Hollywood and gangsters just go together. After all, the greatest gangster movie of all time, The Godfather, features a famous storyline in which Don Corleone flexes his criminal muscle to secure his godson Johnny Fontane a prized movie role (itself reminiscent of long-standing rumors about Frank Sinatra’s possible underworld connections). There were no severed horse heads in Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1995 movie Get Shorty, but that film (and the Elmore Leonard novel on which it’s based) did play with the connection between cineastes and criminals. That same thematic territory is present in EPIX’s upcoming TV version of Get Shorty, though it’s all a bit darker this time.
“We’ve taken the premise of the novel, which is criminals who become interested in the movie industry initially just as a way to launder money but increasingly become involved in the artistic side of the movies they’re making. Then we left the rest of it behind,” showrunner Davey Holmes says. “None of the characters from the original are in the show, and the cinematic approach is more Coen brothers than it is Barry Sonnenfeld.”
In lieu of John Travolta and Danny DeVito, this new Get Shorty stars Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) as Miles Daly, a low-level Nevada criminal who’s starting to question his life choices now that his wife and daughter (Lucy Walters and Carolyn Dodd) are starting to pull away from him. When he runs into beleaguered B-movie producer Rick Moreweather (Ray Romano), he hatches up a scheme to hit two birds with one stone by making a movie that will allow him to both launder money for his criminal bosses and get a taste of a different life. Of course, as seen in the photo above, he first has to explain why the script he’s giving Rick is covered in a giant bloodstain.
“Miles has a skill set he’s developed as a criminal — he knows how to pressure people to get them to do what he wants them to do — and it turns out that’s a great skill set in Hollywood,” Holmes says. “Being brutal about things gives you an edge over everyone else in Hollywood. It’s a throwback to the guys who founded some of the big studios, who were practically mobsters.”
Get Shorty marks Romano’s latest foray into premium cable drama, after the end of HBO’s short-lived Vinyl. The tension between dark drama and Coen-style black comedy allows him to display his full arsenal of talents.
“He’s got this wonderful comedy background, that as he says comes with the model, but he takes acting very seriously. He’s really a wonderful dramatic actor,” Holmes says. “In a way that’s a great secret weapon, because he’s really hungry for stuff that isn’t just funny, that goes to other places. He brings tragedy and a seriousness to it and turns on a dime.”
Get Shorty premieres Aug. 13 at 10 p.m. on EPIX, and will run for 10 hour-long episodes. The show is produced by MGM Television, which now owns EPIX after buying out Viacom and Lionsgate.