We continue this week with another interview. Today stopping in the DGIS studio is actor and film maker Franklin Abrams. Franklin has been working to bring back the early days of New York City gangdom by filming short pieces about Monk Eastman and his protégé Kid Twist Zweifach in a series calle "Our Gotham". The trailer for the soon to be released Changing of the Guard episode can be seen below.
Look quick, if the drunk in the boater in the opening shot looks a tad familiar thats because it's DGIS founder Pat Downey in his first role: Drunk gambler. (Spoiler: I get to grab a prostitues back side)
Dead Guys in Suits: Thank you for stopping by today Franklin. Sorry Pat Downey couldn’t be here but he’s in Hollywood recuperating, he went on a bender after finding out he wasn’t even considered for an Oscar. We’ll text him and let him know you’re here.
Franklin Abrams: The Oscar let down should be settled with a duel between Pat Downey and Jeff Bridges.
DGIS: Please tell us about your film series.
FA: Our Gotham is a short film series that’s set in the Underworld 1903-1904 New York and is focused around Monk Eastman, Kid Twist and the reality of their surrounds. The vision is to make the transition from a short film series to an Episodic Television series. A script for the first episode (pilot) of the television series was recently completed and within in it, we are introduced to the likes of Tammany boss, Big Tim Sullivan, District Attorney, William Travers Jerome, Five point leaders Paul Kelly and a host of other politicians, gamblers. Prostitutes cops, street urchins and a bunch of all out intriguing characters.
DGIS: How did you come to be interested in the gangsters of yore?
FA: As a kid growing up in New York city ,I was intrigued by the streets of the Lower East Side and I would often stand on street corner and day dream about who got killed there and what illegal dealings went in down in each building. My gateway drug for my affinity in gangster films and literarature was the Edward G Robinson films and a VHS copy OF Once Upon A Time in America that my father played in the house. After that I was hooked and I knew that many afternoons spent at the archives was ahead of me.
DGIS: You’ve played both Monk Eastman and Kid Twist. How did you prepare for the roles of each? How were they the same/different?
FA: The fact that I wrote for both characters puts me in the proper head space for when I act as them. Monk is impulsive, sloppy on the tongue, belligerent, gluttonouse and full off witty one liners. Monk speaks/ hits first and answers later. He does what he wants, when he wants. ! From absorbing newspaper with quotes from him and first hand accounts of him, I find a voice to write from which then lead me to act from. We are fornuate in the case of Monk because there was so many rich one liner’s and quotes that he blessed the Newspapers of the time with. They real gems that serve as the foundations for defining character and constructing scenes.
In many ways Twist is the antithesis of Monk, he’s clcualted, organized and disciplined ambitious and self educated. All of his moves are strategic. Unlike Monk, twist would never go out on a drunken bender, resulting in all out gun fight. Instead, attacks under his reign are precise and calculated. Twist is full of one liner as well, but where Monk might curse and have some clever quote about “goin straight”, in the New York Herald, Twist kept a low profile and might make a reference to the Civil War instead. It’s a tough one for me because I’m wearing many hats, I’m writing producing, casting etc, etc. So I don’t get to strip down and surrender solely to acting like I would if I was just hired to portray Twist or Monk I’m steering the entire ship. As an actor, you are your own instrument and both characters stem from the same place in my instrument, so sometimes they might feel and sound a little too similar.
DGIS: Pat just texted us back, he says that in between bouts of the dry heaves he’s shopping around his script, “Legs Diamond meets the Wolfman” but is willing to give you first shot at it. He wants to know if you’re interested.
FA: Actually, I was thinking more the lines of Owney Madden meets Creature from the Black Lagoon,but tell him I’m open to discuss it.
DGIS: Who is more fun to play Monk or Kid Twist?
FA: Definitely Monk because playing him is like playing a big kid.
DGIS: Any other gangsters that you’re itching to play?
FA: Yes indeed. I’m jonesing to produce a piece about and play any member of Detroit’s Purple gang. Also, it would be a ball to play Humpty Jackson because was even more of goon than Monk Eastman. On a sociopath tip, I’d love to step into the shoes of Murder Inc’s own, Harry “Pittsburgh Phil“Strauss and one day I’d like to base a production in old LA and portray Mickey Cohen.
DGIS: A shame Pat isn’t here, being from the motor city he is into the Purple Gang as well. In addition to your film series you also do “live” pieces. We saw you at the Lower Eastside Tenement museum. You’ve also been at the recently opened Museum of the American Gangster. Are there any plans for a full length play?
FA: Absolutely. Author Extraordinaire Rose Keefe, is currently penning a one man show about Twist that we will hopefully put into production at the Museum sometime this year.
DGIS: Here’s another text from Pat – Two enthusiastic thumbs up for Owney meets the Creature also ask Franklin if he’s interested in doing an Our Gotham spinoff called – Pat Downey: Early 1900’s Drunk Ass-Grabber?
FA: HaHA! Little does Pat know that we wrote a spec script for a series that centers on Pat getting drunk and rolled in every episode. In the first episode he gets beaten by a bunch of Street Urchin kids and in the next one he gets drugged and stripped of his clothes by a prostitute!
On a serious note, Pat is a natural, and his ability to stay in character the whole day had the actors in the piece eating their hats.
DGIS: I’m sure he would appreciate that but we’re not gonna tell him because he’s already difficult to work with. We like the fact that in both your film pieces and live scenes your dialog is chock full of early 20th century gang vernacular. Is it difficult to write a scene trying to stay true to the period?
FA: It’s very difficult and there’s a thin line between staying true to the period and alienating the audience with overkill on the language. The skill lies in writing just enough of the old language in each sentence then using regular words that follow and hence define the point you are trying to get across. Books such as Apaches of New York, Cornelius Willemse’s Behind the Green Lights and Newspapers from the time really assist in capturing the texture and essence of the time
DGIS: Now that you wasted the Bottler, what’s next? Will we see Kid Twist and Cyclone Louis get croaked out at Coney Island?
FA: That episode is actually a one off from that chapter in time. We are going to go back in time a few months and start the series from the time when Monk and Co. are arrested for beating and robbing the wealthy Whitmore guy and get into a tussle with the Pinkerton Detectives who are trailing the wealthy young man.
This scenario and overall episode will set up the path of an entire series. Stay Tuned for sure! Oh yeah, there might be a role where Pat gets shot in the ass,
Tell him that he will get two days to prepare for his audition.
DGIS: We understand that Pat is “Method” so don’t sweat the bullets. We noticed that the Rabbi is a reoccurring character in your films. Is he based on anyone in particular or do you just like the idea of a crooked, gambling, prostitute-patronizing religious teacher?
FA: Yeah, I had one of those in Hebrew school (just kidding) Priests are always being portrayed as boy touchers, so I figured I can pay homage to degenerate Rabbis! Yes, I’m kind of obsessed with the notion of the righteous and pious being thrown off track into a lair of desperation out of circumstance, I read many accounts of the learned and well respected Rabbi who immigrates from Lithuania to America only to find a job in the Ghetto blessing Old ladies’ chickens as being Kosher.
The first Rabbi character in our piece was inspired from a 1904 New York Daily tribune article in which a Synagogue official hired the Eastman’s to bludgeon officials from their congregation. The Rabbi in Changing of The Guard is inspired by Hutchins Hapgood’s 1903 book, The Spirit OF The Ghetto, which digs deep into the notion of Russian immigrant rabbis being ostracized by the wealthy German Jewish population from the Yorkville section of the city, therefore limiting them to a life of little works in the slum Congregations of The lower East Side.
DGIS: Here’s another text:
Tell Franklin that Hollywood’s tough; me blunts all gone and I need him to send a caravan cause right now I’m gadding the hoof on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams and wants to hop a bull back to the Frog and Toe.
FA: Tell Pat to have a cab drop him off at Canter’s deli and I’ll then send a Goon to pick him up.