Jennifer Esposito: 'Fresh Kills' a rare mob drama that focuses on wives, daughters

"I did grow up around women like this and I thought there was a lot more to be said," Esposito told UPI.

Left to right, Annabella Sciorra, Odessa A’zion, Jennifer Esposito and Emily Bader star in "Fresh Kills." Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution
1 of 4 | Left to right, Annabella Sciorra, Odessa A’zion, Jennifer Esposito and Emily Bader star in "Fresh Kills." Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution

NEW YORK, June 12 (UPI) -- Jennifer Esposito says her new drama film, Fresh Kills, is intended to authentically portray the lives of New York City mobsters' wives and daughters.

"It was time," Esposito, 51, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.


"It's such a male-dominated genre. Not only in front of the camera, but also in back. I'm the first female to ever step her foot into this genre. I can't say I think people were very happy about it, but that's OK. Oh, well," the Blue Bloods, Crash and Spin City actress said.

"I did grow up around women like this and I thought there was a lot more to be said."

Set in 1990s Staten Island near the titular landfill, the fictional film follows the Italian American LaRusso family -- Mafia kingpin Joe (Domenick Lombardozzi); his wife, Francine (Esposito); their daughters, Rose (Emily Bader) and Connie (Odessa A'zion); and Francine's sister, Christine (Annabella Sciorra).


In addition to playing a pivotal role, Esposito also wrote and directed the movie, which opens in select theaters Friday.

Esposito wanted her film to depict women seeking independence in a culture in which their husbands and fathers show them affection, but tell them what to do, where to go and with whom to spend time.

"Really, what I'm talking about is finding a voice in a world that tells you not to have one," she said. "It was something that I needed to talk about -- for me."

Although directing the film was her top priority, Esposito also plays the lead on screen.

The filmmaker said she had so much to do, she almost forgets she is actually in the movie until people compliment her on her performance.

"It seems so far away, looking at this big picture for so many years," Esposito said with a laugh.

"She's just a character. She's just Francine. I needed to get it out and that was it. I'm grateful. I can see that whoever did it, did a good job. But I don't feel like it's me. It's very strange."

Francine's relationships with her sister and daughter form the emotional core of the film.


"It's so complicated. With Annabella, who is a brilliant actress, they both wanted more, but there were no tools," Esposito said of sisters Francine and Christine.

"They have no education. Where are they going? They have no tools. So, to be able to tell their daughters to 'do better,' what does that even mean? There's also a fear because who they are supposed to be is drilled into their heads."

Esposito based Francine on someone she knew in real life. She describes the woman's maternal style as nurturing, but with a dash of resentment.

"She loves her daughters very much, but she can be your worst enemy and your best friend in the same sentence," the filmmaker said.

"It's one of those things where: 'I want you to do better. I can't give you the tools to do that, but don't do too much more than me because then what does that say about me?

"And why wasn't I given that opportunity?' There's a -- I don't want to say 'jealousy' -- but a 'Why not me?' There's something else there."

Although Esposito's co-stars have previous experience in iconic mob dramas -- Sciorra in The Sopranos and Lombardozzi in Tulsa King and A Bronx Tale -- the writer-director wanted to give them completely different material to explore in Fresh Kills.


"When I spoke to Dom about this, he was like, 'This is not going to be a stereotypical goombah, right?' And I said, 'Trust me, Dom, I don't want that. You're not Mafia. You're Dad. That's it. You are the father. What you do for a living is what you do for a living,'" she recalled telling the actor.

"You understand why Rose loves her father. The girls I grew up around, they loved their fathers," Esposito added. "It doesn't matter what he's doing when he leaves, and that's where the problem lies."

Esposito is a lifelong fan of Sciorra's and said she knew she'd bring a gravitas to this project, too.

"They are just brilliant actors," she said of Sciorra and Lombardozzi.

"Annabella brings a groundedness to any scene that she is in. She brings this all-knowing matriarchal kind of quiet softness that I think is needed. I was really lucky to have the cast I did."

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