Barry Levinson, whose Oscar-winning “Rain Man” showed a pair of sparring brothers, is soon to focus on a father-son relationship.
And not just any: the bond between John Gotti Sr. -- the New York Mafia boss who died in jail in 2002 -- and John Jr. Playing the father in “Gotti: Three Generations” is John Travolta. The cast also has Al Pacino and Lindsay Lohan (her part is confirmed but not yet written).
Levinson, 69, is at the Cannes Film Festival for a pre-production media conversation. In these lean times, it’s a roundtable with no table: just a small circle of chairs in the publicists’ hotel suite. Levinson wears a black track suit and a baseball cap labeled ‘F’ -- for “Fiercely,” the film he had actor Robert De Niro promoting in “What Just Happened” (2008).
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
A: I was approached about coming into the project, and I wasn’t sure, because I don’t necessarily respond to genre. I met with John Gotti Jr. a couple of times.
He told me about his family, the Gotti family, things that I didn’t know about.
I thought, “Maybe I could do something that would take us to another step.” I mean, you’re not going to improve on, say, “The Godfather.” It’s definitive. And so you say, well, maybe this is another generation, another time, another way to look at it.
I think it’s probably moved now into the age of disorganized crime! (He laughs.)
Q: Does John Gotti Jr. carry on the work of the family?
A: No, he’s out.
His father has become the last legendary mob chieftain. The son, in a sense, inherits the Gambino family which the father was the head of.
John Jr. has to basically say to his father, “I don’t want this anymore,” before the old man dies. And that becomes the break.
Q: What’s wrong with the existing script?
A: If you come in, you have to kind of write and define it the way you see and hear it.
I’m always looking for the small moments that are revealing, rather than just the big moments.
Having talked to Gotti Jr., I was hearing that, and that’s what really intrigued me.
It’s all of those seemingly inconsequential things built upon things, built upon moments, to get to a way to reveal a family.
Q: Why is the movie industry attracted to the Mafia?
A: I don’t know what it is in the American DNA that we gravitate to outlaws, in general. We mystify or make mythical outlaws -- whether you go back to the West, Billy the Kid or Jesse James, or if you get into taking the Mafia from the original “Scarface” and other mob-related movies, up through “The Godfather,” the Scorsese things.
Q: What sort of a movie will you make? Is it ha-ha comedy?
A: (He laughs). You’re not going to make a comedy. Is there humor in it? Yeah, absolutely.
But it is a drama at its heart and soul, I think, without question.
Q: What do you think of John Travolta playing Gotti Senior?
A: He’s certainly well equipped to do that. He’s got a whole East Coast thing about him to begin with. He has the natural rhythms to that. I think it’ll be a pretty challenging role to John, something he could really sink his teeth into.
Q: Is it easy dealing with actors’ egos?
A: It’s part of the business. I’ve always had a great relationship with actors. I’ve worked with Warren Beatty in “Bugsy,” and we had a great time, and remain close to this day. Pacino recently, and De Niro in three movies I think, and Dustin (Hoffman) on four movies. So I’ve had, fortunately, very, very good relationships with actors, and enjoy working with them.
“Gotti: Three Generations” starts shooting at the end of this year.