After all, both are well-written, character-driven shows that focus on tight-knit, Catholic, East Coast families; offer a glimpse into the criminal underworld and feature generous helpings of violence, sex and bad language.
That said, Masters wants to make it clear that “Brotherhood” is not a “Sopranos” knock-off; it is a complicated series with its own flawed characters, issues to address and world to explore.
“We get a lot of people asking us if we’re Showtime’s ‘Sopranos’ and I say, ‘If you want to put us in the same sentence as the word, “Sopranos,” we’ll take it,'” Masters told the Irish Echo in a recent phone interview. “We’re a very different show, I think, in terms of its cultural message, in terms of some of its thematics and in terms of its pacing, but, for me, ‘The Sopranos’ is like watching Dostoevsky, so thank you.”
Set in a largely Irish-American, working-class section of Providence, R.I., “Brotherhood” follows the Caffee brothers — Tommy, a church-going, state representative played by “Rabbit-Proof Fence” star Jason Clarke, and Michael, a hot-tempered gangster played by “Harry Potter” baddie Jason Isaacs — as their lives and jobs intersect. Portraying the iron-willed woman who raised them both is Dublin-born actress and “Waking Ned Devine” star Fionnula Flanagan.
“I’ve been a political junkie all my life and there are about eight different inspirations for the series,” Masters said, naming “Force of Evil,” “The Candidate,” “All the King’s Men” and “The Godfather” as just a few of the films that influenced him in his creation of the show.
Masters said that when he and director Phillip Noyce went to Providence to shoot the pilot for the series, they spent considerable time talking to the locals.
“We wanted to really make sure we got the texture and the landscape of Providence right and Phillip is a very charming guy, so we literally taped people and then we used their accents on tapes for our actors and we got details and stories and they all go in my notebook and [then I had them] when it came time to write the series,” recalled Masters, who grew up in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. “People wouldn’t recognize their stories, but there are pieces that have been inspired by them.”
He is quick to add that none of the Caffees, cops, politicians, gangsters or bar-men in the show were based wholly on real folks he knows, although he does admit to drawing certain “elements” from various people in his own personal life.
“Bits of all the characters are in me,” he added, “and, I think, in all of the writers. … We brought our own moral compasses to this very gray world. That was the fun of it.”
Masters said he chose to set the show in Rhode Island because “there is something about the New England experience, which I knew I wanted to capture.
“The weather is hard on people, which is why I went with the Irish. The Irish element of the series is actually very important to me because the Irish sense of tragedy is valiant. You know you’re going to lose, but you’re going to do it in style…That Irish sense of tragedy was really something I thought could lend a real pathos to the whole series.”
An aspect of the show Masters hopes that audiences will appreciate is the moral ambiguity of the characters’ actions. Although Tommy Caffee is a basically ethical man, he is willing to bend the law a bit if it will benefit his neighborhood or family. Michael, on the other hand, usually lives up to his reputation as a villain, but occasionally shows a more vulnerable side, especially when it comes to dealing with his mother.
“It’s liberating because what it allows you to do is play the battle of means versus ends,” Masters said of not having characters who are clear-cut heroes and bad guys.
“Brotherhood” is set to premiere July 9 on Showtime.