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The last time Frank Darabont launched a basic cable drama it was AMC’s The Walking Dead. That went amazingly well for Darabont … until it didn’t. Now the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Mist is back with his new TNT period drama Mob City, a coppers and gangsters tale starring Jon Bernthal that’s set in 1947 Los Angeles. Mob City premieres Dec. 4 and has an unusual structure — a six-episode debut season with two episodes a week. Six episodes may not sound like a big commitment, but it sure worked for The Walking Dead. Below Darabont takes a few minutes to field some questions about the show:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why this show?
Darabont: It plugged into a passion I’ve had my entire life for this world, the noir genre is very much dear to my heart. I’m a huge devoted fan to Raymond Chandler’s work. I pull his books off the shelf and reread them every few years, and I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.
It’s a well-trod period in history, how do you make it distinct?
Darabont: I try to tell a story that will entertain the audience the most — what is the most entertaining kind of storytelling? So much of what ends up on television now is so darn good. The ability to screen out a story and maintain an audience is something I’ve really respected. I have to give a little shout out to Breaking Bad, it’s really the gold standard. It’s inspiring, humbling and intimidating. There have been a lot of great shows the last 10 years. The thing I wanted to do, really the seed of it, was wanting the opportunity to write my noir hero — that tradition that goes back to the start of the genre, the guy who is walking the mean streets of a corrupt world and trying to maintain his moral compass. Immediately I had Jon in mind, it was written for him.
You also have Bugsy Siegel (Ed Burns) in there too. Will it tell the Las Vegas side of his story?
Darabont: Ed Burns is so terrific. He’s so damn good in this. We do spend a little time in Vegas. Which is very fun since there really wasn’t much of a Vegas at that time.
What production challenges have you had?
Darabont: Doing a period piece is always a challenge, more so when dealing with a TV budget and schedule. But TNT has been great. There’s quite a tapestry of things to do; you end up having a lot of conversations about ties and cars. That’s the fun part.
I’ve gotten the impression you’ve been very hands-on.
Darabont: I wrote the first two and co-wrote the last one and did polishes on them all. And ran the writers room. I directed four of them. I’ve been final cutting all the episodes.
After your experience on The Walking Dead, what made launching another cable drama series attractive?
Darabont: Well [TNT programming chief] Michael Wright, it really comes back to him. He has a tremendous reputation for running a filmmaker-friendly ship and did a lot to set my mind at ease, to make it known it would be a friendly and more supportive place. It’s not like I wasn’t gun shy.
Is there a certain percentage of wanting to prove you can do this twice? That The Walking Dead wasn’t an inevitable hit?
Darabont: I’m certainly proud of what we accomplished, but it’s not like I’m out to prove anything here. Whether doing a rewrite or directing a script, I just find the next thing I can be the most excited about and walk down that path and take that job. Why not jump back in? I’m certainly not going to compare its success to The Walking Dead.
What should somebody make of you hiring former Walking Dead actors like Bernthal and Jeffrey DeMunn. Is it just that you know and love them and they’re now available?
Darabont: Know and love and are available are huge factors. If you look at my history, that repeats in my work. Once I find an actor I really adore and respect as a colleague and human being it’s a pleasure to work with them again. There are some actors I’ve been wanting to work with again for years.
Do you still watch The Walking Dead?
Darabont: No more than I would go to the wedding of somebody who broke my heart and left me for the Pilates instructor. One does become very emotionally attached to the things that one does. I get tremendously invested. Why would I do that? Absolutely not, I won’t.
There’s plenty of celebrities who associated with some of your villains at that time — Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, and Sammy Davis Jr. Any chance of those characters showing up?
Darabont: It’s a fascinating confluence of people. I’m not sure. It’s a terrific question, but I’ve been so busy the first season. I haven’t really given thought down the road of what would be the story possibilities. Everything in its own time.
You had two title changes, we’re you happy where you ended up?
Darabont: With L.A. Noir, it was perceived as a conflict by the video game people. They trotted out their mean-sounding lawyers. We did go through a process. I love Mob City. It’s a good strong pulpy title. It worked out for the best.
The first rule is to be clear.
Darabont: To be clear! Exactly. You can over think and be too arty for your own good. In this case it tells you exactly what to expect.