When Michael Lombardi pursues his passions, he goes all in. While studying music in New York City, he discovered his affinity for acting. His journey began with him producing and starring in several small theatre productions. His hard work, dedication, and laser focus in those early years would soon pay off in spades. He made his television debut in an episode of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ where he played a bartender in a skit with Kate Hudson. It wouldn’t take long for Hollywood’s movers and shakers to notice. His creative momentum would lead to achieving widespread attention for his series regular role as a rookie firefighter, Mike “Probie” Silletti, in FX’s critically acclaimed Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated series, ‘Rescue Me.’ Along the way, his passion for music never dwindled. It was the Summer of 2009 when Icon Vs. Icon first connected with this star on the rise for an inside look at his musical roots with an interview supporting Apache Stone‘s debut album. Thirteen years later, it’s only fitting that we reconnect as the worlds rock and indie filmmaking collide with his passion project, ‘The Retaliators.’
In addition to his role as a producer, Lombardi plays the lead character, John Bishop, an upstanding pastor who uncovers a dark and twisted underworld as he searches for answers surrounding his daughter’s brutal murder. Cameos from some of the biggest names in rock music set the tone as this horror-thriller reveals a game of revenge played using a new set of rules.
Get the inside scoop on the blood, sweat and tears that we spilled by Michael Lombardi and the creative team behind the film in the interview below. Most importantly, mark your calendar. Better Noise Films and Better Noise Music will release ‘The Retaliators’ on September 14th in theaters worldwide.
It’s hard to believe, but the last time we spoke to you was way back in 2009, when Apache Stone released their self-titled debut. So it’s incredible seeing how you combined your passions with this new project, ‘The Retaliators.’
Oh, wow! Thank you for remembering. That was quite a while ago. It’s crazy because things have really come full circle!
It really has! Your passion for what you do is truly inspiring. What drew you to the craft of acting initially, and what speaks to you about it two decades into your career?
Initially, when I was a youngster, it was a nice place to go and socialize. I really loved the arts for those reasons. I was also an athlete, believe it or not! That was what drew me to it at first. However, now I have a different twist on it because I’m an adult and a thespian! [laughs] The truth of it is that early on, I just loved hanging out, having fun, doing different projects, and creating as a group. I think that still applies to this day.
‘The Retaliators’ is one of your most ambitious projects to date. It certainly captures that creative spirit you just mentioned. How did the project come into your orbit, and what made you want to be an integral part of bringing it to the masses?
Back in 2009, as you mentioned, I had a band called Apache Stone. I had a record deal at the time with Myspace Records. I was living in LA at the time. I was mainly an East Coast guy, but I often went back and forth. So, I was living out there, and my music manager said, “Look, you’ve gotta go write songs with these guys, The Geare Brothers. They live in Southern California, and they are amazing songwriters.” So, I used to drive an hour and a half to write music with them. I’ll tell ya; our tastes were really aligned. Creatively, we were in sync, and I loved what they brought to the table. It worked beautifully!
Cut to a few years later, I was doing a charity event, and I had to sing one of the songs, “When Heaven and Hell Collide.” That was one of the songs The Geare Brothers and I wrote together. I had to drop it half a step, and it wasn’t my band. It was a house band, and I was set to do a monologue and play the song. Anyway, I called Darren and said, “Hey, man. Ya know, the song is already in Drop D. Is it going to sound too muddy? What are your thoughts? Sound I do a different song? What have you been up to lately?” He said, “My brother and I have been writing screenplays.” I said, “Send them to me. All of them!” I knew how talented these guys were and how inspired I was by their work. So he sent me the scripts, and I was on a plane to LA within four or five days to talk to them about making this film. Let me tell you when you go on a mission to make a movie, it’s got to be a passion project. This project has been like a family member to me for three years now!
When I read the script, the musical aspect first jumped out at me. It’s not like it said, “Okay, here is a soundtrack…” or “Here is this song.” Instead, I felt this wink at all those films I loved in the 80s and 90s like ‘Lost Boys,’ ‘The Crow,’ ‘Judgement Night,’ ‘Breakfast Club,’ and all those films with amazing soundtracks! It has this Spielbergian, Dante-esque, Gremlin-sy kind of beginning in a small town. I love that because I loved all those movies! It’s a slow burn, and I saw elements of ‘Sin City’ and other graphic novels. I’m also a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, those iconic spaghetti westerns, and the Charlie Bronson’ Death Wish’ films. I saw all of this stuff, and it blew my mind! Then there is the crazy third act which, not to use the master’s name lightly, but rather Tarantino-ish with nods to ‘The Evil Dead.’ All of these things resonated with me and truly jumped off the page! So I called Darren, and we started fanboying out because his influences are very similar to mine. It was then that I knew I had to play this thing and play John Bishop. The rest is history, and It’s a lot, man! I’ve learned so much over the past three years that it’s insane!
You wore many hats when it came to this film, from producing to acting to directing. I imagine you faced plenty of challenges along the way.
It never stopped, bro! I’m being dead serious. [laughs] Obviously, we had a script that we loved. So, we had a story, but then you had to shoot and edit it. It’s a journey that is full of obstacles. I’ve learned that after three years in development if you end up with something you love, you’re pretty fortunate. I’m talking about all aspects of the process. It’s all the things that you hear stories about when making a film. You might encounter egos, people maybe not be on the same creative page, and so on. I’m not always right, nor am I the smartest guy in the room. But, there is no ego involved with me! I just wanted to get the script I read on the screen, which is not easy to do. Thank God that I had the crew that I did. These guys were so loyal! One of the biggest hurdles was dealing with Covid, and, man, was that something! Again, it’s been three years with various stops and starts, but here we are!
One of the things I love about you is the authenticity you bring to the characters. What can you tell us about your creative process and what went into bringing a character like John Bishop to life?
This character has quite a journey. But, at the end of the day, this is a revenge tale. It’s the oldest story in the book; it’s that primal instinct. What I think is most interesting is putting a guy like John Bishop, a man of the cloth, into this situation. He’s a small-town pastor who is beloved by his community. The movie takes a lot of twists and turns, and that’s what I loved. However, what I loved the most is that it’s a slow burn that is both story and character-driven. You have to be with these characters for it to work. So, as I prepared for the role, I started doing a lot of different research.
One thing that I thought was interesting was something I found on YouTube. I found a video of a man with a very slight build. He almost looked like the guy you would cast as a math teacher. He was almost of caricature, you might say. He is at trial, and it’s time for him to say words to his child’s killer. This is real life, by the way! He steps up, the judge is there, and the court police are next to him. He lets out this howl from the depths of his soul! It wasn’t anger; it was sadness and loss. He said a couple words, and it had to surface! He dove at the guy and grabbed a pencil, and started trying to stab his daughter’s killer.
I was like, “Wow. That’s it, right there. That is it.” I think it’s relatable if you have a child, a niece, or a nephew. I have a 6-year-old son, so it was something I was able to tap into. It’s not the easiest thing to play on that imaginary circumstance. Still, I had to get there and peel back the onion a little bit to explore what that missing would feel like, coupled with the want for revenge. The provocative question this film asks is, “What would you do if you had a minute alone with the person who killed your loved one?”
To get to the pastor part of the role, I went to some modern-day sermons. There was something the writers had put in the script that said, “John Bishop, in this environment, is a rockstar.” When I got on set, and it was time to do the sermon, I knew he had to own it. He’s so open, a pillar of the community, and loves helping people. So while I did a lot of work for it, going there was the easier part.
One of the more challenging aspects of the process was layering in the elements of what happened to him years ago and what brought him to become a man of the cloth. I wanted to bring an element of “Is he choosing to be passive in his life?” Ultimately, he becomes a total badass, and he gets pretty tough when faced with a lot of things. He’s gotta have it somewhere in there, or it’s not believable. You’d never expect he could do what he has to do to survive. The point is that I planted something. What was it? Was he maybe in a bar fight when he was younger, and maybe he hurt someone really badly by accident? What happened? He met his wife, and maybe her dad was a pastor. Maybe she brought him in to open his eyes to this world. Now, he becomes a man of the cloth to heal and make himself better from what he had done. I put that in there to establish the strength and courage he needs to find throughout the film. It was so important to have that built in from somewhere in the past. He’s a single dad, so maybe his wife died suddenly. Now, he sees his wife and two daughters as all that’s left. So, when something happens to her, it fuels that desire or primal instinct.
It goes really deep, and I can talk about it a lot, as you can tell! I did all that homework for the role. Going into the depths of who he was and dealing with what he goes through was rewarding for me. It’s always about the pinch, never the ouch. You do all of that and let it go!
You mentioned assembling a terrific team for the film. Who are some of the players who had the biggest impact?
The Geare Brothers and I had so much fun making this project a reality. There were so many great people involved at every level. I definitely have to mention Randy Bricker, who was our editor on the film. I felt we needed a guy who did story, action, and horror. He really fit the bill as he’s been a part of massive projects like ‘The Firm,’ ‘I Am Legend,’ ‘Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers,’ and now he’s the lead director on the ‘Chucky’ franchise. He really got it when I brought everything to him and presented the concept, easter eggs, and so on! He’s phenomenal!
As you know, there is also terrific musical layer to this film. When I found the script, I brought it to Allen Kovac. He is the CEO/Founder of Better Noise Music, which is a massive record label. Allen is a legendary music manager who’s been in the game for 40 years. He represents bands like Motley Crue, Five Finger Death Punch, Ice Nine Kills, and Papa Roach. The list goes on and on! He also produced the Motley Crue biopic, ‘The Dirt.’ I brought it to him because, as I said, the music was jumping off the page for me when I read the script. I knew I wanted to capture the magic of the iconic soundtracks I mentioned earlier. Allen got it from day one. His passion and loyalty never wavered at any point.
I’ve heard you mention a potential sequel to ‘The Retaliators.’ As a fan, I couldn’t be more excited by that prospect. It sounds like everyone would be down to pursue it.
Yeah! Working with all those guys was incredible, and what a dream to be able to do it again! Being attached to this story and the character, I feel like there are so many places it can go. As I said, together, we were a creative force. We had a real understanding of each other, and we really enjoyed the process. We’ve definitely talked about doing more together in the future. In terms of ‘The Retaliators,’ the writers had so much fun with it. They’ve got a lot of outlines laid out for this thing. There are many ways it could go!
As a fan of the team you’ve assembled for this project and the film itself, I couldn’t be more excited to see where the future may take you!
Thank you so much, Jason. I really appreciate your questions and time!
Better Noise Films and Better Noise Music will release THE RETALIATORS on September 14th in theaters worldwide. The high-octane original soundtrack for the film will be released on September 16th via Better Noise Music. Check out the complete track listing below.
The theme song of the film, “21 Bullets,” was written by legendary Mötley Crüe bassist Nikki Sixx, along with his Sixx: A.M. bandmate, James Michael.
THE RETALIATORS – OFFICIAL SOUNDTRACK Track Listing
1. Papa Roach – The Ending
2. The HU – This Is Mongol
3. Eva Under Fire – Blow (feat. Spencer Charnas of Ice Nine Kills)
4. From Ashes To New – Scars That I’m Hiding (feat. Anders Fridén of In Flames)
5. Asking Alexandria – Faded Out (feat. Within Temptation)
6. Tommy Lee – Tops (feat. Push Push)
7. Classless Act – Classless Act (feat. Vince Neil of Motley Crue)
8. Five Finger Death Punch – Darkness Settles In
9. NOTHING MORE – TIRED OF WINNING
10. Crossbone Skully – Evil World Machine
11. The HU – Wolf Totem (feat. Jacoby Shaddix)
12. Bad Wolves – If Tomorrow Never Comes (feat. Spencer Charnas of Ice Nine Kills
13. Cory Marks – Burn It Up
14. Hyro The Hero – Who’s That Playing On The Radio? (feat. Mick Mars and Danny Worsnop)
15. Cory Marks – Blame It On The Double (feat. Tyler Connolly and Jason Hook)
16. All Good Things – For The Glory (feat. Hollywood Undead)
17. From Ashes To New – Barely Breathing
18. Motley Crue – The Retaliators Theme (21 Bullets) (feat. Ice Nine Kills, Asking Alexandria, and From Ashes To New)
For more details on THE RETALIATORS and THE RETALIATORS – OFFICIAL SOUNDTRACK, please visit:
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.