Gotti was big news in the ‘90s, and just last year became big news again when John Travolta played him in a movie. The Lifetime movie Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter is told from Victoria Gotti’s perspective, and Victoria Gotti is interviewed in the film so you can be sure it’s her perspective.
Chelsea Frei (Toymakers) plays Victoria in the dramatization of her life, and Maurice Benard (General Hospital) plays the legendary John Gotti. Benard and Frie spoke with Showbiz Junkies in L.A. about playing the Gottis. Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter premieres Saturday, February 9, 2019 at 8pm ET/PT on Lifetime.
Who had the more intimidating job, playing Victoria or playing her father with Victoria overseeing it?
Chelsea Frei: “That’s so funny because we were just saying, I feel like we had such different reasons to be so intimidated, right? I was playing Victoria who is there in real life and wanting to do her justice but at the same time…”
Maurice Benard: “Well, I said, her pressure was that. It’s like if I had John Gotti and I’m doing him, it would be. My pressure was I didn’t have any material. He’s not on video. I heard why but that’s whatever. There’s only two things you can get and I listened to one over and over just to get his essence. So both a lot of pressure in a different way.”
Chelsea Frei: “Yeah, definitely. I was very nervous to meet Victoria just because it’s the same as all of us. We’ve heard so much about this family. I grew up on the East Coast. Everybody knows about the Gottis. I have to say though, meeting her really helped and informed my performance I hope in a very positive way because it deepened my understanding of her. She is such a kind soul and just loves her family and just wants to tell this story in the most authentic way possible. I just wanted to help do that in the way that I could best do it.”
How did you prepare for the auditions?
Maurice Benard: “I got a call on a Saturday I got the role. Cool, gotta age 20-60. I’m 55. Gotta do the Bronx accent. ‘By the way, you’ve got 48 hours to get on a plane.’ I’d like to have time so then when you get to the set you can play. I get to the set and it’s a crash course in getting it all. Every day is on the set. Sometimes you feel like you suck. Sometimes you feel like you’re kinda getting it. It was that kinda thing.
I think in the end for me it made it work. I don’t think John Gotti is casual inside. He’s not even. His life was always boom boom boom boom boom. He appeared to be cool, which is good. So if I had played it kind of slick, it wouldn’t have been as (authentic).”
Chelsea Frei: “So, I auditioned several times. I don’t think I totally come off as an Italian young woman so I ended up staining my hair really dark brown, trying to make it super thick-looking, even though I have like four hairs on my head. I tried to really just toughen up the way I talked and also, at the same time, with this innocence that she had growing up because she didn’t know what was happening.
It’s probably one of the craziest transformations I’ve ever done for an audition, and just watched Growing up Gotti, binged it beforehand, and watched YouTube clips of her. When I got it, I was like yes! I was so happy. It sucks to work so hard for an audition and not get it, which is what happens 90% of the time. So you never want to put way too much effort in and I was like how much more effort can you do?”
You have to if you want to get it.
Chelsea Frei: “Yes, yes, but I think it’s also helpful to sometimes let go.”
Maurice Benard: “Sometimes when you don’t care, you get it.”
Chelsea Frei: “That’s always how I feel it is. So, this was different in how I prep for a role. But yeah, it was very different. When I found out I got it, I was so excited. I was so happy.”
How much more elaborate was the transformation when you had the professional hair and makeup team do it?
Chelsea Frei: “I landed in Vancouver and one hour later, my hair was bleach blonde.”
You were blonde first?
Chelsea Frei: “Yeah, so all the brunette looks are wigs. It just made more sense because of timing and a lot of things that I would bleach my hair. So yeah, I bleached my hair right when I got there and Facetimed my family and they were like, ‘What are you doing?'”
Maurice Benard: “The wardrobe is phenomenal in this movie.”
Chelsea Frei: “The wardrobe is amazing. I think it helped so much also because we were moving so fast and being able to get into a costume and be like okay, we’re in the ‘80s right now. Or, we’re in the ‘70s right now. Knowing that based on your costume, it really helps you get into the mode and the decade. It was very helpful. I’ve never done a period piece like that but it’s crazy how much costume and hair and makeup just really affect you.”
Were you aware of the other Gotti movie that came out last summer?
Chelsea Frei: “Yes, I was aware of it.”
Did you feel like you were getting the chance to tell the true Gotti story endorsed by Victoria?
Chelsea Frei: “I’m so bad, I haven’t watched it. When I found out I was auditioning for this, I really didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want it to inform what our work was going to be. I didn’t totally want that to inform my work. I should see it now. I want to see it now. I do feel like telling her story though is totally different. Instead of him and the brand and what it is, it’s what was happening underneath with the family and everything, so it’s just a very different side.”
Maurice, were you filming this while doing General Hospital?
Maurice Benard: “Yeah, well, yeah. I didn’t fly back and forth, but I think I was supposed to be done in two weeks but then it was three weeks, so I had to get back and do 18,000 shows in three days.”
Your General Hospital work backed up on you?
Chelsea Frei: “Oh my God, I remember you telling me that. You’re like, ‘I have like 30 shows to do next week.’ I was like, ‘I’m going home to sleep for two weeks.'”
Maurice Benard: “It was a lot, a lot of shows to do in crazy time. They allow me to do other stuff so it’s great. Years ago that wouldn’t happen. Now it can happen. The thing is, if it was three weeks and known, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. So the fact that it was two weeks and then we found out it was three weeks, that’s why I was able to do it. Otherwise, my producer would’ve said, ‘No way. You can’t be gone three weeks.’ Because two weeks I was off work anyway. We were on two weeks off. Can you believe that? Those exact two weeks that started this movie, I was off General Hospital for two weeks.”
Just you were or the whole show?
Maurice Benard: “No, the whole show so it worked out.”
What were some of the most intense and challenging scenes in Victoria Gotti?
Maurice Benard: “Honestly, for me, it was all intense and challenging. Very difficult, very exhilarating. It was like being on a freight train but you can’t jump out and you don’t know what’s going to happen. It just keeps going. It’s a three week shoot. We had aging and accents and a dialect coach who I ended up loving but in the beginning wanted to take him back and just beat him down. But I ended up loving him. It was nonstop, nonstop. You couldn’t really breathe. It was like I’d go home and I couldn’t sleep, get up, I’ve gotta be there in the morning and then Chelsea’s mean to me.”
Chelsea Frei: “All the time.”
Maurice Benard: “That’s what made it harder because Chelsea was so mean to me.”
Chelsea Frei: “That was the worst part of the whole thing. I’m thinking about it now. Also I feel like one of the most challenging parts was all the costumes. I don’t even know how many costume changes I had and wig changes, but the wig is tough. It hurts your head. I had some scabs on the back of my head by the end, like from pins and stuff. So that was a very challenging part of it. I literally would just take it off at the end of the night and be like ahhhhh.”