About The Production
Times change. You do what you gotta do. You survive.
Mob wives Kathy, Ruby and Claire all bought into the same deal, that their
take care of them and take care of business. But with their husbands now in
prison, that deal is
void and the odds quickly stack up against them. The neighborhood isn't what it
used to be.
Revenues are down and competition is cutting in. The remaining members of the
gang won't pony
up the cash to help the women make the rent, put food on the table or walk these
fear. If they want to survive, it's up to them.
"This is about people who were never taken seriously, who realize they can't
sit back and
let things happen to them anymore; they need to take charge and take action in a
big way," says
writer/director Andrea Berloff, who makes her directorial debut with "The
Kitchen," following her
Oscar-nominated turn as a screenwriter on the acclaimed "Straight Outta
Compton." "What drives
these women and the way they seize control is exciting and aspirational, and
something that I
think anyone can understand. They move in on their husbands' business and end up
more effectively... and more ruthlessly."
Likewise, Berloff pulls no punches with "The Kitchen." A high-impact drama
with a strong,
female-driven cast and women in key roles behind the scenes, it takes full
ownership of a genre
not known for putting women at the top. Defying expectations across the board,
it turns the classic
mob drama upside down like never before, lending a contemporary tone to the
and vibe of the era and serving up plenty of action, attitude and shocking
"Mob movies are among my favorites," Berloff offers. But beyond that, "The
chance to tell
a story about these three unlikely crime lords, who start with nothing and learn
to not only survive
but thrive in a world that isn't theirs and that they're not welcomed into, felt
fresh and exhilarating."
Melissa McCarthy stars as Kathy Brennan, a wife and mother who will kill to
own-and whatever she decides to make her own. McCarthy was similarly drawn to
and to Berloff's fast-paced, edgy script, declaring, "There's an economy to her
writing that's really
impressive. Andrea can put a lot into a very succinct shot and that's the right
way to tell a story
like this. It really moves. When we first met she was very clear about the tone
and the look, the
strength and the unapologetic violence. And it's always good when you can give
something they don't necessarily see coming."
For some, the mere thought of a McCarthy or Haddish casting could suggest a
kind of movie just because, despite their range, they are so indelibly
associated with their brilliant
comedy work. But that's part of the game plan as "The Kitchen" confidently plays
whether it's actors known for humor getting down and dirty with serious dramatic
roles, or female
mob bosses ordering hits, dumping bodies and ruling their destinies in a way
today and would have been downright revolutionary in the '70s.
As Ruby O'Carroll, Tiffany Haddish channels the rage of a woman who's
dismissed and insulted and finally gets the chance to prove what she can really
do. "We all go
through things in life and even in the darkest circumstances there can be some
moments of light just to break the tension," Haddish concedes. "That's just part
of living and being
human. But this is every inch a drama and we played it absolutely straight, and,
personally, I was
thrilled to be able to explore that and show this side of myself on screen."
The habitually battered Claire Walsh, meanwhile, in Elisabeth Moss's hands,
she's had enough and she's not going to take it anymore. From anyone. Moss
Kathy and Ruby aren't superheroes or villains. What I loved about the idea of
this film is that it's
about three very different women who are not stereotypical and who each have
and weaknesses, in their own ways. They're flawed and they're real."
These women were never really friends. Their husbands were tight: drank
backed each other up and ran the streets. It wasn't till they were out of the
picture that Kathy,
Ruby and Claire started to view each other in a new way...as allies.
One thing is for sure: they're never going back to the way things used to be.
"In February 2016, 'Compton' was just winding down when I became aware of The
comic," Berloff recounts. "So I was already thinking a lot about things like the
tension that happens
when different people bump up against each other and what happens when people
are not given
the opportunities they deserve. Do they just take them? And what does that look
like? We can't
be surprised when disenfranchised people try to overthrow the system if the
system is not working
Citing the caliber of her three leads and what they bring to the mix,
individually and as a
team, she states, "Melissa, Tiffany and Elisabeth are fierce and phenomenally
talented and it's
apparent in everything they do. Each in their own way found the voice of their
brought them to life beyond what I put on the page. Their chemistry is
As the trio's rise to power impacts people who are close to them, the film
also offers a
stellar ensemble of supporting performances, including Domhnall Gleeson as
a hitman sweet on Claire; Common as sharp FBI agent Silvers, gathering intel for
the chance to
break it all wide open; and Margo Martindale as Helen, Ruby's mother-in-law from
But for all its groundbreaking bravura in terms of women kicking ass, both in
front of and
behind the camera, at its heart "The Kitchen" is a no-holds-barred gangster saga
that meets its
audience head on. "The fact that there were strong female leads was great and
made me glad to
be involved," says Gleeson. "But really, for me, it's all about the characters
and the story. And
this is a great story."
For Common, the notes it strikes across the crime spectrum adds to the film's
a drama but in many ways also a thriller. It keeps you guessing and lets you
figure things out."
Producers Michael De Luca and Marcus Viscidi had been following Berloff's
and were eager to collaborate with her on this project for which they both had
such a strong
affinity. "I love gangster movies," says multiple Oscar nominee De Luca. "Who
doesn't like to sit
in the dark and pretend to be an outlaw, to experience the thrill and danger
without having to
break the law? Everyone romances the outlaw and the outsider and this was an
explore all of those elements in a new way."
Viscidi concurs, noting, "It's emotional, it's compelling, it grabs you from
the first scene to
the last. I've always wanted to do a mob story but I didn't want it to be
traditional, and this put a
nice spin on it. That's probably a bit of an understatement," he adds with a
smile. "More like a big
The filmmakers were also in sync when it came to production, shooting as much
possible on location in four of New York City's five boroughs to recreate the
late 1970s Hell's
Kitchen setting. Audiences will be transported to that unique place and time,
with a rich visual
style that upholds authenticity while evoking the story's dark, graphic novel
Berloff, a former Hell's Kitchen resident, did extensive research into how
governmental neglect and changes in the long-standing population made a volatile
serves as the story's backdrop. "Things were changing, the older Irish
population that was
dominant in that area for decades was beginning to be crowded out by other
groups. It wasn't a
pretty time for New York. The city was broke, and people in the poorer
neighborhoods knew they
weren't being taken care of like those in other, wealthier neighborhoods,
whether it was school
upkeep or trash collection. People felt threatened and I think a lot of violence
came out of that as
they tried to hold on to what little territory they had," she says.
"It was a powder keg."
CAST AND CHARACTERS
Just to be clear: now we run this neighborhood.
As Berloff further sets the stage, "Just being a woman in that world, there
commonality of experience, whether you were Kathy or Claire, who had lived there
all their lives
or Ruby, from Harlem, who everyone still saw as an outsider. People
underestimate them. They
have to find their own voices and figure out how to stand up for themselves and
it's a significant
journey for them."
Says McCarthy, "They know that not one of them alone can walk in and try to
where their husbands left off, but the three of them together have a shot."
Of the group, McCarthy's Kathy had the best marriage, certainly the only one
appeared to include some mutual love and respect, and she's the only one sorry
to see her Jimmy
go away. "Kathy was comfortable with her life," McCarthy explains. "It's not
till Jimmy's gone that
she has to redefine who she is and what she can do. She pushes herself, out of
necessity, into a
position of power and then realizes that she likes being in charge. She's a
smart woman who's
never been allowed to run something, and when it turns out that she does it
well, she takes pride
in that. Also, she feels she can make some positive change in the lives of
people in the
neighborhood and that lets her stay in denial about the level of violence and
The way McCarthy sees it, Kathy and Jimmy, played by Brian d'Arcy James, may
they're just "good people doing bad things. But there's a reckoning coming
and the way Brian plays it is perfect because, despite all the terrible
decisions and brutality that
define his life, he still brings a measure of humanity to that character."
Ruby's marriage to Kevin, played by James Badge Dale, is another story.
initial attraction might have been, that passion has run its course and they've
settled into a familiar
rut: he cheats on her and she doesn't care. All the while, Haddish reveals, she
keeps her eyes
open. "Ruby strategically paid attention. She studied, she learned how things
operated. But she
was very slick about it, never in their faces asking what to do but more like a
fly on the wall.
"Ruby just wants to have the best life possible," Haddish continues. "She wants
empowered and that she has some control over her circumstances. As a woman in
the '70s, it's
difficult, and as a black woman in Hell's Kitchen she has so much to deal with
always telling her that she's never going to have a say. It was wonderful to
work with Andrea and
see the growth and evolution of this character, because Ruby is definitely
Kevin's sentence removes the final impediment from Ruby's path. The former de
leader of the gang, Kevin figures she can have her fun while he's away and he
might be willing to
forgive and forget, but if he expects Ruby to relinquish control when he comes
back, he's in for
one hell of a jolt.
When it comes to husbands, though, it's Claire who drew the short straw with
abusive Rob, played by Jeremy Bobb. Though it's not easy, "You can see that
maybe at some
point there was something about him that was charming," Moss suggests. You kind
of get why
she may have loved him, but then he became this brute. Life must not have turned
out the way
For Claire, Rob's incarceration is liberating, a virtual holiday from a cycle
of bruises and
black eyes from which even her daily rosary couldn't protect her. Her change,
perhaps the sharpest and most dramatic. Still, Moss believes, the seeds of
were planted long ago. "I think she's surprised at first by what she's capable
of, but it's also
something that feels natural to her."
Claire embraces her new status with a confidence that's almost touching,
monstrous things she does. "There's a joy in watching her take this arc. As
messed up as it is,
it's the story of a woman finding her power the only way she can, at that time
and place, and as
a member of that community," offers Moss. "It was important that Claire isn't
seen as some shy
wallflower who suddenly becomes a killer. I felt she always had that strength
and anger simmering
underneath, which made her an interesting challenge to play. For a lot of women
on that side of
abuse, there aren't many options. They don't know how to make money, they don't
know how to
leave, they're afraid of retaliation. I wanted to honor that truth."
Casting the important supporting roles of the husbands, Berloff acknowledges,
challenge. These actors not only had to embody their characters but be the
for their respective mates, because the dynamics of those relationships help
shape the paths the
women ultimately take. Brian, James and Jeremy were absolutely amazing. They
tremendous energy, fierceness, and emotion to these complex characters."
As Claire, Ruby and Kathy navigate their new reality as crime lords, the
others in their
lives fall into two categories: those who are with them and those who are
Squarely in the first camp is Gabriel, played by Domhnall Gleeson. A hired gun,
is known for the dispassionately efficient way he takes down his targets...then
takes them apart.
He has just returned to the Kitchen from a cooling-off period out of town,
following a job he did for
Kevin, and quickly picks up that there's been a change of management. He's cool
with that, which
is a boon to the trio because everyone knows Gabriel is deadly, and hiring him
shows upfront that
The saying goes, when the student is ready the teacher appears, and Gabriel
an avid learner. Factor in his longstanding feelings for her-inexpressible while
Rob was around-
and it's easy to see how they might connect. Says Gleeson, "She doesn't judge
him for what he
does; she's actually interested in it and it's something they can share. They're
kind of an odd
couple, in their own little world, and the balance between them is absolutely
even." For Gleeson,
as well as Moss and the filmmakers it was a key point that Gabriel is not
Claire's savior or a
source of security, but more like a mentor as she forges her own way. He
concedes, "Claire would
get to where she's going even without Gabriel, but he gets her there faster just
by backing her.
She's not had many people trust her or tell her she's good at something."
As Gabriel walks the line between casual violence and his own kind of soulful
Gleeson says, "I never thought of him as a psychopath despite what some of the
say about him. I took him as a guy who's good at his job and he just gets on
"He's not a man of many words," adds Berloff, "and I knew Domhnall would be able
communicate a lot without a lot of talk. He has incredible depth."
Meanwhile, working the other side of the street is FBI agent Gary Silvers, a
largely unseen Hell's Kitchen figure, played by Common, about whose performance
"It brought a restrained intensity to that role and completely elevated what
could have been more
of a run-of-the-mill agent."
But there's nothing run-of-the-mill about him. Says Common, "To be an FBI
have to be intelligent. You have to have your wits about you and know how to
different situations, and to be a black FBI agent in the '70s you really had to
work to establish
yourself. Silvers is focused and determined to do great work. He's all about the
he's direct about what he's after. But there's a part of him that remains
elusive. He's a complicated
It was Silvers' surveillance that led to the liquor store robbery bust that
opens "The Kitchen" and sends Jimmy, Rob and Kevin to prison. It's a triumph for
but certainly not the end of organized crime in the area and Silvers is too
savvy an agent to take
a premature victory lap. He knows this is for the long haul.
Finally, representing what defined female clout on these streets in a bygone
Martindale stars as Helen O'Carroll, Ruby's spiteful mother-in-law. An
old-school manipulator and
power broker, Helen doesn't realize-or won't accept-that things are different
relentlessly rude as she is to Ruby, she is devoted to her dear son, Kevin, and
holds sway in the
community through her connection to him, just like she did years ago through his
observes, "Helen used to be the queen bee of the neighborhood, but do you ever
power if it's not in your own name? First it was her husband and then her son
and even if she
was the one pulling the strings she never had the recognition, and that's what I
wanted Ruby to
show her. If you allow other people to speak for you, you really don't have a
As for casting veteran actor Martindale, the director says, "Come on, it wasn't
conversation. There was nobody better to play that role than Margo."
Martindale enjoyed trading barbs with Haddish on screen, while forming fast
with her, McCarthy and Moss during production. And her take on Helen is spot-on.
off because these women are taking the title away from her," she says. "I think
Helen would have
liked to have done that but she's from a different generation. She had influence
in her time but
always did it quietly and let the men be the front guys because she thinks
people won't be pushed
around by a woman. Even now, as Ruby starts to take over, Helen figures she's
going to be out
of business as soon as Kevin gets out. But she'd be wrong."
Rounding out the main cast, Bill Camp is Brooklyn-based Italian mob boss
Coretti is intrigued by the aggression and business sense that Kathy, Ruby and
Claire display and
is in a position to either make a deal with them or, as he makes it clear,
remove them from the
face of the Earth. Wayne Duvall is Kathy's working-class, union-proud father,
Larry, who views
his daughter's rise with mixed feelings. E.J. Bonilla is Silver's partner, FBI
Annabella Sciorra is Coretti's battle-hardened wife, Maria; and Myk Watford is
the gang's Little
Jackie, whose refusal to take the women seriously could be his undoing.
RECREATING HELL'S KITCHEN, NEW YORK CITY - 1978
Berloff's vision for the movie's late-'70s setting meant getting all the
details right. However,
"It was not just a period piece that lives in that time because we're dealing
with very contemporary
themes. It has to evoke that era but feel accessible and fun and look good to
So we took what was, to our modern eyes, the best of the 1970s," she says. That
well with the noir styling of the graphic novel on which the story is based, all
of which was
dramatically captured by director of photography Maryse Alberti. "Her work is
Berloff. "She knows how to make these scenes look beautiful yet hard and gritty
at the same
time. We really handed her a tall order."
The production mined locations in Staten Island, Brooklyn, the Bronx and
including Harlem and the area historically known as Hell's Kitchen though more
to as Clinton. To some among the cast and crew, these environs are familiar.
New York apartment in 1990 was on 46th street in the heart of the Kitchen, and
youthful nights of music and bar-hopping there in the mid-70s because of its
proximity to Times
Producer De Luca, a teenager at the time, growing up in Brooklyn, still feels
"a kinship to
the period," he says, while offering, "I was what they called the 'bridge and
tunnel' crowd. We
didn't make it into Manhattan much. I came from a neighborhood that was
definitely mobbed up,
guys you wouldn't look in the eye and that sort of thing. They had a presence.
But I probably
would have been terrified to go into Hell's Kitchen in those days. When the
groups settled in New York everyone retreated to their own neighborhoods and it
tribal. You kept to your own area and rarely ventured out."
Production designer Shane Valentino and locations manager Ryan Smith
with the filmmaking team to find workable streetscapes. So much has changed,
producer Viscidi, another former resident, "There are still pockets in the city
where the old
buildings are still standing. Maybe now there's a Starbucks or KFC on the corner
or a more
contemporary building that would interfere with our ideal scenes. Shane created
amount of signage and set dressing; he turned things completely around. People
who had lived
in those neighborhoods for years came out to see what we had done and were just
Something as simple as a phone booth, once a common sight and now a cultural
drew curiosity and delight from onlookers. Period cars like Gabriel's Chevy
Nova, Agent Silvers'
blue Dodge Aspen and a new model Cadillac for Coretti's driver completed the
street scenes, and
skylines were digitally adjusted and augmented.
Crowds came out in droves for a scene shot on Lexington Avenue in which
down a pimp on the sidewalk. Other key sites included People's Park on East
141th Street, an
office building on St. Ann's Avenue, Capelian Grocery on East 138th Street, and
East 139th and 152nd, all in the South Bronx. Paradise Catering on Avenue U in
Brooklyn filled in
for Coretti's home base and scenes of the Irish gang's hangout at Owen's Pub
were filmed at the
Irish Haven on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn's Sunset Park. Staten Island provided
Legion outpost for scenes of a union hall. The production also caused a stir by
looked like the sale of the century at the Esposito Meat Market on Ninth Avenue
and 38th Street,
a butcher shop that has been in business at that location since 1932, when they
put up signs
dropping meat prices to 49-cents a pound. They had a hard time convincing some
of the locals
that it was indeed too good to be true.
Valentino outlines, "Lexington became our 9th Avenue and that was two city
transformed-both sides of the street, so maybe 25 storefronts, which is
significant and took a lot
of negotiation. That was our biggest set. We had great buildings that were about
four or five stories
high with fire escapes that matched what 9th Avenue would have been. Looking
south from there,
you could imagine doing a set extension towards downtown Manhattan."
Recreating 1978 also meant "closing" a number of those storefronts as records
financially strapped era confirm many of them were shuttered.
Another of Valentino's set pieces was a disco patterned after the famous
Kathy, Ruby and Claire, flush with their first sense of accomplishment, go one
night to cut loose.
For Berloff, "It's an important point in the story's progression to see these
women enjoying each
other's company and having fun. It's exciting to finally have success when
you've never had
success before, to finally have money when you've never had money before, and to
when you've never had people who understand you in that way before. We needed a
joyous moments to let the light shine into their world."
Using the Irving Plaza venue as his base, Valentino worked with a
lighting designer to replicate the disco ambience. In contrast to the browns and
color schemes in many of the movie's other interiors, Xenon boasts more vibrant
pulsing neon arcs around a center-stage DJ booth. Here and elsewhere in the
story, the selections
of music supervisor Deva Anderson helped ground the action while lending a
complementing Bryce Dessner's dramatic score.
Adding to the overall effect are Sarah Edwards' costume designs, for whom the
its approximately 100 extras proved one of her more challenging scenes. Like all
the costumes in
the film, it was a mix of custom-made, rented, purchased or otherwise sourced
Edwards details, "Tiffany wore a white Kiana jumpsuit, which was a fabric made
by DuPont in the
'70s that's no longer made. We managed to find someone who had a bolt of 15
yards of it that
they were able to dust off from some warehouse. Elisabeth wore a dress we had
from a remnant of a '70s fabric we loved."
What made the wardrobe overall so tricky was that Edwards couldn't zero in on
1970s alone. "This is an area of the city in which there weren't a lot of
resources," she explains.
"People didn't spend money on clothes. They had fewer things and wore them
longer. So we
were not only looking for clothes for 1978 and '79 but from the late '60s and
early '70s, and
someone like Helen would have even older pieces that she's never replaced."
Still, as the three new crime bosses become more successful, there are
in the way they present themselves to the world. They start to favor pants,
which, says Edwards,
"as hard as it is for us to imagine, was kind of a new and liberating thing to
do." Claire's dresses
are less buttoned down and she starts wearing boots with a heel, while Ruby uses
cash to dress more fashionably in high-waisted flare jeans, wrap dresses and a
What Berloff wanted to avoid was anything that looked campy or silly,
"These are real women who live in a real world that happens to be 1978, and that
applies as much
to the clothes as well as the interiors of their homes. I wanted audiences to be
able to relate to
them and to those aspirational qualities that guide them."
Along those same lines, she returns to one of the elements that drew her to
As the provocative double entendre of its title suggests, Berloff posits, "What
place do women
have? What opportunities do they have and what are they allowed? To me, that was
interesting conversation that was part of this larger, exciting action drama.
"I feel so lucky that I've been able to work on films that are entertaining
but are also about
something," Berloff concludes. "What I hope for 'The Kitchen' is that audiences
will get involved
and have a good time at the theater and then, maybe, also have something to talk
about on the
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