Robert Knepper Talks MOB CITY, Joining the Show, Similarities between His Characters, the Honor System of Criminals, and Juggling His Schedule with CULT

     December 11, 2013


From Frank Darabont, the new TNT drama series Mob City depicts the epic battle between a determined police chief and a dangerous mobster, in 1940s Los Angeles. Based on the critically acclaimed book “L.A. Noir” by John Buntin, the story follows Det. Joe Teague (Jon Bernthal), who has been assigned to a new mob task force headed by Det. Hal Morrison (Jeffrey DeMunn), as part of the crusade by Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker (Neal McDonough) to free the city of criminals like Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (Ed Burns) and Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), and to stop the corruption in his own police force.

At the show’s press day, actor Robert Knepper (who plays legendary hitman Sid Rothman) spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how he came to this show, juggling Mob City with his CW series Cult, how he considered taking a theater job in China before his role went from recurring to regular, the similarities between Sid Rothman and T-Bag, the honor system these criminals lived by, and how he views the relationship between Sid and Joe Teague. Check out what they had to say after the jump.

mob-city-castCollider: You always get to play the most fun characters!

ROBERT KNEPPER: Every time I looked at the script for the first time, I wrote, “Thank you, Frank!”

How did you come to this show?

KNEPPER: I shot the pilots for Cult and Mob City back-to-back. I shot Cult first, and I was a series regular on that. With this, I was to be recurring. I shot Cult form August until December. This was on hold. They didn’t know what they were doing or where they were going to go. So, the plan was to do the first season of Cult, and then shoot Mob City from January or February through June, and then do the second season of Cult. But nobody watched Cult, so that fell out.

This was a recurring role, so I thought, “I’ve gotta get a series. I love this show. I wanna be a part of it. But, I can’t afford to do it.” I also got offered a play in China and I was gonna do that, and that was going to be in conflict with Mob City. They realized that they needed me for this part, so they made me a series regular and everything was all right. That theater job was the thing that made them go, “Uh oh, we’re gonna lose him to a play.”

That never happens. Usually, they’re like, “We don’t give a damn about the theater!” But I was like, “You know what? It’s a play in China. I’ve never been to China!” I live down at the beach, and everywhere I go, anybody I see that’s Chinese tells me, “Do you know how big you are in China? You’re huge in China!” So, I always thought it would be cool to go to China.

mob-city-robert-knepperWhy are you so popular in China?

KNEPPER: Because of T-Bag. Prison Break is huge in China. Prison Break is huge everywhere. I can’t go anywhere. I thought Cult was gonna be my next Prison Break. The thing I love most about Mob City is that it layers in character. It’s very cinematic, in that way. If you’re trusting enough, and if you’re smart enough as an audience member, you’ll realize that, if you don’t already know Frank Darabont, you’ll know Frank Darabont by this style of filmmaking. It’s not television-making, but filmmaking. It is not action-packed, every second. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not necessarily for you, if you have ADD. It’s for people who really love storytelling and want to stick with it and let the layers come in at Frank’s pace. If you can stick with that, you’re in for an amazing ride. When the roller coaster ride is going up the hill, you’re hearing that horrible sound, but then when it goes, it soars. It’s amazing! And to be a part of that ride, the little kid in me is [all excited].

You had that great scene in the church that introduced your character, in a way that really let the audience know what kind of guy he is.

KNEPPER: That was an added scene. That wasn’t originally in the pilot. This is just my guess, but I think Frank looked at the whole pilot and went, “I need something that shows how these guys are fucking serious.” I feel there’s one similarity between my character in this and T-Bag in Prison Break. I had a dear friend, years ago, who was a doctor, that said T-Bag put the Prison in Prison Break. And because Sid Rothman is the go-to guy for having to take care of business when they can’t go to Ben Siegel or Mickey Cohen, you realize that this is not just a glamour business. Somebody has to do some pretty terrible business, at times. And it’s not meant to glorify that this shit really goes down, it’s meant to expose it. So, to be able to be that character, and also have other sides of him where he is humane, he is loving, and he is caring for his brothers. It’s just a rich character because it shows everything.

mob-city-TV-show-posterDon’t you find it interesting that these guys are criminals, but they clearly have their own code that they stick to and live by?

KNEPPER: This is not our story, but Godfather 1 and 2 are my favorite movies, and there was such honor. This new mafia was coming along that dealt with drugs, and they didn’t want that, at all. I love that, in a gangster film, they wanted the good old-fashioned thing of bootleg alcohol and horse races and betting. There was honor among thieves. I remember when I had the first costume fitting and as a WASP, I’m used to going into a fitting or a clothing store and wanting an Italian suit. Italian suits are stereotypically these beautiful suits. So, I said to the costumer, “I’m curious. Sid Rothman is Jewish and he’s with all the boys. What would he have done? Would he have gone to an Italian suit maker? Or was there a Jewish tailor that he would have gone to?” And they told me about Sy Devore, who those guys went to and got the most incredible suits made. There was an honor system, and a way of saying, “I’m gonna stick with my family.” And they would frequent each other’s restaurants. There was a certain acceptability, if you honored your family, and I honored my family. Don’t hurt my family and, with respect, we’ll make you nice suits.

How do you see the relationship between Sid Rothman and Joe Teague?

KNEPPER: Joe is the bane of Sid’s existence. He has shades of grey, but he’s got that badge, so he has to keep doing what he’s doing and could very well bring it down. The cool thing that Frank has created for this show is that Joe can’t bring Sid down without also taking himself down. They have the goods on each other.

Mob City airs on Wednesday nights on TNT.

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