Joining us today is the actor that has hit the silver screen recently, playing Vito Genovese in AMC’s The Making of the Mob.
The eight-part docudrama begins in 1905 and follows the lives of some of the most influential crime figures in the American Mafia; from Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, and of course the crime boss who rose to power during the Castellammarese War to later become leader of the Genovese crime family, Vito Genovese.
The show is narrated by Ray Liotta (notable for his appearance as Henry Hill in Goodfellas), and traces the original five families of New York.
Watch Craig in The Making of the Mob: New York
The NCS: You were born and raised in Brooklyn, a hot spot for mob activity during the 70’s and 80’s. You must have seen many characters around the neighborhood, did you become captivating by these and did they help you in your latest role as Vito Genovese?
Craig Rivela: I do love talking about my childhood. I was born and raised in Brooklyn. My neighborhood was a blue collar Italian and Irish enclave. Lots of city workers. Cops, Firemen, Sanatation, and not until I was older, did I realize there were a lot of wiseguys too. It was the 70 s and 80 s and Brooklyn was a different place. A wonderful place to grow up. Stick ball and football in the street, lighting off our own fireworks on the Fourth of July, playing manhunt. We were all crazy kids. So many characters from the neighborhood that I have enough material to write 40 books.
As an adult and being a fan of the gangster genre. Ive seen all the classic movies and read lots of books. My neighbourhood was a mix of Lucchese and Colombo families. I went to school a few blocks from Roy De Meo’s Gemini Lounge, which is now a baptist church. I am amazed at how much mob activity went on in the neighbourhood because as a kid you would have never have known it. Cops and wise guys lived right next door to each other. They could be having a BBQ together on a Sunday or sitting on the stoop having a couple beers and on Monday the cop went to work to fight crime and Monday night the wiseguy went out and to cause crime. I find that fascinating.
A good anlogy would be the bugs bunny cartoon, where in the morning the sheep dog and the coyote would clock into work and chase each around all day, and at the end of the day they clock out and they are the best of friends. Living through all of this is what made me fascinated with doing Making Of The Mob. It was role I just had to have. I don’t think I ever wanted something so bad. After five or six auditions I finally was awarded the part. What was great about the project was that I got to see how all these families were brought to fruition. Lucchese, Gambino, Bonanno, Genovese, Colombo. All these characters are covered in Making Of The Mob New York.
The NCS: It’s fair to say that you have been cast in a prominent role in the Making of the Mob, how did this part all come about and how long did it take from that first call to filming?
Craig Rivela: I saw the Casting on Breakdown Services. It was probably as early as April 2015. The ad was vey vague. It said Mini Series about the Mob, and listed all of the big names associated with the Mob in the early days as characters.
I had auditioned with the casting director before for another project. They wanted me to drop my New York accent, which is hard for me to do, but when this project came along they remembered me and called me in pretty quick. They originally called me in to read for Frank Costello.
At the same audition they handed me the sides for Vito, I read and then did an improv. It was a great audition but in this business you never know. I wound up getting called back about 5 or 6 times over the next several months. I was just about to give up hope, when I got one last call back in September and read with John Ealer, our director. A few days later I was informed I booked the part of Vito Genovese, and was leaving for West Virginia in a couple weeks.
The whole process was gruelling but paid off big time in the end.
The NCS: Talk us through your first day on set; was it an overwhelming experience to be part of a hit show?
Craig Rivela: I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how big or small the production was going to be. I knew it was a Docudrama and I had my script but that was it. It wasn’t until I got to Wardrobe that I found out AMC was the network that had picked it up. I remember feeling excited and very nervous at the same time. I think the first guy I saw was Anthony Di Carlo. He plays Frank Costello. We had ran into each other at a few of the auditions in New York so he was a familiar face. Next was Jonathan Stewart, who plays Bugsy Siegel. We had seen each other at the final call back. I think I felt more at ease when I saw these guys because I knew we were all in it together. I then met Rich Graff and Ian Bell, Lucky Luciano and Myer Lansky, as well as Evan Boymel who plays Lepke. The six of us all hit it off instantly. Some of the greatest guys I ever met. It took the edge right off and we were all raring to go.
The NCS: Already being a Mafia buff, what kind of research did you have to put into the role of Vito Genovese?
Craig Rivela: I read up on Vito as much as I could. I researched some articles on line and also read a few books where he was mentioned. There seems to be so much material on Charlie, Myer, and Benny Siegel. Vito However, definitely not as much.
From what I read, he was a tough guy, short and stocky, like myself. I really went after that physical appearance. I also incorporated some of the physical characteristics and attitude of some of the guys that were involved in the life from my neighborhood.
I guess it was a mixture of all these things and what was giving to me in the script. I did have the pleasure of meeting Vito’s grandson, Phil. Unfortunately that was after everything was done.
The NCS: What do you most enjoy about portraying the Genovese Crime Boss? Is there a certain characteristic that sticks out to you?
Craig Rivela: I enjoyed his toughness. He sticks out from the other guys. Vito looks like a guy you don’t want to mess with. He could threaten you with his eyes. That’s how I tried to play him. I didn’t have to raise my voice; I used my eyes to convey my message.
I got that a lot on set from the rest of the cast, crew, producers, and network people. I feel I was very authentic.
The first day we met the people from AMC they told me that I scared the shit out of them in my audition tapes and now seeing me in person I was even scarier, hahaha. The other guys seemed more sophisticated, handsome, and smart. Vito, he was homely, rough & tough, a Gangster’s Gangster.
The NCS: You work alongside some great actors in MoTM, Anthony DiCarlo, Rich Graff, and Ian Bell to name but a few. Who would be your favorite ever actor to appear alongside in a mob movie or docudrama?
Craig Rivela: I would have said James Gandolfini. He was Brilliant. I was an extra on the Sopranos years ago. I got to watch him work. It was a scene in the clubhouse of a country club golf course. Tony was having a panic attack. I stood two feet from him. In between takes he spoke with me. I was amazed how he would drop the accent. What did I know! I thought he would sound just like Tony Soprano. Ill never forget that day. May he rest in peace.
The NCS: Starting in 1905 the Making of the Mob spans some 50 decades during the 8 shows, If you could go back and live during any period in the 20th century, which decade would you chose and why?
Craig Rivela: I guess I would say the late 1940s, after World War II. There was an economic boom and the country was really starting to prosper. I consider myself an old soul and don’t really fit in in today’s society. I appreciate the simple things in life and family is everything to me. People in that generation were proud to be Americans. They loved their country and worked their fingers to the bone to provide for there families.
Things are just different these days people don’t appreciate things as much as they use to. Technology is great we all benefit from it. I say this as I type on my beautiful mac desktop.
That being said I do miss the days when we actually talked to each other, got outside and played sports for real instead of on a video game. Hey who knows what the future has in store for us maybe things will change and we can get back to the good old days. Wishful thinking, lol.
The NCS: What has your most successful achievement been over the years?
Craig Rivela: In my personal life it would be two things. The birth of my son, Thomas, who will celebrate his first birthday on July 1st. Happy birthday baby. Daddy loves you.
The 2nd would be overcoming a debilitating bout of anxiety and depression. I am a big advocate of mental health awareness. Anxiety and depression are diseases that can strike anyone at any time. There is always help available. To those that continue to struggle and fight the fight, God Bless you.
Professionally, Making of The Mob is by far the best achievement and experience to date.
The NCS: You class yourself as just a regular guy, what advice could you give to young inspiring actors that are looking to make a name for themselves?
Craig Rivela: Put your time in. Pay your dues. I’ve been at this for 15 years. Hard work is the only way to achieve your goals. I have over 50 short films under my belt. I didn’t get paid for 48 of them. The only way to get better is to go out there and do it. That way when you get an opportunity and get called up to the big leagues your ready. You know how to conduct yourself on a set. You know how to be professional. Too many people get caught up in the fame and money part of the business.
Very few people get a chance to do this for a living so you better stay humble. If you are not willing to grind it out don’t even bother getting started in the business.
I know this sound like harsh words, but I’ve seen so many people come and go. You have to be in it for the long haul.
The NCS: Is there anything exciting that you have planned for the future that you can share with the NCS readers?
Craig Rivela: I have a few projects I am working on with some friends, but they are in the very beginning stages. Right now, it’s back to the grind. Auditioning and looking for good representation to help me build on the success of Making Of the Mob.
The NCS: Craig, thanks for your time and good luck with your future projects.
Craig Rivela: Thanks to you guys for this interview. I wish you and all your reader’s lots of luck and success, now and in the future.
You can follow Craig on Twitter: @CraigRivela
You can also keep up with his work on IMDB: Craig Rivela on IMDB