Sean Penn Plays a Mob Boss in ‘Gangster Squad’
“I thought it would be a fun old-school gangster picture with a cast I have great admiration for,” Penn says on what drew him to the film. “And upon meeting director Ruben Fleischer, I was sold.”
Set in Los Angeles, 1949, “Gangster Squad” revolves around ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen who runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and—if he has his way—every wire bet placed west of Chicago. And he does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police and the politicians he has under his thumb. It’s enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop…except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen’s world apart.
Mickey Cohen may be an underworld figure, but his very public image and commanding presence make him a man not to be crossed…in business or pleasure. He goes beyond merciless; any breach is a betrayal for which one pays the ultimate price. But he also has the undeniable charisma that comes with great power.
According to producer Dan Lin, “Cohen, in real life, was over the top. He was a gangster, but a Hollywood gangster. He was funny, he loved talking to reporters and, in public, he really wanted to entertain people, as if he were one of the movie stars he was always trying to woo. Of course, in private, he was doing dark, evil things.”
Fleischer cites, “When I imagined bringing the movie to the screen, the one character that everything seemed to hinge on was Cohen, the villain, this larger-than-life personality. I immediately thought of Sean Penn, so having him in the role was huge. Mickey is such a dynamic, memorable, menacing character and Sean has the gravitas, the intensity and the humor to pull it off.”
Though only remotely familiar with the real man, Penn says that for his interpretation of the character, “I tried to ignore the literal. The real Mickey Cohen so resembled Al Capone, who I thought De Niro had done so indelibly in ‘The Untouchables,’ that I felt, for a wide audience who largely would not have been aware of Mickey Cohen, mimicking Cohen in looks or behavior would have been unnecessarily burdened with baggage. I thought it was interesting to approach it and let it grow from just a few pieces of Cohen’s background. He was a prize fighter, but the style of fighting was more primitive than today, and Cohen was more primitive in many ways.”
“Sean really brought to life this guy who, in reality and in our somewhat fictionalized account of him, has a huge ego and is very colorful,” producer Kevin McCormick relates. “Cohen had his own publicists, spreads in Life Magazine, owned his own haberdashery and never wore the same suit twice, and had a collection of beautiful, statuesque ladies on his arm all the time. Sean’s interpretation of the man is fascinating. In the heyday of gangster movies, those guys were always such seductive characters, and I think Sean has that same ability to mesmerize us.”
“There’s something very appealing about the way Sean plays Mickey Cohen,” co-star Josh Brolin echoes. “Watching him during a scene, I couldn’t help but like him, even though my character despises him and everything he stands for. Sean really brought out the charm in him, even when he was doing something deadly.”
Opening across the Philippines on Jan. 30, 2013, “Gangster Squad” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.
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