"I don't escape it in my sleep," Darabont says between sips of coffee. "I go home, and whatever amount of sleep I do get, I'm dreaming about being on set and all the thorny possible things that could happen, but it's an abstraction of those problems. â¦ It's just my subconscious messing with me. It's always been that way."
Darabont, 54, tries in vain to allow his body to recover from what he describes as the "mania" of television production, and on this Thursday, he's still looking ahead to a long night of pickup shots that weekend. "Mob City" is the writer-director's first TV effort since he launched AMC's "The Walking Dead" on its path to record-breaking ratings in 2010 -- and then was summarily fired by the network.
Darabont doesn't shade his bitterness about the AMC experience, which can only add to the pressure he's feeling to impress everyone with "Mob City."
"What a crazy business this is," he says. "On a weekend, I'll go for a lie-down and nap for four hours in the afternoon, which is awesome. But when I'm in production, I could take a whole Ambien, and that's only good for two hours of sleep -- that's how amped up your whole being is."
Billed as a three-week event, "Mob City" is one of TNT's most ambitious series to date. The net plans to roll out two episodes a week starting Dec. 4, hoping that the condensed six-episode season will generate more buzz in a short period of time, when most of its competitors are in holiday-light mode.
It's semi-binge-viewing, I guess," Darabont says. "The audience really gets to see if they're digging what they're seeing. (The plan is) so smart. If the show is successful, it will be due in large measure not just to our efforts, but to TNT's, because they're marketing the hell out of it."
Despite his reputation as an auteur with an all-consuming passion for his work, which includes such notable pics as 1994's "The Shawshank Redemption" and 1999's "The Green Mile," Darabont is down-to-earth and quick to laugh. As he chats about "Mob City," Bailey, a white puppy that belongs to a post supervisor, bounds upstairs to the den. Darabont pulls the small dog into his lap.
He bought this brightly lit Los Feliz pad more than a decade ago to serve as his creative offices. It's on a quiet tree-lined street just down the road from his actual home, and it has served him well as the writers room for "Mob City," among other showbiz projects. Better still, he feels at ease here.
"We put those big dry erase boards up on stands," Darabont says, gesturing toward the fireplace of the modern living room. "And we have big couches everywhere. I've got my editing rooms downstairs. Everyone loves it here. We've got a backyard to stroll through, and it's not the 405 driving by your soot-covered windows."
The house is also only a 10-minute drive from "Mob City" locations, including Miceli's, the venerable Italian restaurant in Hollywood that serves as a key backdrop for one gritty scene. Cutting-edge vfx techniques -- along with a latenight lensing sked -- help the show bring out the vintage feel of locations including downtown's Union Station, the oil fi elds of Baldwin Hills and neon-lit streets stocked with vintage cars.
Darabont's interest in film noir has rattled within him for years. But the spark that led to the 1940s-set crime drama came from a happenstance purchase while heading out on a brief respite from the city that is his current muse.
"I found the book in LAX," Darabont says of John Buntin's "L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City," the inspiration for the series. "I was leaving town for a quick week of R&R in 2010. At first, I thought it was a collection of short stories, but I realized it was nonfiction on the plane, and I couldn't put the damn book down for two days. Instead of going snorkeling in the reef, I stayed on my couch and continued to read."
By the end of 2011, Darabont had teamed with producer and longtime friend Michael De Luca, who had optioned the rights to Buntin's book, to shepherd "L.A. Noir" to TNT.
To prepare for the series, Darabont sifted through some fi lm classics of the genre, including 1955's "Shack Out on 101" and 1957's "Nightfall," in order to let the vibe "soak through" his skin. One movie he didn't see was this year's "Gangster Squad," however, which treads on similar themes. That pic bowed more than a year after Darabont wrote the "Mob City" pilot, and he didn't want his thinking influenced by a similar project.
"Mob City" revolves largely around the notorious battles between Los Angeles police and mobsters. It reunites Darabont with former "Walking Dead" star Jon Bernthal.