Jordana Spiro & Josh Berman On The Unique Appeal Of The Mob Doctor’s Dark and Dangerous World
‘I believe in not holding anything back,’ The Mob Doctor co-creator Josh Berman told Screen Spy this week. “Let the stories tell what they want to tell.”
Berman’s comments came during a press conference on FOX’s new medical drama, The Mob Doctor, airing Monday September 17th. “I know that there are different ways of approaching TV,” he said. “I think the viewers deserve everything.”
Kicking off with a premiere episode that feels more like a season finale in terms of stakes and twists, I asked Berman the inevitable question “Where to from here?”
“I love that you saw the pilot as a season finale,” he said. “I see it as a starting off place. All the exciting incidents land in the pilot so we know where the characters are going to be going. I have never worked on a show, and this includes my history on CSI and Bones, and even Drop Dead Diva, where we have so many stories to pick from that it’s an embarrassment of riches. We’ve already arced out our first season. We know where we want Grace’s character to go. We get deeper with William Forsythe’s character. Even by episode two, we’ve activated Jesse Lee Soffer’s character who plays Nate, Grace’s brother, in an unexpected way. There are twists and turns and moves to this show that are all organic and the seeds are specifically planted in the pilot. I’m thrilled that you’ve enjoyed the pilot so much, and I can only tell you that it gets better from there!”
Also in attendance was Mob Doc. star Jordana Spiro who plays Doctor Grace Devlin, a woman caught between her promising medical career as a surgeon and her debt to the south Chicago Mob. Spiro spoke about what it has been like filming in Chicago, describing the experience as invaluable.
“It’s an incredible thing that happens when you’re shooting in the place that the story takes place in,” said The Mob Doctor star. “Not just visually for what that adds. Obviously, it’s invaluable to what it adds to the picture of what you’re shooting. Also, when the entire crew is from where you’re shooting, the conversations you get to have on set just doing what you’re doing, going about your day; inform and ground what you’re doing as your character so much more than I anticipated.”
“I think there’s two reasons for me,” added Berman, revealing the reasoning behind his choice of Chicago for The Mob Doctor’s setting. “It was a personal reason and a professional reason. Professionally, when you’re on a network show, and you have a studio that says you can shoot anywhere you want, and you’re writing a show about the mob; there’s no better city than Chicago. Since the post-9/11 resources have gone away from organized crime and into fighting terrorism, and there’s a whole new face on the mob and being able to place it in Chicago with such historical roots made the most sense.
“Personally, it’s a real pleasure because my family comes from Chicago. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, and she ended up in Chicago, as well as five of her cousins – the only people that survived. For them – my family – Chicago represented the American Dream. So, it’s a real great return for me.”
Some critics have described Spiro’s Grace Devlin as one of the most unique characters on TV this fall. Spiro described to assembled journalists what it is that appeals to her personally about this character, and unsurprisingly the notion of crossing lines was a major factor.
“Two things that really stood out to me are the fact that she is a surgeon, and with that there’s this inherent quality of wanting to fix things in a very direct, hands-on way,” said Spiro. “She wants to cut something open and fix it, and there’s a Godliness to that. Surgeons cross a line that isn’t just physical, it’s psychological and spiritual.
“I thought there was something interesting that was going on with her choice of doing that, and this sort of inability to control her environment when she was growing up. She was the daughter of an alcoholic who abused her mother, and she had to really claw her way out of her background to get to where she’s getting to. I thought that there was such a fieriness to her and such gumption to her that was just really compelling.
“Then when I read the pilot script and I read the scenes with Constantine, her debtor, I thought they were so fascinating because it could have been so easy for Josh to have made that relationship purely antagonistic, but it’s so oddly serene and paternal. I just got very excited to unpack that—that this isn’t just some financial debt that’s at the surface; it’s where she’s from, it’s in her DNA, this world that she’s trying to get away from and also being pulled to at the same time. Those two things really were pulled into the foreground for me when I read the script.
“Ultimately, the overarching heartbeat of the show to me, which was so exciting and compelling, was that this woman is making choices that are very morally conflicted and yet at the beginning it’s to save her family. So, this question becomes how far do you go? Where is that line that you absolutely won’t cross? What happens when that line keeps edging further and further away from you? Is there a breaking point where you say, if I can’t beat them, I’ll join them?”
I asked Spiro if Grace was going to be tempted to test her ‘serene’ relationship with dangerous mob boss Constantine Alexander (William Forsythe) at any point this season.
“In speaking about the complexity of their relationships and the people that Josh has created, one of the things I love about Grace is that all of this stuff just didn’t fall into her lap out of nowhere,” explained Spiro, revealing another layer to Grace’s past. “These affiliations were part of her family from before she was born. You know her father was involved, but involved in a way that I find really moving. He was this sort of small-time gangster, like a ‘want-to-be crook,’ and I found that to be very moving. He had always strived to be more of a power player in this crime syndicate and never was clever enough or strong enough or brave enough.
“So, these kinds of people are known to her, so I don’t think she’s unaware of Constantine’s potential or ability to play in a world that is very dark and dangerous. In fact, that very aspect of him is what’s oddly compelling to her about him.”
As to why The Mob Doctor? Berman told Press that the concept initially came from his friendship with Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who played Meadow Soprano in The Sopranos. “She guest starred on Drop Dead Diva,” explained Berman. “When she came onto the show on Diva, we began thinking what would’ve happened if Meadow Soprano had gone onto medical school and had become a doctor, what would that look like?
“Then my co-creator Rob Wright and I started talking about is there such a thing as a mob doctor? We were shocked by the amount of literature, nonfiction, written about mob doctors. We even came across a book called Il Dottore, the double life of a Mafia doctor, written by Ron Felber; which is the true life accounts of a mob doctor in the 1970s in New York. Sony optioned the rights for us of that book.
“That book was really inspirational. While we developed a very different character than the central character of that nonfiction novel, it was inspirational for us to see this is something real. This is something that exists. It is the underbelly of organized crime, have there medical fixers, so to speak. When we found out that this actually did exist, it became even more compelling. That’s the point we decided, we have to write this. I think FOX responded immediately. FOX was the only network we pitched to. They bought it in the room and have been excited about the project from the beginning.”
The Mob Doctor Premieres Monday September 17th at 9/8c on FOX, following the Bones season eight premiere.