Emilio Mauro knows a thing or two about the meaner streets of Boston. Raised in Reading, the longtime Boston resident and Italian-American has long had a deep interest in the culture of the “good old boys” in the North End, their stories and bonds. Mauro, who hooked Ben Affleck to direct the yet-to-be-realized The Middle Man, a television series based on Whitey Bulger and organized crime in 1960s Boston, is the writer and producer of By the Gun, a new film about—you guessed it—an Italian-American kid in Boston trying to make his way up the ranks of a North End-based crime family. The film, which premieres in Boston on Dec. 1, stars Harvey Keitel, Ben Barnes (read our interview here!), Boston rapper/actor Slaine and Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester. We tapped Mauro for some old-school Boston know-how before the film’s release.
I think [from] my love for those kinds of movies, for that genre. I’m always kind of interested in these real twisted-type things like betrayal and honor and loyalty. I think that kind of thread runs pretty strong through the crime genre. More specifically, the Mafia genre. I think it also comes from being Italian. Because those movies aren’t just about a bunch of guys running around and shooting each other. It’s about family and friendship and those kinds of dynamics.
You’re an Italian who grew up around here. Did a lot of real people and events make inspire characters and scenes in the film? It’s more imagination than anything else. If there’s a narrative thread throughout all of these Mafia stories, and I think there is—The Godfather was about power and struggle, as far as all of the family fighting each other. They’re at war. Goodfellas was really about survival. Donnie Brasco was an informant infiltrating the mob. I wanted to look at it from the inside out. And it is a dying empire. The first Godfather started this 40-year arc. It’s not about this organization that’s flourishing; it’s actually dying. But, you know, you always hear a story here and there. I would hear them from friends in the North End.
Were you at all concerned about making sure the film differentiated itself from recent Boston-based movies of the same ilk, like The Departed and The Town? Absolutely, 100 percent. I’m a Boston guy. I love Mafia stories. Going into it, I did really kind of say, ‘Shit, what am I doing?,’ because I really didn’t want to screw this up. So the Mafia thing…. The character that Ben played, I don’t think he ever believed it. I think he maybe wanted it, but at the end, to have those rules and those guidelines and that bond that kept the Mafia so strong… It’s one thing for the Feds to come in and say, ‘Hey, listen, we’re going to make you a deal so you don’t have to go to jail.’ But to actually turn your back on it yourself? As far as The Town and The Departed and Gone Baby Gone—that’s kind of a new genre, the Boston crime genre. I think the thing that affected me was, The Departed was about Southie, Gone Baby Gone was kind of about everywhere, but I think they were in the Dorchester area and in these outskirt towns like Lynn and Everett. It was Boston, but it wasn’t specific to Boston. The Town is about Charlestown. And they were all current. It wasn’t like all these Mafia movies where Goodfellas was shot in the ’90s but was set in the ’70s. So they were all current. I kind of wanted to go into the North End and say, ‘Hey, this is what these guys are doing today, and this is this neighborhood,’ because all of these Boston crime movies never really went into the North End, and into that organization.
The Fighter Yeah. I’m in L.A. now and 100 percent those things affect… I think we look at them [these films] and are like, ‘Yeah, all right, cool, I know that guy. No big deal.’ But those movies definitely affect the people outside of Boston, how we’re portrayed, and that’s just the way it is. It’s a fine line between entertainment and reality. I guess you decide yourself which side you want to be on.
Emilio Mauro (far right) on set.
Do you think that any North End lifers are going to be pissed about the way their neighborhood is represented in the movie? You know, I don’t know. I just hope they like it and they realize that it’s a movie. Hopefully they do say, ‘All right, you know, maybe some of it’s true, and some of it’s entertaining.’ I think, at the end of the day, I tried to make a movie about family and betrayal and loyalty and honor, and I think those run in every aspect of everyone’s life. So I don’t know, I hope no one takes it too personally and too directly, because it’s not meant to be that way. I did kind of live in the area of The Town, and I don’t think people watched it to despise it—I think people genuinely like it and took it for what it was worth. I didn’t shoot a documentary, let’s put it that way.
Ben [Barnes] told me that, before and during filming, he went to a bunch of different neighborhood spots and most people were pretty welcoming… Yeah, I was with him. So during the prep—obviously you can tell how much range Ben has. I’m sure he didn’t hide his British accent. I don’t know where he got his [Boston] accent. It’s a little twang-y, a little nasal-y, but he doesn’t pronounce his R’s. We kind of hung out in the North End a lot. We went to certain spots and talked to certain people. Like I said, I’m from Boston, Slaine’s from Boston, Jay Giannone’s from Boston. You’re not too separated from certain people once you’re from Boston. I’m sure you know certain people.
It’s the smallest city in the world. Exactly. And Damien DiPaolo, who played Michael, the restaurant owner that gets beat up—Ben has words with him outside of Carmelina’s, that’s his restaurant—he’s a North End business owner. So that helps a lot. He was born and raised in the North End. We got their blessing.
How did you know Ben was going to be able to pull off his role alongside real Boston actors, considering his previous work was so different? Did you just have a hunch? No, actually he came on very late. I’m not going to name the actor, but someone else dropped out. I hope Ben said he really wanted this. He wanted it so bad. Not that he lobbied for it. I didn’t interview him; the director did, so I’m saying this kind of third-hand, but the director made that decision and said, ‘I want this guy.’ He’s like, ‘He’s a gamer, he wants to be great. He wants this career, he wants to do more.’ And that’s all I needed to know. Forget about the writing, forget about the directing, forget about the budget. All these actors gave it a billion percent, and they’re awesome in it. I think the acting’s great, because they all loved each other and they all cared—we all cared about each other. I think that says a lot about movie making. We weren’t a bunch of miserable assholes on the set, hating each other. Ben came in really late, but once he did, he jumped right into it. He said, ‘Get me to the North End, let me meet everyone.’ He was great, he was really great.