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Terry Winter Interview: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 3

AC Weekly chats with the creator of the HBO original series Boardwalk Empire, the third season of which premieres on Sunday, Sept. 16.

By Jeff Schwachter
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 6, 2012

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Steve Buscemi as Enoch "Nucky" Thompson in Season 3 of HBO's 'Boardwalk Empire'

Photo by Macall B. Polay (HBO)

Last December, as the second season of the award-winning HBO original series Boardwalk Empire came to a close, many fans of the show were downright distraught as one of the series' key and most love-able characters — Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) — was killed. Tweets and posts and message boards were flooded with shrieks of "WHY????!!" and the such.

But according to the show's creator, executive producer and showrunner Terry Winter, that was planned out from the get-go.

Winter took some time out of finishing shooting the third season of Boardwalk Empire, which debuts on HBO Sunday, Sept. 16, 9pm (EST), to chat with Atlantic City Weekly as he has done each year since the show was in production mode. Here are some excerpts.

(READ: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season Three Preview Guide: Interviews, new characters and contests!)

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 tag line 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 completely — 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.

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 mean to be that other person.

 

(READ: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season Three Preview Guide: Interviews, new characters and contests!)

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.


READ: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season Three Preview Guide: Interviews, new characters and contests!

 

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