‘Vinyl’ Gets Bobby Cannavale, Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger Ready to Rock
Sometimes, becoming an overnight sensation can take ages. Just ask Bobby Cannavale. Over the past couple of decades, the 45-year-old actor has been quietly racking up a list of TV and movie credits as diverse as it is long. (Know anyone else who’s hit the delightfully peculiar trifecta of Ally McBeal, The Station Agent and Snakes on a Plane?) Along the way, he’s earned plenty of accolades—including Emmys for his turns on Will & Grace and Boardwalk Empire—and industry cred, all while managing to be the kind of celebrity who could still pump his own gas without inciting a paparazzi feeding frenzy. (And that’s despite the fact that he’s in a long-term relationship—and expecting a child—with Bridesmaids and Spy scene-stealer Rose Byrne.)
But now, as he steps into the lead role on Vinyl, HBO’s highly anticipated new series from executive producers Martin Scorsese, Terence Winter and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger, Cannavale’s stint under the radar could be over at long last. He plays Richie Finestra, a volatile, drug-addicted record label owner in New York City during the early 1970s who’s on the brink of personal and professional ruin. “Richie is a really complicated character, but it’s impossible not to like Bobby. He’s so charming and compelling, you’re rooting for this guy in a big way,” says Winter, who also worked with him and Scorsese on Boardwalk. “Marty and I laugh because it didn’t occur to us right away to cast him. We knew that we needed a charismatic, handsome, Italian New Yorker who was around 40. Then we were like, ‘Oh, it’s Bobby! He’s right in front of us.’ It was so obvious.”
Here, Cannavale shares what it’s like to enter the world of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll—and finally be first on the call sheet.
When we meet Richie in the pilot, directed by Scorsese, he’s snorting cocaine in his car. Both his record company and his marriage to wife Devon (Olivia Wilde) are in jeopardy. What went wrong?
He lost his passion. He’d been clean and sober for a few years and he moved to Connecticut to live this domesticated life. But he took his eye off the prize, and complacency set in. We’ll see him fall off the wagon and have a real crisis of conscience.
Only one way to go from there, right?
I think he’s a guy who wrecks himself—literally and metaphorically—in an attempt to rebuild. Richie’s journey will be the struggle to find his passion again without killing himself in the process. That’s a pretty good jumping-off point!
How will the people in Richie’s orbit react to his sudden change of tune?
He’s very much in love with his wife, but it’s a tremendous obstacle to their relationship that he’s not sober anymore. And his business partners, especially Ray Romano’s character [Zak Yankovich], are like the witches in Macbeth, trying to claw at him and bring him down. The stakes get higher and higher throughout the season.
Have you injected much of your own personality into the role as you play Richie?
Any part I do, I gotta bring some of myself into—I just work that way. I was on set filming this for six months, 15 hours a day, and I’m in almost every scene, so I had to keep the lines of communication open and give my input. If I wasn’t sure about why something happens here, or there’s a beat there, I’d ask Terence or the writers. By nature, having a role this big makes you feel good—and you need to be given the right amount of tools to go in and pull it off.
You’ve shared the screen before with your 20-year-old son, Jake Cannavale [in Nurse Jackie], and with your girlfriend, Rose Byrne [in Adult Beginners, Annie and Spy]. Are there any plans at this point to bring them on the show?
Not this season, but I’m sure anything could happen. Jake did work on the pilot as a PA when he was home from his freshman year of college. Working with Marty is not a small job—he was doing 80 hours a week!
Manhattan is depicted as a dirty and dangerous hellscape. Do you remember when it was like that?
I grew up across the river in Hoboken, and some of my most vivid memories are of visiting the city in the late ’70s when I was a kid. It was a no-man’s land—like a war zone. To my eye, with Marty Scorsese in charge of the whole thing, it looks absolutely accurate.
This project has been in development for years. What was it like having so much lead time?
I was still working on Boardwalk when I was asked to read the script. I’ve never been attached to something so far in advance before shooting, but it’s been a godsend. I learned how to play the guitar from Lenny Kravitz. I sat down with former label heads. I’ve had talks with Mick Jagger—he invited me to see the Stones and go backstage. I must have listened to nothing but music from that era for the last three years. Do you know what it’s like to go through the entire catalog of Yes and Jethro Tull? Not fun. But I learned a lot.
Does hanging out with Mick Jagger ever get old?
I’d forget about it when I was in the moment. It would’ve been a waste of time if I was sitting there gaga, asking questions. It was only after that I’d think, “I cannot believe what just happened.” One night I was in a cab with my lady on the way home and I pinched myself, like, “Did we just go to Mick Jagger’s private birthday dinner?” [Laughs]
Marty’s amazing. We rehearsed for months before we started shooting, and he never said, “I want to do this so you can get comfortable with me.” But that’s exactly what it did. He put me in his pocket, so I could truly go to him with anything.
Are you feeling the pressure of carrying such a high-profile production?
It feels great. Twenty years ago, I would’ve gotten overwhelmed by this weight on my shoulders. But I’ve been acting for a long time, and I’ve been in every trench. I’ve gone from doing plays for no money in little theaters to being audition leader to being an understudy to saying two lines to get my SAG card, then becoming a guest star, then getting recurring roles. I’m well-prepared, I’ve worked really hard, and it’s all led to this.
Vinyl, Series premiere, Sunday, Feb. 14, 9/8c, HBO