EXCLUSIVE: Matthew Michael Carnahan has added Linda Emond and Ray Liotta to a Violent Talent cast that includes Garrett Hedlund, Margot Robbie, Toby Kebbell and Riz Ahmed. Emond and Liotta will play the parents of Hedlund’s character, who teams with his two oldest friends Angel and Quan (Kebbell and Ahmed) to build a criminal empire in a contemporary Chicago where he feels crime might be the most honest job around. Emond’s the twice-Tony nominated actress who’ll next be seen in Terrence Malick’s Project V, while Liotta next stars in Stretch and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Tracy Falco is producing Violent Talent.

The inspiration for the film was Carnahan’s fixation with Liotta’s breakout film Goodfellas, and a gap that Francis Coppola left in Don Corleone’s formative years in the first two Godfather films. “The story I’m trying to tell is the genesis and building of this criminal empire and while Goodfellas got at it a little bit, and so did The Godfather,” Carnahan told me. “The first part of the second Godfather, you see Vito Corleone becoming the Don, you see him shoot the Black Hand, you see him with the olive oil import sign. Ever since I was in college, I felt there had to be a lot more that went on to become the boss he was in the first movie. I always wanted to know what that was, and that is the story i’m trying to tell.” Carnahan begins shooting early next year in Chicago, where it will be cold, but he’s just getting over the craziness that went into World War Z, which received one of the coldest receptions ever for a film that nobody had seen. “I couldn’t believe it, people were saying it was one of the great bombs in history, and you get to the point where you begin to question the cut of the movie you’ve just seen,” he said. “I kept wondering, am I crazy? I think this is good. Now that it is at half a billion dollars, I feel like Truman, holding up the newspaper with the ‘Dewey Wins’ headline. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and what was supposed to be a six-week rewrite turned into a three-year odyssey, with 37 distinct versions of the script on my hard drive. And I was away from home long enough to miss my second daughter’s first words.” Carnahan wasn’t surprised that everyone bailed on the Russian massive battle scene that comprised the film’s original ending, and opted for a climax that was tense but makes a sequel challenging. “As the budget became more strained, the original idea of ending with the battle in Red Square near Lenin’s tomb turned into 750 extras in an abandoned tin factory in Budapest. Of course it wasn’t any good.” While director Marc Forster took heat for needing a mulligan on the ending, Carnahan felt it failed to take into account what the filmmaker brought to the table. “Forster took it on the chin, but that signature scene in Israel which was the first thing we shot? That was his baby, and that whole mother nature is a serial killer thing. That was some horrifying stuff.” CAA and Susan Smith rep Emond, UTA and Untitled rep Liotta.