When I first heard Denby Grace speak, one thing immediately went through my mind: "What does a British dude know about the Mafia?"
It's not that every senior producer has to be that personally and intimately familiar with his game's subject matter. After all, I'm sure the guys behind Bioshock never visited an underwater dystopia before. But it'd certainly give Mafia 2 — due out this August for the 360, PS3, and PC — a lot of credibility if Grace knew a thing or two about gangster culture.
So I sat down with him to hear what he has to say about certain famous movies and wiseguys (both real and fictional) — and how they play into his game. Does the Brit know all about the family business? Fuggedaboutit…
Bitmob: So…The Godfather or Goodfellas?
Denby Grace: Goodfellas — well…from a film point of view, Godfather 2 is probably the best movie. From an actual story portrayal, I'm a big fan of Goodfellas. I'm a big fan of the lower-ranked guys. I'm a big fan of Donnie Brasco as well — stories about the wiseguys rather than stories about the bosses.
Godfather's a very romantic movie in a lot of ways. It romanticized and glamorized these guys as…well, not bigger than God — although Godfather 3 almost tried to go there — but they make them out to be like kings, and you're like, "Well, hold on there."
I personally like The Sopranos level of story. You know, the realistic story rather than the romantic story. Although Godfather 2 is just an amazing movie.
Bitmob: What about Goodfellas vs. Casino?
DG: Goodfellas. I actually watched Casino again just last week. I felt [director] Martin Scorsese was really ripping off himself. It was exactly the same format [as Goodfellas]. He had Joe Pesci in it again…he had Robert De Niro again…and they played largely similar characters. The structure of the film was virtually the same: the narrative thing…the time-jumping over 20-some years….
It's a good movie — don't get me wrong. But Goodfellas was first. It's like asking me: Lock, Stock [and Two Smoking Barrels] or Snatch. For me Lock, Stock was the better movie because of the innovation there. Snatch was a great movie, but…uh…OK, I'm getting off-topic. [Laughs]
Bitmob: Who's the greatest gangster of all time?
DG: Wow…that is a good question. In real life?
Bitmob: Let's do both.
DG: For a fictional gangster, I'd say Joe Pesci's character in Casino. He's pretty hardcore. He's a dark, dark guy. He'll take a pen to a guy's throat just because he ragged on Ace, Robert De Niro's character. He just stabs the guy repeatedly in the neck, and you're like, "Where did that come from?"
I'm a big fan of Christopher Moltisanti as well, from The Sopranos — Tony's younger cousin, the one with the heroin addiction. He's not a nice guy, clearly from growing up around the Mafia. He's got really skewed morals. But at the same time, he just epically fails sometimes, and it's good to watch him fall off his perch.
Now…a real-life gangster…I don't know if it's fair to say that I like them, because obviously these guys are murderers. But the ones that resonate with me — I recently read a book ["The Last Godfather"] about the Corleonesi clan from Sicily. I can't say I admire them, but it's an interesting story that I think people should check out. They were brutal and hardcore. They were involved with the murder of [Giovanni] Falcone, the guy who tried to bring down the Mafia in Italy in the early '90s. It's a really interesting subject matter.
Bitmob: We talk about all these movies like The Godfather, Goodfellas…is there one in particular that has most influenced the creation of Mafia 2?
DG: I don't think there's one in particular. I think all of them do. You can pick out certain pieces.
Goodfellas mainly for the buddy-story aspect — it's very much a buddy story between these two street characters. Our story in Mafia 2 — the relationship between Vito and Joe — their journey into the mob kind of emulates that a little bit.
Godfather for the period, because it was set in the '50s…Godfather 2, anyway.
Another film to look at includes Road to Perdition for the artistic style — the way it was shot.
On the publishing and marketing side, we're looking at things like Mad Men, even though it's '60s. They do a great, great job of portraying that era.
And then I think you can look at The Sopranos for the dialog. Our dialog is really high quality. Our writer, Jack Scalici, is an Italian-American New Yorker. The guy's grandfather was in the police force back in the '40s and '50s. Jack referred back to his grandfather a lot because he lived in those times. Obviously he was no Mafia guy, but he was [immersed] in this stuff.
The story was actually written by a designer in the Czech Republic, then that 600-page document was translated in the U.K. into British English. And then it went to Jack, who turned it into New York American, the sort of Mafia-style stuff. Then I get it back, and me, not being a native New Yorker, I'll be like, "What's that word mean? What the hell is that?" [Laughs] Then even more so when it goes back to the Czech guys.