Interview: Michael Imperioli, director of The Hungry Ghosts

Michael Imperioli Disc Dish had a chance to speak with Michael Imperioli (The Lovely Bones) — late of TV’s The Sopranos and Life on Mars and currently keeping the streets of urban Michigan safe in Detroit 1-8-7 — about his film 2009 The Hungry Ghosts, which is available on DVD from Virgil Films.

Written and directed by Imperioli, the movie follows 36 hours in the lives of a group of spiritually bereft New Yorkers including, among others, a hard-living New York City call-in radio show host (Steven Schirripa, Open Season 3), his high-voltage wife (Sharon Angela, TV’s The Sopranos) and a grungy downtown gabber just out of rehab (Nick Sandow, Frame of Mind). Oh, and there’s also a lot of cocaine, booze, gambling, stripping and sex.

The Hungry Ghosts is a horrible descent into the urban maelstrom for some, another typical Tuesday night for others, and a first time directorial effort for the Mt. Vernon, New York-born Mr. Imperioli.

Disc Dish: The Hungry Ghosts is tough stuff!

Michael Imperioli: It came from a dark place – a dark night of the soul. It’s about people who are searching for something good and get lost on the way. And they don’t find what they want.

DD: It’s the first film you’ve directed in a 20-year career of regular work in movies and television. How was the experience?

MI: It was a pleasure! Really, I was very fortunate. I wrote The Hungry Ghosts in the fall of 2007, I got it to my wife [who co-produced it] and to a couple of friends I’ve worked with, who financed it. We got it and the got it going in May, 2008. So it really came together fast.

DD: And the shoot went smoothly?

MI: It did. Well, okay, here’s something that was tough. There were a lot of night exteriors that we had to cover and in New York in June, there isn’t that much night. So that was a bit of a problem.

DD: The spiritual lapse that the characters are experiencing reminds me of Harvey Keitel (Thelma & Louise) in Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant.

MI: Bad Lieutenant definitely had an influence on me. I had a small part in Abel’s movie The Addiction—my girlfriend at the time [Lili Taylor] was the lead and I was around that set all the time. Bad Lieutenant really captured the sense of being lost in a dark place.

The Hungry Ghosts movie scene

Steve Schirripa gets paternal with teenage son Emory Cohen in The Hungry Ghosts.

DD: What other filmmakers have you inspired The Hungry Ghosts and other work you’d like to do?

MI: John Cassavetes is my favorite filmmaker and my favorite writer. People don’t think of him as a “writer,” but that’s where it works for me. I like the way he lets his characters expressive himself—he doesn’t’t rely on the tried and true methods of exposition. Nothing is spelled out clearly at the beginning—you learn more as the movie progresses. His whole thing is that you’re one step behind the character, not one step in front of him. Sometimes, you have to ask where’s the beginning and where’s the end. I’ve worked with Ben Gazzara (Looking for Palladin) and Seymour Cassel (Faces) and it’s been great to speak with them about their work with Cassavetes.

DD: Someone else you’ve worked with is Gary Winick (Letters to Juliet), who directed the first film I saw you in, Sweet Nothing from 1995. I was sorry to hear that he died a couple of months ago.

MI: Yes, that was very sad. Sweet Nothing was my first leading role, actually. We hadn’t seen each other a lot in the last few years, but we were friends. And we were good friends when we shot the movie. He had tried to get that one made for a while at a time when you had to shoot on film, not [high-def] video. It was a very creative, collaborative experience and Gary really encouraged me.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.