One of the standout scenes in the new indie “The Wannabe” finds its mafia-infatuated antihero, Thomas, spotting Eric Roberts in a bar. Thomas is a big fan of Roberts’ work in the 1984 crime classic “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” so he approaches the actor, all the while calling him by his character’s name.
That’s happened to Vincent Piazza, who plays Thomas. “Some people when they meet me, they speak to me, but mostly in terms of the plot of the show I’m on,” Piazza tells us. “They say, ‘What’s gonna happen with Charlie?’ They’re very serious.” When Piazza was on “Boardwalk Empire,” he says people would be shocked to discover he's polite and friendly, i.e., nothing like his character, Lucky Luciano. “There was always a moment of, ‘You’re him?’ What did you expect, that I’d walk in with that archaic accent?”
At least with “The Wannabe” Piazza has some connection to the material. It tells the story of Thomas and Rosemarie Uva, a Queens couple who in 1992 started sticking up mafia society halls, robbing unsuspecting members of whatever dough was on them. They were called a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde — or, as per the Daily News, “Bonnie and Clod.” Eventually they were whacked.
A native of Maspeth, Queens, Piazza was around when the Uvas were knocking about. But “The Wannabe” — which stars Patricia Arquette as Rosemarie — doesn’t stick to the letter of the story, and Piazza says their tale was more an entryway into looking back at that period of time in New York, when the John Gotti trial had become a media circus and the old kind of New York mob was fading away.
It also explores pop culture’s obsession with the mafia, through movies and iconography. Thomas is introduced sitting in on the Gotti trial, staring at him like he was a James Cagney, who is seen on his television set, in 1939’s “The Roaring Twenties,” early on.
“At what point do the lines blur? Are modern mobsters acting like the movies?” Piazza asks. “Here’s a kid who’s taking cues from both sides: how to dress like this mobster, how to act from this guy on TV. There’s a weird soup he was a part of.”