The real life story behind Gangster Squad
Drawing from a series of articles by LA Times reporter Paul Lieberman, screenwriter Will Beall has weaved together the true exploits of 1940s/50s LAPD detective John O’Mara.
[Related story: Gangster Squad re-shot after Colorado shootings]
Los Angeles at the time was being infiltrated by East Coast mobsters, including the brutal, ambitious Mickey Cohen, and O’Mara was tasked with cleaning up the gambling, prostitution and corruption the crime boss had brought.
Gathering a team of honest cops, including sergeant Jerry Wooters, who were willing to take the fight to Cohen and co, O’Mara formed what would become known as the Gangster Squad.
Cop land... Brolin leads Gangster Squad (Credit: Warner Bros.)
To bring their story to the screen, Director Ruben Fleischer has gathered a cast that includes Josh Brolin as O’Mara alongside Gosling as Wooters. Also on board are Sean Penn (as Mickey Cohen), Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick and Mireille Enos.
Brolin found a lot to work with in O’Mara, telling us on set: “He was a guy like me. He's in love with California, but came back from the war to a ton of corruption in the LAPD. When Mickey Cohen moved in and monopolised and began to poison Los Angeles, he took personal offence to it. He was the Serpico of his time. He refused to be bought and he wanted to get it done.”
Surprisingly, the actor brought his relationship with his wife Diane Lane into the performance after a meeting with O’Mara’s real-life daughter. She told him her dad was ‘a romantic’, so Brolin re-read a book he made of all the emails he sent his wife during the first year of their marriage (there were 473).
He said: “I started going back and reading those emails recently and it's a nice thing to be able to feed Diane and I into this, because he was a total romantic, an idealist and believed in what he was doing here.”
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For director Fleischer, tackling a story that has its roots in reality was a challenge, since he wanted to make sure he handled the subject sensitively while also creating a thrilling film.
“The families of the real characters have come by the set and they've been excited. We've even had one of the original squad on set. He saw Ryan Gosling playing sergeant Jerry Wooters and said there were weird parallels in terms of how he looked. That said, the script is definitely not 100% reality.”
There’s enough of the actual story in the film’s DNA, though, something that actually delighted family members of O’Mara and Wooters. “The kids had never really been told the whole story by the parents. So they get to learn part of their own history,” says producer Dan Lin.
“We've had some creative licence with who the characters were to make it more of a movie. And then when the family members watched us shooting, they told us it was more realistic than we think. One of the guys - Wooters - slept with brass knuckles next to his bed. For us it's a Hollywood detail, but in reality, he was a tough guy.”