Mob City’s Ed Burns talks to EW about his role as notorious 1940s mobster Bugsy Siegal on the new TNT drama below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So this looks fun, right?
Ed Burns: The most fun I’ve had as an actor since Saving Private Ryan. I said it on Day One and it’s been a blast. It’s a combination of a couple of things. The scripts are so good. The dialogue is so fun. I mean normally, on movies as an actor, you’re on set in the morning, looking through your sides thinking, “Okay, how am I going to make this work?” This just flows. So you couple that, top to bottom every scene with just one great actor after another. I mean, we’ve all been commenting on it. You always play up to the level of competition, so we have a bunch of scenes, we have a bunch of guys, everybody’s really good and everybody is bringing their A-game. And you combine that with a great script and you combine that with a world class filmmaker at the helm, good things are happening. It has restored my faith in acting, quite honestly. Because you know I do my own stuff and I like to act in my own things, you know at a certain point in your career, if you don’t turn into “the guy,” you’re relegated to playing the haircut in a movie, and this kind of reminds you why you wanted to do it in the first place.
What are some of the things you get to do?
Burns: This guy is the best! All I’m doing is beating the s–t out of people, killing people, screaming at people, hitting on girls – I don’t have a single boring scene in the thing. This arrogant, loud, boss of the gangsters. It’s just been a blast.
It’s obviously a pretty iconic role. Did you watch your predecessors or did you try to avoid it?
Burns: I avoided it. It’s funny, I pulled out my Bugsy DVD and I was about to watch it, it was the night before I was flying to L.A. to start and I was like, “You know what, let me just get one day in.” I just didn’t want it in my head and I’m glad that I didn’t and I haven’t watched it since. I did a little reading, watched a documentary about Bugsy that I found on YouTube, and that was really the extent of it. I mean, I spoke to Frank and he said, “Look, this guy has got to be bigger than life. He’s got to be cocky, full of himself, charming with the ladies but he’s also sort of the ringleader for the guys. You got to be that guy.” And when the writing is this good, it makes your job so much easier because all of it is on the page. You just sort of have to show up and do your thing and do the right things by his words and Bugsy just comes to life.
Where do you sort of draw the line between caricature and real person?
Burns: For me, and this is taking the cues right from Frank’s script, there is very little dialogue that sort of reflects the noir speech in those great films in the ’30s and ’40s, you know, there is a line here or there or a slight phrase, but it’s a nod to that. I think it was a conscious effort on his part not to have that stuff in there. Sometimes when you see Westerns now, they do away with some of the sort of the old, cornball Western dialogue, that I’m sure would have been more authentic to the time, but the dialogue is slightly more contemporary for today’s audiences and I feel like that’s what’s being done here.
Do you go to Vegas at all?
Burns: My first scene was in Vegas. The Flamingo is under construction and again, it’s a scene where [warning: spoiler alert!] I’m yelling at lawyers and we whack a guy. It was a great introduction to the part. An epic five-page scene. It’s interesting, Frank’s shooting style is a lot of fun. And I didn’t do any theater, but a lot of guys have done a lot of theater they talk about when you get to do a five-page scene from start to finish. Today we did a seven-page scene. Very rarely do you have seven pages of dialogue. That’s a lot more like doing theater. But what you get from that is a very different kind of performance.
What’s unique about working with Frank?
Burns: It reminds me of the [Steven] Spielberg experience in that he has so much respect for his actors, he enjoys actors so he sort of likes to watch what you do, and let you do your thing and play a little bit. And that’s how I like to work as a filmmaker, so I appreciate it when I get to work with a director who is up for collaboration.
Related: Frank Darabont talks ‘Mob City’