“The first thing someone says when you’re Italian-American is ‘mafia,’” said Anthony Borgese, the Goodfellas actor (stage name: Tony Darrow) who was the first to arrive for the premiere of Kill the Irishman, a biopic of mob man Danny Greene, at Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema on Monday night. “That’s what they think when you make these kinds of movies, but it’s all fantasy. Is there a mafia? I don’t know.”
If anyone would know, it might be Borgese. The FBI contacted the 72-year-old actor on set in Detroit, and later detained him in New York on charges of extortion, and for conspiring with some real-life associates to teach a lesson to a debtor. (Borgese pleaded guilty, and starred in a public service announcement aimed towards kids who think violence is cool.)
“I’m not saying the genre is dead, but I think it’s starting to dwindle. I don’t know how long you can keep going with the same subject,” said Borgese, who stars alongside Ray Stevenson, Val Kilmer, Christopher Walken and Vincent D’Onofrio. “But I grew up in the Goodfellas kind of environment, and this movie is different. It’s about a lunatic Irishman.” (Walken walked in an hour late and skipped the press line.)
The film is set in the summer of 1976, when 30 bombs detonated around Cleveland as Greene–who was actually a first-generation American–went rogue on the Italian mob and waged a one-man war on his old bosses.
Jonathan Hensleigh, who wrote and directed the film, called him “an unknown part of American crime lore.”
Hensleigh seemed to think the appeal was enduring. “There’s action and violence, and the gangsters make a lot of money, so it’s good fodder for stories,” he said. “Unfortunately, it can be made into a caricature, but the stories that are more true to life are really appreciated, like The Godfather, and Goodfellas. They’re going to continue to be made.”
D’Onofrio evinced the kind of caution one might expect from a crack Law & Order detective. “I haven’t done a lot of this stuff in my career, and unless you’re working with an incredible director, it can be difficult,” he said. “You have to be careful when you’re Italian American.”
Even the Irishman was a little defensive. “We weren’t trying to glamorize it,” said Stevenson, who plays Greene, of the violence. “It’s a violent man, doing violent things to violent people. But at the heart of it there’s this man’s journey, and some incredible art.”
After all that, The Transom was confused. Is there a mafia or not?
“Oh absolutely, otherwise what are we all doing here?” boomed Sopranos star Steve Schirripa. “This is all a myth? Like Star Wars?”