The pages of HBO’s award-winning epic novel of a series continue to turn, as Atlantic City and the early 1920s take center stage — along with some of the finest acting, writing and storytelling on TV today.
Speaking with Boardwalk Empire actor Anthony Laciura (Eddie Kessler) on Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 6, from the New York set of the HBO original series — Season Three of which debuts on the cable network Sunday, Sept. 16, 9pm (EST) — the actor is a bit tired from the previous night’s private premiere party in New York. Laciura and his fellow cast-mates from the award-winning show, based in Atlantic City — and on America in the early 1920s — during Prohibition, are wrapping up filming episode 11 of the gritty gangster series’ upcoming season.
It’s 1923 in the third season of the highly acclaimed show, about a year and a half since Season Two ended with the killing of one of the series’ most popular and beloved characters. However, as the new season’s first five episodes reveal, the series is only getting better with time, especially with its masterful storytelling, interweaving of historic and fictional elements and the introduction of several new characters this year.
Laciura (left), who will be in Atlantic City on Saturday, Sept. 15, with actor Stephen DeRosa (Eddie Cantor on the show) and producer Gene Kelly, for a free, open-to-the-public screening of the Season Three premiere episode at Caesars (Circus Maximus Theater, 8pm doors, 9pm start, cash bar, must be 18 or older), says that the third season picks up “just as dramatic as” Season Two ended last December. “Last night, people were saying: ‘My God, there are so many plot lines that could go in any direction!’ And they do, in any and all directions … it’s a hot third season. It’s very episodic.”
Laciura, who portrays leadman Enoch “Nucky” Thompson’s (Steve Buscemi) valet, says his often comical character evolves during the upcoming season.
“All of the characters develop, along with all of the new people being introduced [this season], but all of the characters, as you’ll see as each episode evolves, get a little more depth, including yours truly.”
Asked if the absence of Michael Pitt (who played Jimmy Darmody until the last episode of Season Two) and the addition of several new cast members on the set have affected the feel and production of the show, Laciura says, “Absolutely.”
(Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Second Season is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and digitally from HBO if you want to revisit last year’s 12 episodes. There are also bonus features including audio commentaries, documentaries and a character dossier.)
The show’s award-winning creator, executive producer and writer Terry Winter also recently took some time to speak with Atlantic City Weekly from the set of Season Three. He says the four major new characters we meet early on in Boardwalk Empire’s third season — Stephen Root as Gaston Means, Arron Shiver as Chicago gangster Dean O’Banion, Meg Chambers as Nucky’s new mistress, Billie Kent, and especially Bobby Cannavale, as Nucky’s new nemesis Gyp Rosetti — bring a new energy and heightened dynamic to the show.
“They’re all terrific actors,” he says. “I mean Stephen Root is just amazing. It’s such a pleasure to have him on the show. He’s just so fun to write for.”
Along with the acting, the sex, violence and stunning turn-of-events are all amped up in Season Three as the Roaring ’20s begin in earnest. Winter discusses the upcoming season in the following interview.
Have all of the episodes for Season Three been shot as of now?
We are currently shooting episode 11 [and] we are in the process of prepping episode 12, which should start shooting in about a week and that will be it. We’ll wrap up at the end of September. So, yeah, we’re coming down the home stretch of Season Three.
When did you determine that Jimmy would be killed?
Pretty early on. As we started plotting out the season, it became evident to me that the only logical conclusion to that story line was that Jimmy was going to die. I mean I knew that Jimmy was going to die from the beginning of the series, when I started plotting it out. It’s almost foreshadowed in the pilot when Jimmy tells Nucky: “You can’t be half a gangster anymore,” and I knew that at one point Nucky would cross that line and fully become a gangster. I knew he would do it by killing the guy who said that to him, which was Jimmy. I didn’t know when that was going to happen, of course, but as Season Two started playing out it became evident that if we were going to tell that story honestly, the way to do it [was] for Jimmy to die.
And “You Can’t Be Half a Gangster” is now the tagline for Season Three.
Yeah, it kind of lent itself to our whole ad campaign and that’s where Nucky is right now. We’re kind of jumping ahead 14 months or so into the future from where episode 12 [Season Two] ends. It’s early 1923, actually the very beginning of 1923. And, you know, the game has changed quite a bit. Things have gotten a lot more violent, a lot more competitive, and Nucky has sort of had to up his game as well in order to survive.
Nucky looks rather sick and is hallucinating through the first five episodes of Season Three.
Yeah, I mean [killing Jimmy] was a major step for him. So, we sort of felt like we wanted to see some of the psychological remnants of having done that. I mean the guy was like a surrogate son to him so he can’t be — even if you ask him the question to his face he’d say he doesn’t give a shit, but I think deep dark secrets, being what they are, I think late at night, and when you’re sleeping these are the things that come back to haunt you. And we were interested in exploring that.
We see Eli come back from jail early in the third season.
Eli did his time in jail. He was in jail during the off-season, so that worked out. [And he’s just getting out of jail in episode two.] It’s interesting, Shea Whigham really committed [himself to the part]. He called me up even before we started shooting [Season Three] and said, “So, was I in jail jail or was this sort of like Goodfellas jail, nice and cushy because I was the sheriff?” And I said, “No, this was really jail.” And he says, “OK, I’m going to drop a little weight then.” And I said, “All right,” and then he came back and I was like, “Holy shit!” He dropped like 15 pounds. And he was already thin. And you can just see it in his face — he really looks like he went through the wringer. I mean I can’t lose five pounds; I don’t how these [actors] do it!
The new showgirl on the show, Billie Kent — was she a real-life performer of the era?
No, she is fictional, someone of our own invention. We just sort of came up with her to give Nucky a new mistress. There was a showgirl who rented an apartment from Arnold Rothstein who was actually murdered in 1921 and found dead in her apartment. But we basically stole the idea that she was a tenant of Rothstein’s, but that’s about as far as the similarities go. She’s not really meant to be that other person.
It seems like everybody smokes in the 1920s.
Yes, yes. There was some ad from the 1920s, a billboard that read how many billions are sold every year — Lucky Strike or Camel. They made a very concerted effort in the late teens to make it clear that smoking for women was appropriate. They actually tried to tie it into the suffragette movement. One of the tobacco companies actually staged a publicity stunt where they said they were going to be lighting “torches of freedom” and it was women smoking, the torches being the cigarette. Because that was 50 percent of their market, you know, that was not opened up because women traditionally did not smoke. Suddenly that became acceptable for women and it was a huge thing.
There must be a lot of cigarette butts on the set of Boardwalk Empire.
Yeah, but they are all herbal cigarettes. Because of union rules nobody’s allowed to actually smoke real cigarettes. Even with the cigars, they’re not real. I think the actors who actually have to smoke them think they’re absolutely vile because they’re not real tobacco. They’re kind of made out of banana peels or something. I’m not really sure what they’re all made of, but they’re not real cigarettes and they’re not real cigars.
Even for the actors who actually smoke?
Yeah, it’s not allowed. It’s a workplace rule. You can’t be in an environment where people are smoking. Especially when we get to a nightclub [scene] and everybody is smoking, you’d be completely exposed to that all day long. Yeah, it’s not a bad rule. ... It’s funny whenever you’re in a public place where there is smoking it’s kind of jarring; it’s always weird. I was in Vegas recently and I was walking in a casino and people were smoking and I was thinking: “This is so strange.” You know, I remember when I was a kid and [smoking was permitted] in movie theaters and airplanes; it was like crazy. I love the “non-smoking sections” like two seats away from the “smoking sections,” which is absolutely absurd. But yeah, it’s always strange now to see people smoking.
Is Tabor Heights, which plays an important part in the third season, a fictional town in New Jersey on the way to New York?
It’s a fictional town, but that whole story line is sort of based on reality. There was a town, I think it was called the Atlantic Highlands — it was near Ocean Grove, I believe — that was a little tiny Methodist town and it was overrun by gangsters in 1922-23. They realized, “Hey, this is a sleepy little town right on the ocean and we can use this as a port to import alcohol and we’re not going to have any resistance.” It ended up being a real disaster. These guys came in and took over this place and it erupted into a running gun battle on the beach in 1923. People were killed right during a holiday weekend or something. It was pretty crazy.
One of the new characters, Gyp Rosetti, is a real monster. How will he change the dynamics of the show?
Well, he’s certainly a different energy and really a different challenge for Nucky. This guy is unlike Johnny Torrio or Arnold Rothstein, who are fairly reasonable gangsters. This guy can get set off by the slightest thing. So, anything can happen. The level of violence could go to the extreme and happen any time. There’s really no reasoning with a guy like this. Even when you think you have a deal [with him] and think you’re on the same page, it turns out you’re not. If you say one wrong thing, or even something that he perceives as the wrong thing, and suddenly you’ve got a big problem. I think the uncertainty and the fact that everything sort of feels off-kilter when he’s around is really a fun energy for us to play with.
Both Gaston Means and Dean O’Banion were real people.
Yeah, Gaston Means, and, of course, Dean O’Banion was a real-life gangster in Chicago who was Al Capone’s nemesis on the North Side for a couple years and actually did own a florist shop [as depicted in Season Three].
Speaking of Al Capone, Stephen Graham is just so amazing. What a stellar actor.
Yeah, he’s great. Just incredible. And it’s so fun to sort of have the luxury of going home with Al Capone and seeing that relationship with him and his [deaf] son. These are the kinds of things that we normally don’t get a chance to explore. Even when there is a movie on Al Capone, it’s when Capone is at his most powerful. So this is great for us to play with the young Capone, who’s not really the guy yet. And to get to actually see how he became that person is really, really interesting.
“We have a lot of new characters this season,” says Winter, who adds that the writers’ room for the series is plastered with faces of all the show’s characters — new ones, old ones and dead ones.
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"Eddie lived in a kind of musically optimistic 1920s place even though he had a shitty childhood. His parents died when he was young but his grandmother raised him and he was little and scrawny so he got beaten up a lot. He learned to make jokes so he could avoid getting beaten up, so from then on he realized this singing and dancing thing could work."
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