Victoria Gotti sees Lifetime film on her life as family drama
Victoria Gotti isn’t living in some fantasy world where she’s not the daughter of mob boss John Gotti. That’s a demon she’s had to deal with her entire life.
One way she’s dealt with her past is to focus on the father she knew away from the headlines: a man who had to cope with the tragic death of his young son, the overly protective father when it came to her dating, the dad who made her promise if she ever wrote about him that she would not make him look like an altar boy. Gotti used those elements in writing the screenplay for “Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter,” which debuts at 8 p.m. Saturday on Lifetime.
Several attempts were made over the years to make the story, but Gotti was never happy with any of the scripts. The solution came when it was finally suggested that since she had established herself as a writer — including as a columnist for the New York Post —there would be no one better to write it than her.
Her familiarity with the story was both a blessing and a curse.
“I feel like it was meant for me to write it,” Gotti says. “But, when I started writing about things in my life, I would have to walk away from that screenplay sometimes for two days and not touch it because I was that upset. But, that’s what life is and that’s what we have to do. And, if that’s what it takes to face things, then we face them.”
The script tells her story from a young girl to married woman and the influence and impact her father had on her life. She stresses that anyone looking for “Goodfellas” will be disappointed because this is more of a family drama.
Once Gotti had the right story to tell, the next issue was to find the right actors. Gotti’s main concern was finding the performer to play her father. The solution came through veteran daytime actor Maurice Benard.
Benard’s key to playing Gotti was not to mimic past performers who focused on the organized crime. Benard went in with the plan to play John Gotti the man more than John Gotti the mobster.
“I read the script and I saw that I needed to find something in him the audience would love or like about him,” Benard says. “I needed to find something I could connect with. I connected with his loyalty. I connected with his love of family because I have four kids that I love to death. I could connect with his intensity because that was something I was born with.
“By talking with Victoria and seeing how sweet she is, I knew what John Gotti felt.”
Gotti decided it was too strange to be looking for actors to play her and stayed out of the audition process that put Chelsea Frei in the role. Frei’s work before the Lifetime film was playing fictional characters in TV series such as “Toymakers” and “Sideswiped.” Playing a role based on a real person — especially one who wrote the script — was a different experience.
“What was very helpful was having her there,” Frei says. “The story of her life is incredible with what she has been through. Up until meeting her, I was taking it in from an outsider’s perspective. Once I got to meet her it really put the weight on my shoulders.
“I realized this is a person I am standing in front of who has been through all of this. I need to give my most authentic performance and handle her life and story with the care I would hope my life would be.”
“My Father’s Daughter” is just the latest project to show a side of Victoria Gotti. She has done everything from writing her 2009 memoir “This Family of Mine: What It Was Like Growing Up Gotti” to the reality TV show “Growing Up Gotti.” She is certain the cable movie comes the closest to showing who she really is.
“I got to a point where I couldn’t listen to the stories on television or keep reading all these lies and their misconceptions. It was their versions of the truth,” Gotti says. “After a while I said ‘Do you want that to be your legacy?’ I didn’t care but I knew my children would have to live with it.
“I felt it was the time to correct it.”
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