Move over Martin Scorsese, there’s a new mobster maestro in town. In Andrea Berloff’s The Kitchen, the women trounce their male counterparts, proving unexpectedly adept at everything from running rackets to ruthlessly taking out the competition.
Casting Melissa McCarthy, Elisabeth Moss and Tiffany Haddish as formidable New York housewives who gain control of the Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood in 1978 after their husbands are sent to prison, Andrea Berloff had no doubt her ladies could one-up the men in brutal mob warfare.
Oscar-nominated for original screenplay for Straight Outta Compton, the first-time director based The Kitchen on the DC Vertigo comic book series created by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle.
As Kathy, the gun-toting boss of this fierce female trio, McCarthy was intrigued by her character, who is so unlike anyone the bubbly comedic actress has previously played.
“I’m very uninterested in myself so when I get to play someone different from me, I find that much more intriguing so I can then go into somebody else,” she says. “I don’t need to show me in a movie. Nobody cares.”
Haddish, who is likewise used to scoring laughs rather than taking lives, relished the ‘70s style. “When they put me in costume and hair and all that, I just kept seeing my grandma and my mama. ‘What would my grandma and my mama do in this situation?’ And I just ran with that. Cause they gangsta,” says the Girls Trip and Night School star.
“There was a lot of polyesters going on,” chimes in McCarthy when STACK meets the trio. “I now appreciate a natural fibre more than I ever thought I would.”
Sometimes the sets were too authentic, production crews transforming real Hell’s Kitchen streets overnight and confusing the locals.
“Hells Kitchen in the ‘70s was a very rough place,” notes McCarthy. “Often there wasn’t garbage pick-up and there was just trash and graffiti everywhere, so that’s what they made it look like.
“You’d see people going off to work in the morning and there’d be garbage everywhere and doors ripped off and you could see them thinking, ‘Oh man, I just bought an apartment here and now it’s a war zone.’”
Even the local butcher shop was redressed for the film shoot. “I was standing in there with Margo Martindale wearing a rain bonnet, and people just kept coming in like, ‘I want 72 pounds!’ after they saw the signs outside – ‘Rib eye, 32 cents.’”
Moss, best known for her roles in Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale, enjoyed working with her comedy idols, even if The Kitchen isn’t a bunch of laughs. “My favourite genre has a tone that follows the reality of life where your characters fall down and get back up again. I like doing drama. There’s nothing more fun for me than like being in the rain, crying and having a total meltdown. That’s my idea of fun.”
Berloff was already busy filming The Kitchen when she began hearing comparisons to last year’s all-female mob drama Widows. “For me, I really saw the opportunity to dig into 1978 New York and show women in a way that I think we’ve never quite seen them before,” she argues.
“This is not about revenge; this is about them taking what they want, saying what they want and getting what they want.”
In tackling such material, the director understands comparisons to Scorsese or Coppola are inevitable. “It’s hard to not see references to Goodfellas or The Godfather because those were the most preeminent mob movies ever. We’ve all seen these films, they influenced us all as storytellers, and yet I tried to make this my own, with my own voice and my own story.
“I really thought about the crucial differences; about how women would be in these roles. It’s not the same, in my opinion, as just sticking a gun in a woman’s hands and telling the same story. We need to tell an authentically female story, so I think this is different than anything those guys have taken on.”
• The Kitchen is in cinemas on August 29