|WHERE TO LOOK
Luckily for you, undercover FBI agent Jack Garcia made a point of researching his assignments extensively, so he knows just where to look.
“I’m a big believer of Jerry Capeci,” Jack starts with. “He has a Web site called Gang Land News. He’s written some great books about the mob. Very knowledgeable.”
After that, Jack checked out Real Deal Forum, a forum that covers everything from the European Mafia to biker gangs.
He’s also a fan of Rick Porrello’s American Mafia, another great resource for forums and chat rooms
Finally, Jack explains that the devil is in the details. In researching his role, he watched The Food Network extensively so he could know the difference between his manicotti and his ricotta. “Learn the traditions,” he insists. “What’s the pecking order? How does one comport himself? If Greg DePalma said to me, ‘Come over, it’s raining’ and I looked outside and there’s not a cloud in the sky, when I got there, I better have an umbrella because you know why it’s raining? Because Greg DePalma says it’s raining. And if Greg DePalma says you’re no good, you’re no good.”
Written by Denis Faye
When undercover FBI agent Joaquin “Jack” Garcia sold the rights to his memoir Making Jack Falcone to Paramount, a meeting was set up between him and Steven Soderbergh. Leery of such Hollywood royalty, Jack prepared himself for the likes of Jack Woltz, the crass, arrogant Hollywood producer from The Godfather who ultimately ends up waking up next to his prize racehorse’s severed head.
But Soderbergh caught the former Mafia infiltrator off guard. “He was the nicest guy on earth,” opines Jack in his tough-guy, New York accent, “He listens; he’s helpful, attentive. The guy is golden, like talking to a regular guy. My whole vision of Hollywood went out the window.”
Of course, Jack has a good excuse to expect the worst from people given he’s spent serious face time with some of America’s most notorious bad guys. Making Jack Falcone is the true story of how this Cuban-born American transformed himself into an Italian jewel thief and spent two and half years infiltrating the Gambino crime family so deeply that La Costa Nostra actually invited him to become a “made man.”
So while Jack Garcia may be a little naïve about the inner machinations of Hollywood, he knows organized crime. He was happy to educate Technically Speaking about what the silver screen gets right and wrong when it comes to the mafia and why Tony Soprano can play around with his son all he wants, but he’s still a scumbag.
What does Hollywood get right about the Mafia?
The good movies are pretty much 90 percent accurate. They get it right as far as their propensity for violence. They get it right as far as it is this secret society or fraternal order and that they believe this stuff. It’s true. The mobsters out there believe that they are superior, that they are an elite group, and they are a criminal organization deserving of conducting illegal activity. They’re very opposed to the U.S. government and law enforcement because they feel that bookmaking and loan sharking, there’s nothing wrong with that.
They have this really weird philosophy and rationalization about their illegal activity. Hollywood, I think, shows that in movies. A Bronx Tale [Screenplay by Chazz Palminteri] was a very good learning movie. And, of course, The Godfather [Screenplay by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola]. But they did have some weird parts that are not believable. For instance, Hagen [played by Robert Duvall], the adopted son, being the consigliore of a family. That doesn’t happen, period. You gotta be Italian, period. That’s just the rules, but the character he played was very good. Why they mixed an Irish guy into it is beyond me. I guess Mario Puzo, that’s what he wanted.
What else does Hollywood get wrong?
The only thing I see that’s phony is that they make them into these likable characters and romanticize them. Like in The Sopranos [Created by David Chase], how Tony’s concerned about his daughter and his son. When these guys take their oath over omertà, they’re taking an oath that their old family no longer counts. It’s their new family, the Gambinos, the Luccheses, the Geneveses, whatever, that becomes their family. If somebody’s child was dying and you’re called in by the boss, you better go there. When I see Tony Soprano roughing around with his kid and being nice – I’m sure some of these guys do that, they have a soft spot – but in reality, they could care less. You know what I mean? They’re criminals; they’re psychopaths, and they’re gonna want to go out there all hours of the day and night just to make money for themselves and enjoy themselves.
So you never met a mobster who seemed conflicted?
You know, I guess when I saw them, I saw how evil they were. The classic textbook is the guy I was with, Greg DePalma. He was a capo in the Gambino crime family. His son Craig was a made soldier in the family. Now, Craig was cooperating [with the authorities] and his father supposedly found out about his cooperation and reamed him out. So what happens is, the next day, Craig DePalma was found [comatose] hanging in his cell. So his father arranged for him to get a compassionate release, and he was placed in the Jewish nursing home in New Rochelle, New York, where we would go and have our meetings. Now, I would see Greg with him, and I would wonder over and over again, is he looking at his natural son or is he just looking after one of his organized crime family members? Why would you, in heaven’s name, bring your son into that life? Either you’re going to wind up dead, or you’re going to spend a long time in jail. That’s not a good father! You want your kid to become a [law-abiding] citizen.
So the unfortunate part is that Hollywood romanticizes them and doesn’t portray them for the sociopaths that they are. They should make these guys cool characters because that’s where the mafia’s good. You got these guys wearing the Brioni suits, driving the fancy cars, hanging out at the strip clubs, they got goomattas [mistresses], they go to the best restaurants in town. Who doesn’t want to follow in those footsteps? But I’d prefer Hollywood portray them on the dark side. Build up the good guys, the police, the firemen who risk their lives, the FBI agent who spends hours analyzing records and arresting people to make this world a safer place. Unfortunately, good doesn’t sell. Conflict does. Bad guys do.
You sound as though these guys are too three-dimensional in the movies, yet in reality, they’re more two-dimensional.
Yes, right. Think about every mob movie, the way they are. People love what that Mafia represents, but show the other side more, the killing. Think about this. They kill their own kind. If you do something wrong, you are killed. And who kills the guy? The guy who’s closest to the guy who’s going to get whacked, because that’s the guy who’s going to set him up. That’s the life of the mob. Where’s the loyalty? I love you like a brother but now I gotta kill ya? Why is that romanticized?
Sure, there were mob guys I was with who were hilarious. They’d tell stories and I’d laugh. It sounds sick, but sometimes I’d even enjoy the company. But never once did I forget that these guys that I am laughing with could easily stick an ice pick in my eye.
I saw a little bit of that in Goodfellas [Screenplay by Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese] with Joe Pesci when he said, “How do I amuse you? Do I make you laugh? Am I a clown?” That tone and the hush around the table, that’s what these guys are like.
Anything else they get wrong?
There are some Hollywood movies that are horrible. As an undercover agent, I try to learn. I try to be like a sponge and absorb all these things. Same with mobster movies. I watch them, I want to know what’s going on, and I critique it. And I sit there and sometimes you say to yourself, this is ridiculous.
What’s weird is that the directors and producers research these by contacting real, live gangsters – the way they walk and talk and do things. And they probably spend tremendous money because I’ll tell ya, there’s no gangster who’s going to do that without his palm being greased. That just ain’t going to happen. But they don’t contact the law enforcement guys.
For example, with The Sopranos, there’s a scene where the two wives are talking for about two or three minutes and they switch the phone, give it to their husbands who say, “Meet me in such-a-such bar at three.” They explain that the FBI is monitoring it, and the conversations are only monitored for a certain amount of time before you have to stop recording. That’s so ridiculous because how do the mobsters know the timing? When I’ve listened to wiretaps in my day, you get your court order, you put the tap on the phone and once the conversation starts to wander into something that’s not pertinent, you turn it off – but then you spot check it. Well, my decision as to when to spot-check may vary from yours. It could be 10 seconds. So anyone who knows law enforcement would say, “Hey, that’s a stupid scene. Why would you do that?”
They get everything else right about The Sopranos, why are you getting this wrong?
I would imagine if you’re getting your information about gangsters from gangsters, they aren’t going to make themselves look like creeps.
It’s askew. It leans towards them. Here’s another one. The place in The Sopranos where Tony hangs out with the gangsters, Satriale’s Pork Store: Do you think anybody in law enforcement with half a brain would eat at the same place that the gangsters are at? So they could spit in my food? You think that any respectable law enforcement office is going to go to a mob joint and eat a veal parmesan? Number one, you don’t know what they’re going to do to your food and number two, why am I giving my hard-earned dollars to one of these gangsters?
In Hollywood, they make it seem like “Hey, Tony, how ya doin’?” Yeah, well, if they were drinkin’ coffee, I’m sure they’re pissing in it too. Trust me, I was with these guys. I walked the walk and talked the talk. They hate the cops. They hate the FBI.
What advice do you have for writers embarking on a Mafia script?
I’m working on a script for Making Jack Falcone and I was teamed up with a very, very good writer by the name of Peter Buchman [Che, Jurassic Park III]. Peter is a great, great writer. It’s just like a great undercover agent or a great detective, you research. You have to balance both sides. You can’t say I’m just going to concentrate on the mob character. You need the yin and yang. Focus as much on the law enforcement character.
Whenever I take on an undercover role, I research the role so I don’t make a mistake. And Peter, I’m sure he hasn’t been around gangsters, but he researched it. When I talk to him, he understands it. He’s done that research. I don’t have to spoon-feed him. He knows when you’re talking about a capo. He knows when you’re talking about the underboss.
There’s so much research out there, so take advantage of it.