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May 15, 2017

Sneak Tweak

Kathleen O’Steen
  • Kurt Iswarienko

When he was invited to chat about a new broadcast drama called Sneaky Pete, Giovanni Ribisi admits he was “a little on the fence.”

Sure, the meeting included Bryan Cranston, David Shore and Seth Gordon, but Ribisi wondered if the project — a 22-episode procedural — was right for him.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Bryan’s,” Ribisi says. “After I met with these three misfits, I decided that if they would have me, I would love to be involved.”

But that involvement took an unexpected turn.

At the time, the series had a commitment from CBS, but the network later passed after a pilot was shot. When a bidding war ensued, Amazon Studios emerged on top. Since then, Graham Yost was brought in as showrunner (replacing Shore), and the series — created by Cranston and Shore and executive-produced by Cranston, Shore and Gordon — sprang to a new, reconfigured life.

Loosely described as Breaking Bad in reverse, the series’ 10-episode first season is an edge-of-your-seat ride in which Ribisi’s con-man character assumes a new identity and plots to save his brother from a crime boss, played by Cranston. Filming of season two begins in June.

“It’s great that the show isn’t hampered by the criteria of an episodic procedural,” Ribisi says. “Places like Amazon and Netflix, they’re hungry — they want to make their mark and they want to see you push the envelope.”

Growing up in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Ribisi and his twin sister, Marissa, were both child actors. He’d wanted to perform as early as age four, and his devoted mom would drive him to as many as five auditions a day. “And this was across all of a sprawling L.A.,” he remembers fondly.

But it wasn’t until he was 15 and studying under Milton Katselas that acting came alive for him. “I found a purpose in life,” he says.

These days, he aspires to writing, producing and directing but remains “over the moon” with his actor’s life. Of Sneaky Pete, he marvels: “People are responding to this show. This is not zone-out TV. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I couldn’t be happier.” 


This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 4, 2017

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