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Jennifer Esposito Talks Fresh Kills, Her Magnificent Directorial Debut


Jennifer Esposito Talks Fresh Kills, Her Magnificent Directorial Debut


Jennifer Esposito writes, directs, produces, and co-stars in Fresh Kills, a searing period drama about sisters coming of age in a Staten Island mafia family during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Esposito plays Francine Larusso, wife of a mob boss, Joe (Domenick Lombardozzi), and mother to the reserved Rose (Emily Bader) and fierce Connie (Odessa A’zion).




Esposito drew on her own experiences growing up on Staten Island, where the women in her neighborhood felt trapped “in a box” and had “no choice” about their futures. Fresh Kills is a deeply personal story told through a riveting ensemble. Esposito delivers a magnificent feature directorial debut. Please watch above or read below for our complete exclusive interview with her.


The Meaning Behind Fresh Kills

MovieWeb: As a New York guy who spent a lot of time in Staten Island, I absolutely loved your movie. We all remember how crappy the Fresh Kills landfill smelled. It pervaded for many years. Is that a symbol of what’s going on in the Larusso family? Where there’s a beautiful facade in the front, and everything is bad behind it?


Jennifer Esposito: So many people are confused about what the name means, and you kind of hit it right on the head. Because you know what that really means, Fresh Kills. I always try and explain to people what that dump really meant to so many of us growing up around it. It was like this decay, but yet we were on this island. It was a cover-up to so much of what was going on. I always say Fresh Kills was the dump, but it’s also the killing of innocence. But as you know, “kills” also means stream and a channel. It’s funny, not many people understand that. But yes, that’s what I was going for.

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A Personal Film for Jennifer Esposito

MW: You’ve had a long career. You’ve written, starred in, directed, and produced this movie. Why tell this story as a Staten Island girl? What made this the first film you wanted to direct?

Jennifer Esposito: I was born in Brooklyn. I was there until I was probably eight, and then moved to Staten Island. Much like the girls, I felt like I was thrust into some other world, and I was. As I got into school, I really remember, very young, seeing the other girls. They were very angry and very, I won’t say mean, but they were very aggressive. Then, as I got older as a teenager, the violence that I saw and grew up around, yes, from the guys, but it was more brutal, rageful, and vicious from the women, from the young women. It really stayed with me. I knew that their families were involved in the mafia. Our whole neighborhood was, and I chalked it up to, well, I guess I would feel that way if my family was in the mafia.


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Jennifer Esposito: I left when I was 18, came to the city to go after being an actor and all of that. As I got into the business, I started to realize that I was being put in a box, into a slot that I didn’t feel that I agreed with, and as a woman trying to understand that there was a ceiling eventually for me. Then, getting older, I started to get that rage that I witnessed in these young women. I thought that they’re not mad because of their families. They’re mad because they didn’t have a choice in the matter. That’s where the rage comes from. It comes from choice.


Jennifer Esposito: The movie is really about finding a voice in a world that tells you not to have one for anyone who comes out of poverty, generational trauma of any kind, [or] comes out of abuse. That’s what I needed to talk about. It was more of finding this voice in a world that if you’re not on the top tier, you basically got to get in line, get in your box. I just don’t agree with it. So, it was a great vehicle. But I did have this idea since I was probably like 16, watching these girls while running from these girls that wanted to kill me all the time.

Fresh Kills Looks at Generational Trauma


MW: The scene where Emily [Bader], who plays Rose, confronts Domenick [Lombardozzi]. Where she finally speaks to her father, Joe, as a woman and not a girl who’s afraid to talk is absolutely spellbinding. You play Francine, her mother. Why couldn’t Francine do that earlier? Why was Francine so afraid to leave? Why was Francine always supporting Joe, even though she knew exactly what he was?

Jennifer Esposito: Because that’s what they’re taught. We can only grow as much as we know. She didn’t know. She was put into a slot herself. She did not have the tools. She did not have the gumption. Also, where was she going to go? There was no education. There’s this thing with Francine, [and] also with her daughter. I want you to do better than me, but first, I can’t tell you how. Second, if you do, you can’t leave me. Because somehow, then, you’re doing better than I could, and that’s not okay either. It’s a very fine line of love and hate. Who gets to do what? Francine just didn’t have the tools. She just didn’t.


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The Staten Island Production Design of Fresh Kills

MW:Fresh Kills is a serious movie with very dramatic themes. But growing up in the same era as you did, the hair, the music, the Toyota Supra that she was driving, I absolutely lapped it up. Talk about the production design and the art direction, especially when she sees the World Trade Center in the opening scene. It really just hits you in a certain spot. Talk about developing the film’s look and making sure that it’s represented accurately for us New Yorkers.


Jennifer Esposito: I love that you saw that because we’re on one of the last screenings of the almost locked movie. And I went, wait a minute, we’re missing something. We need to go back. They’re like, what are we missing? We’re missing the buildings. And they’re like, no one will notice. I said, ‘They’ll notice.’ I noticed because I used to go to this spot. I was Rose, but also Connie. I always say I am Rose; Connie’s who I had to become to just exist in this world and business. I used to go and sit there and daydream about being in the city, because that was like a whole other world. So, the time mattered. It really mattered what they were listening to. It wasn’t just haphazard.

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Jennifer Esposito: In my community, it was disco and fun, and then when rap came in, things got a little bit more dangerous. Things became a little bit more serious. There was a rawness that started to appear in the neighborhood that was very telling. It was so appropriate to understand what they were listening to, what they were seeing, especially with the design. Our production designer [T.V. Alexander] was amazing. She had three weeks. Three weeks. We shot in 21 days. We had four time periods. She had three weeks. As you know, Staten Island doesn’t change much. So that house was a great beginning. It was a lot like that, but I was very specific to her.

Jennifer Esposito: I wanted the house to feel ultra-feminine […] because it’s the only place Francine has control. So pink carpet, blue carpets, really feminine and all of that. It needed to portray that gaudy Italian theme, which was there for a reason. Those women made the houses like that because that’s where they had some say. I love that you noticed all of that because that was all very, very, very deliberate.


Fresh Kills will be released theatrically on June 14th from Quiver Distribution.

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