SUDBURY, Ont. – Most visitors to Sudbury make a point of getting their picture taken with the Big Nickel, the city’s iconic nine-metre monument honouring its mining history. Veteran actor and director Paul Sorvino was no exception.
“It was blowing out, 20-below, we were driving by and my wife said, ‘Take a picture!'” the 78-year-old film veteran recalled recently.
It was December, not exactly prime tourist time in the Ontario city some 400 kilometres north of Toronto. But Sorvino made a point of seeing the sights while he was there shooting City’s upcoming six-part series “Bad Blood,” a project he says won him over with its great script.
Based on the true crime bestseller “Business or Blood: Mafia Boss Vito Rizzuto’s Last War” by Peter Edwards and Antonio Nicaso, “Bad Blood” is a ruthless story of vengeance and corruption on the streets of Montreal, where the authors spent years interviewing members of the notorious Rizzuto crime family and other main players. Kim Coates, Anthony LaPaglia, Enrico Colantoni, Maxim Roy and Tony Nappo also star in the show.
Sorvino had some initial reservations about the project.
“I’m a little wary about doing anything Mafia because, boy, I’m nailed down as a Mafioso,” said Sorvino, who has played several mob bosses in his career, including Paulie Cicero in “Goodfellas.”
“People don’t think I act Mafioso, they think I am Mafioso.”
Ultimately, he was won over by the strong script and his role as Nicolo Rizzuto, patriarch of the crime family.
The six-part drama, based on a screenplay by Simon Barry and Michael Konyves, premieres Thursday at 8 p.m.
LaPaglia plays notorious crime boss Vito Rizzuto, who watches his grip on the city he once owned slip away while he’s in prison. A rash of murders precede and follow his release, including lethal hits on both his father and eldest son.
Edwards, a long-time crime reporter with the Toronto Star, had no fear the producers would sensationalize the story.
“It would be impossible to sensationalize what really happened,” said Edwards. “A guy got murdered the night before we started filming this, one of the Rizzuto people. When we were doing the book, people were getting shot. So how do you sensationalize a guy getting shot in front of his daughter?”
LaPaglia had little knowledge of Rizzuto before taking the part, but immersed himself in the character by watching film and listening to wiretap evidence.
“His voice was twice as gravelly as mine, sometimes hard to understand,” the 58-year-old actor said.
LaPaglia was also drawn by the script but also connected creatively to how Rizzuto was fully fleshed out and noted his skill as somebody who could read others quickly and “figure out what needed to be done with them.”
“Bad Blood” also portrays him as a murderous crime boss.
“Is it going to show him in the best light according to his family?” LaPaglia asks. “Probably not.”
Taking advantage of tax credits and financial incentives, producers chose to base most of the production in Sudbury. Care was taken to cloak locations during the initial shooting days there, with signage indicating the cast and crew were working on something called “Food Market Inc.”
The other draw for LaPaglia was the chance to work again with Coates. The two had previously shot three projects together, including the 1992 John Landis directed vampire-mafia feature “Innocent Blood.”
Coates plays the fictitious character Declan Gardiner, an amalgam of several people in the book who acted as Rizzuto’s right-hand men
The character is Irish rather than Italian.
“Vito brings me into the family like Robert Duvall in ‘The Godfather,'” said Coates.
The first hire on the project, Coates brought LaPaglia in the same way,
“The big thing was, ‘Who’s Vito?'” Coates said of the casting process. A list was drawn up and “I put Anthony right at the top,” he said.
That Coates was already signed “was a deciding factor, yes,” said LaPaglia.
Like LaPaglia, Sorvino is a fan of Coates. He also gave equal praise to Colantoni and director Alain DesRochers.
“Alain creates an atmosphere of trust, in which you can make a mistake if you want to,” said Sorvino. “That’s always a very good thing.”
Sorvino, who could often be heard launching into full-volume opera between takes, gave Sudbury a thumbs-up too.
“There are some surprisingly great restaurants,” he said, rhyming off a number of Italian dishes. “One or two are world class.”