It didn’t take long to discover that even in death, John Gotti had clout. As if by magnetic pull, interested parties started knocking on Gotti’s door. There were producers looking to start a new chapter, stars hoping for one last star turn. In a way, they needed Gotti more than Gotti needed them.
The first star to see the possibilities inherent in playing John Gotti was, perhaps not surprisingly, Sylvester Stallone. Stallone is only half-Italian, but he made his reputation playing tough guys with vowels at the ends of their names who had to fight for respect—and at this point in his career, he felt that “he wanted to be taken seriously as an actor,” explained a confidant. Stallone, still dark-haired at 66, with trademark fish-hooked lip and slurred speech, told Gotti he would direct the film himself, as he’d done with his Rambo and Rocky franchises. In fact, Stallone wanted near-total control—but he wasn’t offering much money. It was an offer that was easy for Gotti to refuse.
Gottis like loyalty and control. They lead; they don’t follow. They need lieutenants. And that is where Marc Fiore came in. On one level, Fiore made an unlikely producer for a movie about the greatest mafioso of his era. A portly former small-time Wall Street operator who’d been in jail briefly for securities fraud, he had no experience in Hollywood. His office is in Manalapan, New Jersey, 30 minutes from the Jersey shore.
But, ignorant as he may have been of the ways of the movie business, he had cultural knowledge that was even more important. Both Junior and Fiore came from close-knit Italian families—Fiore is from Bensonhurst, Gotti from Howard Beach. And Fiore was steeped in the myths and glamour of the Mafia. “Everybody in the neighborhood knew somebody who was connected,” Fiore told me. As for John Gotti Sr., he was “an icon,” said Fiore. “For a guy like myself, I’m the perfect audience.” Even his short stint behind bars helped him relate—though one member of Junior’s crew cracked that “he’d done time in a camp for taking money from old ladies.”
Fiore was understandably nervous about having a sit-down with a man named John Gotti, even though the meeting took place in the safe environs of a lawyer’s office in Long Island, near Gotti’s home. But Gotti settled him down. “I’ll tell you a story,” he said. “This will amuse you.” And then he unspooled tales of his father, pausing for effect, playing different parts, clearly relishing the performance.
Gotti remembered walking into Lewisburg prison as a 7-year-old child to visit his father, looking at a guard with a shotgun on a high wall, and jumping into his mother’s arms because he was so afraid. There was the time his father berated him after Junior told him that he planned to be a cop for Halloween. Then he told Fiore about his father on his deathbed. “He’s lying in bed in prison, 130 pounds, ravaged by cancer,” Gotti said. “My father had lost the power of speech.” A priest walked in to administer last rites, a final chance to renounce his sins. His father shook his head. When the priest didn’t understand, John Gotti made a gesture with his hand as if shooing away a fly. “He wasn’t going to turn around and say, ‘I’m so sorry for being me.’ Right or wrong. The honor that this man carried with him!”
By the time Gotti finished, Fiore was ready to deal. But there were two more questions Gotti wanted answered.
“How interested are you in accuracy?” he asked.
“I want to do what you want to do,” Fiore said.
Gotti insisted the movie be at least 70 percent factual—plus script approval.
“I’ll give that to you in writing,” said Fiore.
“And he did; we have that number in the contract,” Gotti told me. “And no one else in Hollywood would give me that.”
The other question was: How much? And to that, Fiore’s answer was more than satisfactory—he would pay Junior a seven-figure fee—more than twice what Stallone had been willing to put up.
For Fiore, it was worth the price. With the Gotti property, he felt he had his “chess piece in Hollywood.” As he later said to Gotti, using language that the elder John Gotti might have approved of, “We’re going to take over fucking Hollywood.”
This turned out not to be quite so easy. With the help of his Hollywood muscle—that would be Stuttering John, Howard Stern’s sidekick, whom Fiore had once helped to produce a straight-to-DVD movie, his only credit—he managed to wangle a few meetings. “They were favors, and you could tell,” said Fiore. “As soon as you’re sitting down, you’re getting up.”