“If anyone believes in synchronicity, this was a case of it,” exclaims The Wannabe star and producer Vincent Piazza. The actor who many HBO auds know as soft guy-gone-fierce mobster Charlie Luciano on Boardwalk Empire, told Deadline at our Tribeca Film Festival studio how many of the creatives courted to be involved on Wannabe, coincidentally wound up working on Boardwalk Empire — and it wasn’t because both were gangster genre tales.
“I was asked to read the screenplay when it was optioned by another company. I met (Wannabe director/screenwriter) Nick Sandow there and we hit it off. Two weeks later, by coincidence, he’s cast on Boardwalk Empire in a scene with me (as Waxey Gordon),” says Piazza.
“But it gets better,” continues the actor on Wannabe‘s organic ties to Boardwalk Empire, “I told Nick if his screenplay ever evolved into something, I would want to be involved. Cut to six months later when I email him to ask how his script turned out. ‘You won’t believe this but the option expired’ Nick told me. I told him ‘I’ll take it’ and Nick said, ‘On one condition that I direct.’ We then worked on the screenplay for the next year and a half. We sent it to Patricia Arquette (who plays Piazza’s girlfriend Rose in the film) and within in a week, she finds out that she’s interested in. A month later, she’s cast on Boardwalk.” The fourth Boardwalk connection to Wannabe was with actor Vincenzo Amato who Piazza was connected to via his Sicilian dialect coach on the TV show. Amato wound up acting in a Boardwalk scene with Piazza and Arquette as Vincenzo Petrucelli.
Wannabe follows crazed romantic couple Thomas (Vincent Piazza) and his girlfriend Rose (Patricia Arquette). Both are obsessed with mobster John Gotti and embark on a drug-infused crime spree. “It’s a cautionary tale about getting caught up in the idea of a lifestyle, not being able to confront who you, but at the expense of yourself.”
Wannabe is set in 1992, which was a perfect storm year to pull ideas from for Piazza and Sandow: Rudolph Giuliani was warming up to run for New York City mayor, Gotti was on trial and the mob in Sicily was imploding.
However, the biggest Boardwalk Empire connection of all that Wannabe had was that Martin Scorsese agreed to executive produce the film. In interviews, Boardwalk Empire EPs Terrence Winter and Timothy Van Patten have pointed out that Scorsese provides “precision bomb notes” when giving his two cents to an episode. Sandow concurs, “Marty does provide precision. He’ll say ‘That shot. It should be four frames before you go to the car. Then you got it.’ He’s like laser. I’m in the edit, and I’m like ‘Holy shit, it’s four frames!'”. Once Scorsese boarded Wannabe, financing for the film came at a rapid pace.
In the final season of Boardwalk Empire, which is eligible for an Emmy this year, Piazza was able to relish a perfect ending for his legendary gangster character Charlie Luciano who forces Nucky Thompson’s hand in the bootlegging business, becoming the chief kingpin. For Piazza, it was all surprise that he learned about bit by bit. “Every week, I would get the scripts and see that it was building up where my character would take over. Being able to play that side of him — it was a gift.”
Beyond Scorsese and the Boardwalk Empire connection, another heavy-hitter came in behind the scenes. Disaster film maestro Dean Devlin, who serves as an Executive Producer along with Scorsese and Traction, has through his Electric Entertainment outfit fully financed the film.