I would like to preempt this article with a huge thanks to the Moviepilot team, who presented me with the opportunity to watch this incredible movie and interview its lead actor, Vincent Piazza.
The Wannabe isn't your typical mob movie. In fact, it tackles the genre with a whole different perspective. Thomas, played by Vincent Piazza (Jersey Boys and Boardwalk Empire), identifies most closely with the mob culture of New York City. His whole world—rather, his whole existence—is centered around his imagined involvement with the mob. He considers himself part of this illustrious group, even though he is merely a wannabe.
For anyone who has been in the undesirable role of the "outsider looking in," it is devastating to realize you never were and never will be a part of the group. Unfortunately for Thomas, this exclusion becomes his new reality. After failing to rig the trial of John Gotti in an effort to become a mob legend, Thomas, along with his wife Rose (played by Patricia Arquette), goes on a bender like you can't even imagine.
**After this point, there may be spoilers for the movie. Read at your own discretion.**
The lines between real life and fiction are extremely blurred throughout the The Wannabe. While this does get confusing at times, the film does a great job infusing reality with fiction. The addition of actual news clips on the trial did appear a little cliché, but they gave an effective glimpse of the culture during a time period that already feels so distant.
Since the crime/mob/drama movie genre and topic generally does not really appeal to me (not to mention the trial of John Gotti occurred two years before I was born), I had no prior knowledge of the real-life events. After doing my research, however, the story felt more authentic, like Thomas could have been a real person. For more on the Gotti trial, check out this New York Times article from the day after his sentencing. In the article, Arnold Lubasch put into perspective just the kind of person Gotti was:
Still defiant, John Gotti stood up and smiled, saying nothing, as he was sentenced yesterday to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The calm, almost eerily collected attitude of Gotti perfectly describes the tone of the movie and, more importantly, why Thomas could never be a part of their group.
Main characters are relatable
Who hasn't been in Thomas' shoes? He thinks he's always a step ahead when he's really two steps behind. His unhealthy obsession with the mob is what ultimately leads to his demise. Given his extensive resume in the mob movie genre, Vincent Piazza was phenomenal in this role. The actor admits he lost 15 pounds for the role (see the interview below) which only added to the absurdity of the loud, quirky Thomas wanting to join the mob. He doesn't have the big, tough, macho look let alone the stoic, almost apathetic facade of a mobster.
Also a producer of the film, Piazza played a part in the development of the character, alongside director Nick Sandow, allowing him to really understand Thomas and how he would react to given situations:
I really had the benefit of working on the script for a while with Nick [Sandow] . I was shooting Jersey Boys leading up to shooting The Wannabe so I had about two weeks in between and at that point I said I really had to trust how much time I spent thinking about what this character wants and these relationships.
Rose, on the other hand, follows Thomas like a lost puppy. Though her loyalty is admirable, it leads her back down the path of crime, one her family desperately wants her to avoid. Patricia Arquette brought a maturity to the role that made her relationship with Thomas feel very real. She starts off as the voice of reason but gives in to the temptation of drugs and crime, a life she clearly knows a lot about.
Other notable performances include Michael Imperioli (Goodfellas, Sopranos) as Alphonse and the film's director Nick Sandow (Orange is the New Black, Boardwalk Empire) as Anthony. Alphonse and Anthony are actually very similar characters. Alphonse is Thomas' brother and Anthony is Rose's brother. Both serve as the voice of reason for their respective siblings and just want to get them on the straight and narrow. I felt that both characters could have had more of a role in the film, especially Anthony who we only see at the beginning when he tells Rose that Thomas is a bad influence (he definitely gets to say I told you so) and that she doesn't need him to lead her back to a life of crime.
Pace of the story is off
My only problem with the film was the pacing. I prefer minimal exposition or just enough to understand the premise of the film. With The Wannabe, it felt way too slow. The real conflict of the story occurs after Thomas realizes his plan to help Gotti and join the mob fails and up until this point (right around halfway through the movie), not much really happens. It is at this same point in the movie when everything happens, and it's very fast. They're robbing places, they're doing drugs, and they're robbing the same place again. And then it just becomes extremely predictable.
My interview with Vincent Piazza
Below is the conversation I had with Vincent Piazza, the standout performer in The Wannabe. Piazza spoke so eloquently about the film as well as his acting career that you can tell this is something he cares about deeply.
Q: Describe the plot and your character
Piazza: I play Thomas who is a fringe personality in Queens, who has an unhealthy obsession with mob life and pursues it at the expense of himself. The movie takes us on this wild journey through the early '90s and what was happening. The backdrop is the John Gotti trial. He meets a woman named Rose, and they kind of enable each other's fantasy in this world.
Q: How did you get involved?
Piazza: Years ago, I was working on Boardwalk [Empire]… I was asked to do a reading of the screenplay called The Wannabe, and it was a bit different at that time. It was going to be made in much bigger fashion, with car chases and things like that. I read the screenplay and met Nick [Sandow] at the reading and we kind of hit it off right away. I said "good luck" with the movie and keep me posted on the movie. We ended up meeting a few weeks later on Boardwalk [Empire] and by coincidence he was cast. We did a scene together so it was a nice little dash of synchronicity to get us started.
We kept in touch, and he told me that the film wasn’t going to be made by the original group. I said I’d love to talk to you about maybe making it smaller. I thought this kind of film could be serviced by authenticity, keeping it like a dirty, gritty little indie film. So, we agreed, and we started reworking and developing the script. We started reaching out to people that we thought would have an interest in it. He brought in Michael Imperioli, and I sent a letter to Patricia [Arquette] who works with my agency, and she came on. Then, when I was working on Boardwalk [Empire], I sent a version of the script to Mr. Scorsese. I felt like he would have an interest in it considering I worked for him and saw him at the next table read. He wanted to help me out which was such an incredible gift. We went to LA and met with an agent, and we were able to get this incredible team together to tell this little story. And then we got the money, and we were off to the races.
Q: How did you prepare for the role?
Piazza: I really had the benefit of working on the script for a while with Nick [Sandow]. I was shooting Jersey Boys leading up to shooting The Wannabe, so I had about two weeks in between, and at that point I said I really had to trust how much time I spent thinking about what this character wants and these relationships. I also spent time with Patricia [Arquette] in LA, and we were able to talk about the relationship and things like that. It was a bit of faith and really the only technical aspect was losing a bunch of weight. I had two weeks to lose 15 pounds. And then I got into it from there.
Q: What was your favorite scene to shoot?
Piazza: So much of it. It was very challenging. We shot 30 locations in 20 days. One of my favorite scenes was with Vincenzo Amato who played Richie. He ran what was supposed to be the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club, the famous John Gotti club so that was a very exciting scene to shoot. A lot of the stuff with Patricia [Arquette]. In general, we just got on and had a great time. We had a lot of laughs along the way, which made it bearable with the cold and the crisp movement of it, it was a lot of fun.
Q:What was your favorite role that you’ve played.
Piazza: I try and fall in love with each of these creatures that I end up playing. It’s tough to pick just one. It’s like trying to pick a favorite child. I’ve really enjoyed them all.
Q: How did you get into acting?
Piazza: It was kind of a strange series of events. I always loved movies and theater and I never pursued either one of them because I was too busy playing hockey. I bounced around and went into finance and then I met this guy who was a big influence on me in my late teens, early twenties. He was always encouraging me to go pursue it. I lost him suddenly, tragically, and it started bringing up some big questions for me about what I wanted to do with my life. I decided to just find my way in. I asked a lot of questions and met with a woman named Alice Spivak who I still work with today and for the last 15 years, and she gave me a place to begin my acting.
Q: Which actors/movies/directors have influenced you in your career?
Piazza: Immediately… Scorsese, Tarantino… there are a lot of great filmmakers I’ve looked up to growing up and today.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
Piazza: One movie that I love is The Bicycle Thief. It's one of my favorite movies. I mean you ask me on a different day it might be a different answer but that’s one that comes to mind. It really captured something for me. I know it’s an Italian film so the whole post-WWII thing but it’s just one of those hypnotic movies for me. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. The relationship between a father and son always stuck with me. It did everything for me. It’s just one of those movies that you can say it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and it’s just beautiful to look at. So, for me, it’s an incredible movie.
Q: Most of your roles are in the crime/drama genre. Do you see yourself branching out from that?
Piazza: Absolutely. For me when I decided to embark on The Wannabe, for at least how old I am now, I felt like it was the last thing I had to say about the neighborhood and the world because I always felt that The Wannabe had the potential. We were in pursuit of a cautionary tale. We wanted it to be moralistic and tell us about the genre as well as these people and the neighborhood. It was ambitious of the film and so for me it was hopefully the last thing I do with it for a while. I’ve always, even before and during Boardwalk [Empire], pursued different things so now we’ll see where those opportunities lie. I’m certainly looking to shake off the New York thing for a little while.
Q: For those of us that are on the fence, tell us why we should see The Wannabe.
I think it’s an exciting little story of this couple taking us through the early 90s, kind of the end of the modern mafia as we knew it. I feel like it’s got authenticity. The plot and character study is something interesting and hopefully fun to watch even though it does get dark. It’s a great story.
'The Wannabe' is definitely worth checking out
This film takes such an interesting perspective from a genre that has been done in the same way in the past. The acting is solid with its many mob genre veterans though the pace of the story is a little off. I suggest this film to anyone looking for something interesting and certainly different. Check out The Wannabe in theaters today, December 4.
Will you see 'The Wannabe' in theaters?
Source: New York Times