Mob Movie Actors Who Refuse To Break Character

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The gangster or mafia film was born out of thinly veiled propaganda in the 1930s, condemning the lives led by men such as John Dillinger Where Al Capone, who, despite their murderous reputations, had become the stuff of legends in the Depression. Although technically the government didn’t say so, the fact is that the intervention in Hollywood was a reality at the time.

RELATED: 10 Most Iconic Gangster Movies From The 1970s

As a new wave of directors took cinema into unseen and extreme territory, they had a generation of actors ready to step up and help bring their visions to life. When executed correctly, the acting method is truly amazing to behold, as an actor becomes completely immersed in a character.

Marlon Brando (The Godfather1972)


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One of the first to adopt the method in Hollywood, Marlon Brando had already put it to good use in playing iconic roles. His famous turn as a veteran turned dockworker in At the water’s edge is one of the best known examples. Asked about his approach to methodical acting, Brando said, “If I have a scene to play and I have to be angry, I remember my dad hitting me.”

He brings that commitment to the role of Vito Corleone. One of the most famous examples of his unorthodox approach is that he put cotton balls in his cheeks for the audition, wanting Corleone to look like a bulldog – an idea Francis Ford Coppola kissed, and a custom dental piece was made for the shoot.

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Robert de Niro (The Godfather Part II1974)


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Bringing Vito Corleone to life was once a challenge – everything had to go well for the character to be the right combination of ruthless and yet somewhat likable. Of course, having a powerhouse of actors helped things tremendously. For the follow-up of The Godfather, much of the narrative focuses on Corleone’s younger years. How could you match this first portrait?

Simply by hiring a promising youngster by the name of robert deniro. A feature of his early career was primarily his dedicated approach. For Corleone, that not only meant learning Italian, but Robert De Niro moved to Sicily for four months and learned three different dialects. It’s no wonder the academy recognized his commitment as the first best actor award to be given a non-English speaking role.


Al Pacino (Serpico1973)


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Another early 1970s Hollywood adopter of the method, Al Pacino had a commitment to his characters that transcended acting. His immersion in certain roles was so deep that they became industry legend, such as his later role in The scent of a womanwhere he spent the entire shoot “playing blind” in keeping with his character.

RELATED: Al Pacino Reflects on His Life and His Four Most Memorable Roles

However, to play the role of anti-corruption cop Frank Serpico, Pacino took him very seriously. He hung out with the real Frank Serpico and walked the streets (in a neighborhood considered quite dangerous at the time) in character. This all came to a head when he attempted to perform a citizen’s arrest on a man who was driving a truck with a broken exhaust.


Johnny Depp (Black Mass2015)


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From humble beginnings 21 jump street, Johnny DeppThe start of his career was defined by his chameleon acting abilities. Seemingly capable of taking on any role, Depp seemingly went effortlessly from otherworldly goth with scissors for his hands to one of the greatest counterculture writers of all time in the 90s. .

Unfortunately, after numerous collaborations with Tim Burton, people started to see him as a bit typed. This may have helped land him playing the role of ruthless Boston mobster Whitey Bulger for this film. Deep loses himself entirely in part, playing Bulger with such chilling precision that the director Scott Cooper said those who knew the real deal were pissed when they visited the set.

Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta (Freedmen1990)


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In what is still arguably Scorsese’s definitive mob film to this day, the central trio of actors is a major factor in the film’s success. Although De Niro was quite good, the two actors – and their involvement in an infamous scene – show the commitment they had to the job and their characters.

For the uninitiated, the scene in question takes place in the crowd’s haunt, where a moment of levity, Ray Liottathe character of (Henry Hill), tells Joe Pesci‘s (Tommy DeVito) that he’s a funny guy. The tone changes almost immediately as Tommy shoots Hill, asking him if he thinks he’s a clown, and he’s there to amuse him. The tension is broken when Tommy finally laughs it off, but it shows the volatile nature of the character. This moment is even more impressive when you realize that it was not scripted, and Pesci improvised the moment – which makes sense, given the genuine reactions on the faces of Liotta and the rest of the actors in the scene.

Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio (The dead2006)


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Jack Nicholson appeared on the right side of the law in Roman Polanskyit’s Chinese district and as comic book villain The Joker in Batman 1989, but he hadn’t yet played the role of a major gangster until he was cast as Martin ScorseseThe semi-remake of a Hong Kong gangster movie Hellish Affairs. Like most actors in this star-studded cast, Nicholson brought his A-game to Frank Costello.

RELATED: American Remakes of Foreign Movies That Are Really Good

In another moment of improvised brilliance, a highlight of the film is the first meeting between Costello and Leonardo DiCaprioThe man undercover, Billy Costigan. After Billy is noticed by Costello’s right hand, he is tricked into having an audience. They ask standard questions, but the scene really heats up when Costello grabs Costigan’s right arm — which is in a cast due to a previous injury — and forcefully lowers the arm onto a pool table, shattering the cast. This causes Costigan to scream in pain and Costello interrogates him to ask if he still has any ties to the police. What sets this scene apart is its in-the-moment nature, combined with the two actors’ commitment to their characters.


Daniel Day Lewis (New York Gangs2002)


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Not quite a “gangster movie” in the sense of those above, Scorsese’s historical epic looks back in time at the early days of New York’s settlement and the establishment of organized crime in the city. It also focuses on the conflict between early American settlers and the Irish who escaped starvation in America en masse.

The movie itself is a bit random, but Daniel Day Lewis gives one of the best performances of his legendary career as Bill the Butcher. His research and commitment were as always unmatched, but perhaps the most well-known example of his immersion in the role was when he developed pneumonia. He refused any type of modern treatment, even to the point of wearing an insulated coat, as those modern luxuries would not have been available to his character. Eventually, the studio was forced to step in and insist that he seek treatment, but some scenes where he played the character with pneumonia made it to the final cut of the film.


Colin Farrel (The Batman2022)


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A late registration on this list, The Batman, may not be a traditional gangster movie, but its themes and characters definitely fit into this murky world. Gotham’s power base is primarily criminal, and as the right-hand man to the city’s most powerful boss, Colin FarrelOswald Cobblepot commands respect.

What’s amazing about this performance is that Farrell disappears before your eyes. Without knowing he was playing the character, most wouldn’t have been able to recognize him. Of course, part of that is the exceptional makeup and prosthetic work, but all traces of the handsome main man of movies like In Bruges are entirely gone, replaced by an ugly, repulsive gangster.

KEEP READING:Johnathan Majors on ‘White Boy Rick’ and the Enduring Appeal of Gangster Movies


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