Underbelly: articles

Vince Colosimo

Walk on the wild side ... Vince Colosimo plays the style-conscious Melbourne underworld figure Alphonse Gangitano.

Arresting drama

For any actor, playing a character based on a real person, especially one who has shuffled off the mortal coil, is a tricky affair.

Usually they have to rely on the opinions of others, the occasional newsreel footage or their imagination to get things right.

Unless, of course, you're Vince Colosimo and your role is that of Alphonse Gangitano, aka the "black prince of Lygon Street" in Nine's retelling of the Melbourne gang wars, Underbelly.

Colosimo had one very big advantage when he set out to perfect the mannerisms of his character - he'd met the real Gangitano more than once before he was gunned down.

"We weren't mates or anything, we didn't hang out, but we had a few drinks at times," Colosimo says.

"He came and saw a couple of shows I was in.

"The funny thing is I heard that Alphonse always said if ever a film was made of [his life] he would want Andy Garcia to play him."

Fortunately for everyone concerned, Andy Garcia did not get that chance and through Colosimo we see a side to someone who has until now been known mainly through headlines - usually with the word "murder" in them.

As a key player in Melbourne's gangland war running from 1995 to 2004, Gangitano and associates of the Moran family were linked to dozens of crimes and nearly 30 murders.

In Underbelly, viewers are taken inside their violent world to see what really happened and who was involved.

"A lot of the story people already know," Colosimo says. "But why things happened and why people did what they did is still something we wanted to know so we're trying to tell that."

The result is a fascinating look at a side of life most Australians (thankfully) never see and one which reveals that while some of those involved might have been monsters, they were also people who often lived normal lives - most of the time.

Colosimo, for example, manages to show that while Gangitano may have been an unrepentant thug, he also had a human side.

"If we were all remembered for the worst thing we'd done in our lives nobody would look like a great person," he says.

"And a lot of these guys [portrayed in Underbelly] were like that, they were remembered for the bad things they did.

"Right from the start, the one character I wanted to play was Alphonse. For all his faults he was the most flamboyant, the most eccentric, the most charismatic character out of everyone."

By Scott Ellis
February 11, 2008
The Sun-Herald