The new TNT series Public Morals takes a beloved topic—1960s Manhattan mob culture—and gives it a breath of fresh air, thanks in no small part to creator (and writer and star) Edward Burns and his cadre of confidants, including executive producer Steven Spielberg. Another deciding factor in making the drama feel vital is, of course, the cast. And among the most impressive members of the group is Michele Hicks, who plays the mob wife Kay O’Bannon. Here, Hicks explains what makes the series special, why her character breaks out the leopard print and the appeal of organized crime.
Originally your character was only going to have a small arc on the show.
I went on an audition for it and met with Eddie [Burns], and everything moved forward from there. They added the character and started shooting the series, and while it started as just a couple of episodes, I ended up being in the series until the end.
How does something like that happen?
It usually comes out of the writers if it’s working. This is a very unusual situation in that Eddie’s writing everything and directing it and starring in it. Se he’s shooting the series, he is watching it evolve and he is re-writing and adjusting. There were plenty of times on set where he was just changing scenes on the fly!
What made you want to play Kay in the first place?
The show takes place in 1960s Hell’s Kitchen. She’s an Irish-American woman married to a mobster, but related to all the cops. I mean, you know, what is there not to want to portray?
The costuming alone would be a reason to take the role. What was that experience like, getting suited up to be a mid-century mobster’s wife?
I’m a mother on the show—and a Catholic—and there is just a certain kind of way that you would have to dress. All of that kind of lends itself to what you’re going to do. I mean I even remember walking around the set of my apartment, which reminds me of my grandmother’s. My grandmother’s Irish, Catholic, American. She was born in 1910, so in the 1950s and the ’60s this was what her house looked like. It helps you get into it.
Do you have a favorite look from the first season?
Well there’s one look later on, but I don’t really want to explain why I’m wearing it—that’ll give away too much. My character is in mourning for the first like five episodes, so I’m in black. But by episode seven or eight, some animal print appears and that definitely stands out. I loved that outfit.
So, she comes out of mourning, but what else happens to Kay over the course of the season?
A lot of what her arc is involves her bad choices in men. You know, without giving too much away, she got married when she was 16 because she got pregnant and she was in a horrible marriage. You know, that’s what you did back then. So, she was in a horrible marriage for like 20 something years and that’s kind of how you are introduced to her. I think she just makes some really bad choices.