Vincent Piazza had a "simple" job when he was cast in the new HBO series "Boardwalk Empire." Recreate one of the most infamous and well-chronicled gangsters of all time, Lucky Luciano.
Actor Vincent Piazza has become a familiar TV face with stints on shows such as Rescue Me and The Sorpranos, but on Sunday (Sept 19), he steps into the big time with his portrayal of Charles “Lucky” Luciano, on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. We talked with Piazza about the show, which depicts Atlantic City in the Prohibition era, and the challenge of playing one of the most famous and notorious gangsters that ever lived.
Are your surprised at the amount of attention and hype the show is getting before it has even premiered?
I’m always surprised. I mean you do things and you kind of lose yourself in the process. And I don’t mean that in that artsy way. You just kind of lose sight of it when you’re in it and you’re not quite sure what you’re doing. You know the work your doing, but the one thing I wasn’t quite prepared for was the endurance required. I mean to stick with something for a year and a half just to complete a season. And along the way, it's easy to forget what can happen. So it is very surprising and exciting. Now we’re coming out and people are excited. So it really makes you happy. It would certainly stink if it were the other way around.
You are playing Lucky Luciano, one of the most famous gangsters ever. He’s been portrayed on film dozens of times. You are portraying him at the very beginning of his career, which hasn't always been shown, but still, wasn’t that a little intimidating?
It was very daunting. You know so many of those representations you mentioned when he’s been portrayed, it usually starts at a famous assassination or the Night of Sicilian Vespers (a series of mob hits in 1931 that solidified Luciano’s power). You know, the big events that happened later in his career. And there have been so many great performances by guys like Stanley Tucci and Andy Garcia. And they play him as this slick guy and you see what he became. And you certainly don’t want to betray the popular image. But through the research you have to kind of work backwards. You have to go back to the beginning and try to understand where he came from and all the events that shaped his life.
You know, when you get to the root of it, there were so many undiagnosed things that were going on with these guys. You know today you’d just say, ‘Oh he’s got ADHD’ or whatever acronym they throw out. But you just have to try and understand these guys and the era as well.
The writing for the show is giving individual actors like yourself a lot of opportunities to establish and develop your characters. For example, there’s a scene you have with Luciano being treated for a venereal disease in an early episode. That seems designed to do nothing else but tell us about Luciano as a person.
I agree. I think what Terrence (Winter) and Marty (Scorsese) and everyone is doing … Well, there must have been a conversation where they said, ‘Well, we’re diving into 1920 and this is a beast. There are so many characters. It’s a large ensemble. We have to establish early on the world.' I don’t want to speak for them, but I think you have to establish the world these guys live in. And that scene was very telling for me. You look at a young man. You know any young man even today who suffers from a venereal disease. And certainly an uneducated man, never even finshed high school. You know, how do you cope with it? It kind of speaks to his natural violence, the pain and the confusion. So yeah, it was a great jumping off point and I was really lucky to have that, especially that early in the season.
The show explores the relationship between a young Luciano and Arnold Rothstein, who is Luciano’s mentor. You have an excellent chemistry with Michael Stuhlberg who plays Rothstein. How was playing those scenes?
Well, Michael is a top-shelf actor and; just as a human being — forget his acting for a second — he’s an incredibly nice guy and he welcomed me with open arms. And he’s a guy who has done a ton of stage and at the time we were making this he was being recognized for that work. He’s a serious actor. And we had spent a lot of time debriefing each other on the two of them. I knew he had done a ton of research on Rothstein. And as I was diving into Luciano, I noticed that there was a special relationship between them. So we basically handed over all our references to each other and understood how they operated.
I hadn’t realized that relationship either when I first got the role. Rothstein was a very influential mentor. He was revered and a respected figure. When you look at some of the passages Lucky said about him, you realize how genteel he was. Lucky said, ‘He taught me how to use a knife and fork. He taught me how to pull a chair out for a women.' Basic things, but also in business he was a mentor. So we were trying to harvest that great mentor/student relationship.
Did you have much of an impression of Atlantic City before you got the role?
I’m from Queens, so I have been there before. I went to see a boxing match once, maybe in the '90s, so I saw some of the glamour and glitz that Atlantic City had become. But I’m not really a gambler. I always lose, and when you go in with that attitude you can see why. But I have always thought that Atlantic City had a cool reputation. So many of my friends have gone there and said, ‘Oh we saw this and it was great’ or ‘We saw that.' I’m excited to be going there for the premiere and the events. I’m looking forward to getting to know the city again.
It’s no surprise that Diana Krall — whose sultry voice, good looks and evocative piano playing made her an instant star in the jazz world beginning in the 1990s — has always had one foot in the past and one foot in the present.
Early in the premiere episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, a crowd of dapper Atlantic City movers and shakers, partying well into the night in a spiffy supper club, make a familiar countdown, cocktail glasses held high...
By 2000, Hammonton-based historian Nelson Johnson had compiled the first comprehensive history of Atlantic City between two covers, and enlisted the help of two New York literary agents in structuring and marketing the manuscript. His book, called Nucky’s Town (after political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson), presented a road map through the storied city by the sea, complete with detours, pitfalls, and pockmarks.
‘Boardwalk Empire’ Trivia In anticipation of the debut of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire — which is really something, trust us — we begin our ‘Boardwalk Empire Trivia’ contest. After reading the question below, leave your answer in the comments portion below. If you leave the correct answer on our Web site, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a $20 gift certificate for a dinner at the legendary Fedeli’s Restaurant in Margate. OK, here’s the question (no cheating by looking up on Internet): How much money did Enoch “Nucky” Johnson alledgedly make each year off of Atlantic City’s “vice” industry in the 1920s? Daly, Sanford Swing for Kids’ Sake The Boys & Girls Club of Atlantic City...
As a Boardwalk native and the author of one of A.C.’s definitive history books, curiosity should have long since replaced emotion for Vicki Gold Levi...
Back in the 1920s, A.C. was a hub for all sorts of different nightlife and entertainment, and not just the kind that would be frowned upon by puritan society. There were theaters, amusement parks, music and dance clubs, and some of the biggest names in entertainment appeared regularly or got their career starts on A.C.’s bustling streets.
The free and open-to-the-public AC Weekly partnered event, "Conversations & Storytelling - Plus Viewing Party," will feature a riveting panel discussion and Q&A segment with local historians and Atlantic City experts including Vicki Gold Levi, Allen "Boo" Pergament," Ralph Hunter, Pinky Kravitz, Israel Posner and James Waltzer on Sunday, Sept. 19, with doors opening at 6:30pm.
A huge audience of 4.8 million people watched the Sunday night premiere, which ran against a big football game featuring the New York Giants and the Indianapolis Colts, more than any other HBO premiere episode in more than five years...
In real life, Nucky Johnson, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk emperor during the 1920s, did eventually marry a former showgirl and actress, a local woman named Flossie Osbeck. But that didn’t happen until one day before Johnson began serving a four-year prison term for tax fraud in 1941. There’s little historical evidence to support the fact that Lucy is patterned after Osbeck.
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