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Robert Knepper Goes Gangster in TNT's 'Mob City'

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"Mob City" returns tonight for the second installment of a three-night TNT special event, based on the true story of the battle between the L.A.P.D. and the mob as the gangsters tried to infiltrate Los Angeles in the late '40s.

Loosely based on John Buntin's book, L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City, "Mob City" stars Jon Bernthal as Detective Joe Teague, a former Marine, who has been assigned to a new police task force whose job is to free the city of thugs like Ben "Bugsy" Siegel (Ed Burns), Mickey Cohen (Jeremy Luke), the head of the mobsters, and their partner in crime Sid Rothman (Robert Knepper).

In this interview with, Knepper discusses how he got his mob on for the role, how he was inspired in junior high school to play bad guys, and more. Check it out.

Your character Sid Rothman was a fictional creation for the story, right?

Robert: Totally.

Was there anybody that you looked to for a glimmer of inspiration for him?

Robert: Yes. I don't know why this guy came into my head, but as soon as I saw the script for the pilot, I thought of Sterling Hayden.

How do you see Sid?

Robert: Sid Rothman, to me, as a kid would have always looked up to Ben Siegel. They were contemporaries, the three of them, Meyer Lansky and Ben and Sid. Sid kind of cleaned up for them, did their dirty business, because sometimes they did things that they shouldn't do because they were too much in the limelight. Sid was very, very content with being in the background.

Unlike some of the characters I've played over the last nine, ten years, it was nice to stay back and let the light shine on them. To me, Sterling Hayden was like that guy -- that "I'll settle back and watch you and duly take notes about people." And when needed, he steps forward and takes care of business.

Yeah, Sid is a great character. Every time I read the script, I wrote on the margin saying, "Thank you, Frank. Thank you, Frank." Because I was like, “Oh my, God, this is some of the most amazing dialogue I've ever had the privilege to say."

Growing up, I watched a lot of old movies. Were you attracted to those films when you were younger?

Robert: I've always had a thing for Bogie [Humphrey Bogart]. When you've been in the business for a really long time, you realize, if you take a moment as a glimmer and look back at where you were, I was a little, pretty boy in my 20s, who was trying to make it. I always looked about ten years younger than I really was.

Then I got into my 30s and my 40s, and now I'm in my 50s, and I like playing the strong guys. I like playing the Robert Mitchum parts, the Sterling Hayden parts or the Bogie parts. I'm going, "Oh yeah, I remember that as a kid."

I remember I had a coach in junior high school, who was a tough little guy. He was a horrible teacher because he didn't teach you how to play sports, he berated you if you didn't know how to play it. He used to call me "Double Dribble." One time I forgot my shorts, and in middle school, they make you buy your jerseys all the way down to your knees because they know you'll grow into them right over three years. I forgot it and all I had was my jock strap. And that MF made me run with all the boys on the track, he said, "Don't fall." So I get back to the locker room and I hated him so much.

People wonder: "How does a nice little boy from Ohio end up playing bad guys?" Instinctually, I wanted that Saturday Night Special from film noir movies. I saw that black shiny gun in my 1960s locker -- of course, it's not there -- and I wanted to pull that gun out and shoot him. I always say, "No, I never actually would have done that." Back then, it was just a fantasy, but you wish you could have done that. We wished we could have mafia guys we could have gone to that would take care of things.

I think film noir, anybody who's born up to a certain age, it is ingrained in us that we remember those as kids and gone, "Yeah, I wish I could be like that."

"Mob City" airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.


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