The other night, The Academy of Television and Science hosted an exclusive panel with the cast and creator of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Boardwalk recounts the rise of the duplicitous Nucky Thompson torn between the political upheaval and criminal birth of the Prohibition. His rise is cast against the downfall of his surrogate son, Jimmy Darmondy, a War Veteran scarred by his time over there. It is the tense interplay between the two characters that gave Boardwalk Empire much of its dramatic heft during its first two remarkable seasons – which is probably what made Season Two’s conclusion so… surprising.
During the panel, Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt discussed the controversial finale, costar Michael Shannon lamented always playing “the crazy person”, and creator Terence Winter previewed Season Three, among many other topics of conversation. For highlights from the panel (which also included costars Kelly Macdonald, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Kenneth Williams, Vincent Piazza and Gretchen Mol) hit the jump.
Highlights from the Boardwalk Empire Panel:
Participants: Creator Terence Winter and stars Steve Buscemi (‘Nucky’ Thompson), Michael Pitt (Jimmy Darmody), Kelly Macdonald (Margaret Schroeder), Michael Shannon (Agent Nelson Van Alden), Michael Stuhlbarg (Arnold Rothstein), Vincent Piazza (Lucky Luciano), Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky White), and Gretchen Mol (Gillian Darmody)
What drew the actors to Boardwalk Empire?:
- For Gretchen Mol – it wasn’t so much the character (“you never know who the character will become [over the course of a series]”) but the intangibles – the cast, the creative talents behind the show, Martin Scorsese and the beautifully detailed sets.
- For Michael Stuhlbarg – it was the “historical aspect” of playing Arnold Rothstein – a person, who he originally knew very little about.
- Michael Pitt: “I wasn’t really doing anything better at the time.”
- Michael Shannon thought he would be asked to play “a thug… cut someone up.” But no – he was assured he was going to play “the good guy, the guy cleaning up the town”. So Shannon hoped the role could “finally get rid of this reputation [he has] for playing crazy people…” Of course Agent Van Alden turns out to be the craziest character on the show…
- Shannon noted that in Season One Van Alden “doesn’t know he is”. That season is about Van Alden getting broken down – “that he’s not who he thought he was.” In that uncertainty, he makes a lot of mistakes and Season Two was about Van Alden trying to correct those mistakes, “making gold out of straws.” In Season Three, Van Alden assumes another identity but before Shannon could continue — Terrence Winter quieted him, lest he ruin the surprises to come.
Buscemi on what motivates Nucky Thompson:
- “It’s hard to talk about a character while I’m doing it… I try not to analyze the character too much.” When pressed on just how honest the double-dealing Thompson is, Buscemi responded, “[Nucky] is always telling the truth… in that moment [he is always] being truthful but… things change.”
Michael Pitt on developing Jimmy’s limp:
- “Still to this day I catch myself doing it.” Pitt remembered when he was a boy his father fell off a ladder and shattered his heels. After the fall, his father would walk with a shuffle. Pitt, at that impressionable age, would emulate his father’s limp around the house. It would become “good practice” for Jimmy’s.
On killing off Jimmy Darmondy (Michael Pitt), the second lead of the show at the conclusion of the Season:
- Terrence Winter remarked that Season Two had to end with Nucky “crossing that line as a gangster.” It was always planned that Nucky would kill Jimmy, it was just “a question of when” – and given the arc of season two, the timing felt appropriate. “People get lulled into a sense of complacency.” Winter opined “It’s always a challenge to stay ahead of audiences.” But Winter was quick to note that killing off Jimmy was not done for shock value but for the “honesty” of the show. He added, “No one is safe on the show.” – including the historical figures, joking “how great would it be to kill Al Capone in 1924…”
How did the actors react to his Jimmy’s demise?:
- Michael Pitt – “I suspected it, maybe provoked it.” Pitt told the crowd that on the first day of shooting the Second Season, he called Winter asking, “Why he was going to kill me?” Winter, taken aback, reassured Pitt “Relax – I’m not going to kill you.” Eleven episodes later, Nucky puts two into Jimmy’s head.
- Buscemi had a very difficult time shooting that last scene with Pitt/Jimmy. “I didn’t want to do it”, he stated. Buscemi even called Terrence Winter to go over the scene beat by beat – so he could understand why Nucky would do such a horrible thing.
Terrence Winter’s Teases for Season Three of Boardwalk Empire:
- The new season will take place “fifteen months into the future from Season Two… It’s new Year’s Eve 1922, going into1923”. The world has grown “more violent” as alcohol runs dry.
- Nucky’s business relationship with the bootleggers “worsens” as does his own personal relationship with Margaret.
- Luciano/Rothstein and Capone continue their rise to power.
- Winter noted that he has no interest in replenishing the cast, after the loss of Pitt, Dabney Coleman and Aleska Palladino. Replacing the lost characters would be “a fools mission.” The show, he advocated, “will organically continue, introducing new characters and exiting others…”