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A Conversation with the Breakout Kings: Nick Santora and Domenick Lombardozzi

Nick Santora is the author of SLIP AND FALL and FIFTEEN DIGITS both forthcoming from Mulholland Books. He is also the co-writer, co-executive producer and co-creator of Breakout Kings which premieres this Sunday, March 6th at 10PM on A&E. Here, Santora and Domenick Lombardozzi (star of Breakout Kings, The Wire, Entourage and more) discuss their collaboration on the show, the concept of literary TV and, most importantly, which New York borough is the best.

Mulholland Books: Nick, you’ve described shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, and now Breakout Kings as “literary TV.” What does the phase mean to you?

Nick Santora: I think to me, and there are other shows that I think fall into that category as well like Boardwalk Empire. But to me, it’s trying to take television to a different level of storytelling -when you’re doing stuff that you have not necessarily seen before. There’s television out there that is absolutely great; and that makes a lot of people happy and makes a lot of people a lot money, but it’s definitely, for lack of a better term, I guess, a bit old hat. It’s the straight case of where character dialogues are interchangeable and it just doesn’t make a difference who says what. I can state from experience: I’ve worked on shows where I’ve been on set, and I’m not going to name the show; but, where one actor was having trouble with his lines, and his buddy, another actor has said don’t worry, I know that line. I’ll take it and you take my line, it’s shorter. And my writer brain and my producer brain both cramped at hearing that until, I actually saw them play the scene and I realized- it just doesn’t make a difference, who says what.

Because the whole entire episode is about the case and the characters are nothing but meats puppets that give exposition. It really bothered me, and I swore that if I could ever get my own show on the air, I would try at least to make the show about something other than just the case of the week. And on Breakout Kings, that’s what I and Matt Olmstead, my co-creator on the show, have tried to do and I think that we have been relatively successful.

MB: Domenick, your Wikipedia entry claims that your main inspiration as an actor is the film State of Grace. While the film is a cult classic, it’s also kind of a narrow choice, so I thought I’d ask…

Domenick Lombardozzi: No, that’s not true. Although, I do love the movie. Gary Oldman. Fantastic. Although I did A Bronx Tale when I was fifteen, it wasn’t until I did a movie called Kiss me Guido that I really fell in love with acting– just the whole process, the learning what other people do, the camaraderie. It was that experience for me because we actually took that movie from nothing, and got funding, did readings to get money, to get that movie we made for Tony Vitale, and it was just that whole process that really inspired me.

NS: Kiss Me Guido is another example of literary film–Tony Vitale is really a talented writer. You know we can all go out and see a movie that is a lot of incredible special effects, and the star of the movie frankly is what’s done in the editing biz with the incredible talented editors, and the CGI, and all the incredible technology that is available today. Those movies are great and I love those movies; and I’ll be the first one to go and see one of those films, but, I also love a film where the star is the story, and the actors are bring the story to life.

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Organized Crime Writing

ajtorres_la mafia '11When I finished my second novel, 2005’s The Heartbreak Lounge, I was determined never to write about traditional organized crime again. The whole New Jersey mob thing had become too much of a cliché, thanks in part to the brilliance of The Sopranos, which brought that world into people’s living rooms every week.

For a crime novelist who lives in and writes about New Jersey, this wasn’t an easy choice. Clichés are clichés because they’re true. Credit The Sopranos creator and N.J. native David Chase for knowing his subject. Part of his research, by Chase’s own admission, came from stories published in The Star-Ledger of Newark, the newspaper where I worked as an editor for 13 years. Recognizing the Ledger as the N.J. O.C. paper of record, Chase often featured it prominently in the show, with an additional thanks in the end credits of most episodes.

At one point, the Ledger – New Jersey’s largest newspaper – had two full-time organized crime reporters. In 1992, one of them, Robert Rudolph, wrote a book called The Boys from New Jersey, a seminal work on organized crime. It chronicled a Lucchese family trial that went on for two years and ended with the acquittal of all 20 defendants, and a bitter defeat for the government.

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All About the Bad Guy

western cowboy still lifeA couple of weeks ago, I started watching The Sopranos. I never watched it when it was on television, because at the time everyone else in the world was so over the moon about it. I hate things that other people tell you you should see. It’s the reason I never saw Avatar, and why The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is known to me as The Book That Sits on My Shelf. I have no good reason to avoid The Sopranos, James Cameron’s masterpiece, or the tattooed Swede. For no good reason, I just lose interest when the bandwagon fills up. It’s sort of the way George Carlin felt about Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. He refused to get on board with either, because he was “tired of being told who to admire.”

The only flaw in being stubborn and judgmental is that occasionally you end up trailing the bandwagon and looking like an idiot. I walked into the staff room at my school last week and said, “Hey, you know, The Sopranos is pretty good.” I got a look that told me what I had said was about as groundbreaking as “Fire good.”

Indeed, The Sopranos is a good show. I should have tried it sooner, really, because the concept is right up my alley. The show is all about the bad guy.

The three books I have had published so far, and the other three that are still on my hard drive, have all been about a bad guy. It’s never intentional. For some reason, every time I put pen to paper, what comes out of me is never about anyone who is getting into heaven. I don’t think I’m alone in this. Crime fiction is all about the bad guy. But what is it about the bad guy that people love so much?

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