Actor Vincent Piazza knows a thing or two about getting “mobbed up.” Throughout his career he’s played different seedy characters in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” and now “The Wannabe.”
In “The Wannabe,” Piazza is one half of a real-life, mob-obsessed couple known for their hit-’em-up style robberies, which targeted mob social parties. The film, directed by “Orange Is the New Black’s” Nick Sandow, features a gritty New York landscape against the backdrop of the theatrical 1992 John Gotti trial. As Thomas, Piazza is on the outside looking in as his idol and his empire collapses.
You’ve been on “Boardwalk Empire,” you owed a bit of money in “Jersey Boys” — with these characters, is it about finding empathy?
I think specifically for Thomas, his peril that he faces is trying to find his identity. I think there’s something relatable about that. He wanted to fit in somewhere, even though it wasn’t the best choice of careers. His demise was trying to fit in. I wanted to come from that place.
Thomas is mesmerized by these mob figures — it’s like going to Yankee Stadium and seeing Derek Jeter. Have you ever felt starstruck by it?[Laughs] Right. That’s interesting! I think to some degree I was fascinated that it existed, that there was a rogue element of power and underworld that was capable of obviously a lot of brutality, but yet somehow in the public perception were seen as these Robin Hood-type figures. It tears back the curtain on what was really going on.
“Boardwalk Empire” and “The Wannabe” both have Martin Scorsese’s name attached. There’s a certain kind of quality that comes with someone like him.
Absolutely. I had met [director] Nick [Sandow] at a reading of the screenplay when it was in a very different form. We got to a point where I said, “I’d really like to share this.” At that time I was working on “Boardwalk” where Mr. Scorsese was my boss. I sent it his way and he came on to help. It was a huge moment to have that kind of support.
What do you think the Tribeca Film Festival brings to the film?
To me it’s such a natural fit. It’s a great venue, and it’s about celebrating New York and looking at these stories that happened in the past.
If you go: “The Wannabe” screens at the Tribeca Film Festival. Check tribecafilm.com for a full schedule of times and ticket info.