go and – well, I don’t want to give too much away but it’s this famous club called Slapsy Maxies and we – there’s some things that we discover about the club. And so we’re all about to enter and it’s the scene before that. Yeah, it’s exciting.

It must be nice to shoot on locations like that that’s all built…

Ribisi: Yeah, that’s the other thing. Because that you walk in and you’re transported and it’s so – it’s just incredible. I just wish there were more places like that.

Do you feel sort of – is there an era that you feel partial to that you maybe wish you would be born in that era or…

giovanni-ribisi-gangster-squad-poster-bannerRibisi: Yeah, absolutely.

Because you have that kind of chameleon look…

Giovanni Ribisi: Oh, really. Oh, yeah. I – comedian look?

Chameleon look.

Ribisi: Oh, chameleon look. Oh, I thought you same comedian. I thought you were calling me a clown or something like that. I was like – a clown from the 40s. I really like the – actually a very specific time called the fin de siecle which is the sort of turn of the century, nineteenth century and twentieth century in Vienna and Paris and Europe. That like Egon Schiele and Klimt and those painters and all that architecture. Boring. Sorry.

Gangster Squad opens January 11.

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