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'Boardwalk Empire' premieres on HBO as series stars take on Atlantic City


THE BOSS OF THE BOARDWALK BUILDS HIS EMPIRE'Boardwalk Empire' stars Michael K. Williams, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Vincent Piazza at Caesars Casino in Atlantic City. Photo: Photos by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics Photography

It was the end of World War I, a time when the nation was rebuilding, alcohol was prohibited and women had just received the right to vote. And then there was Atlantic City, “The World’s Famous Playground,” where gangsters ruled the resort and supplied booze, gambling and prostitution.

BOARDWALK EMPIRE, HBO’s newest epic set in Atlantic City in the roaring 1920’s, relives that pivotal time in history.

Created by Terence Winter, directed by Martin Scorsese  and executive produced by Mark Wahlberg; BOARDWALK EMPIRE is adapted from Hammonton resident and Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson's book, Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City.

During a red carpet event prior to a private screening in the Circus Maximus Theatre at Caesars Casino in Atlantic City, the cast and crew recalled working on the show and projected their aspirations for the 12 episode series.


“Everybody loved working together and found it really satisfying creatively,” said Winter, the creator of the new series. “I would love to continue doing this as long as HBO and the public want us to, so I hope that happens.”

Emmy award winning writer, Winter, who was also behind HBO’s breakout hit The Sopranos, admits there are many similarities between the two series including tales of gangsters, a setting based in New Jersey and collaboration from veteran directors and executive producers who also worked on the Sopranos. But, there is a very alluring element that attracted Winter to this story.

“Unlike the Sopranos, which was sort of the end of organized crime, this is really the beginning of that era. So, we see how this whole thing was formed.” Winter said.

In addition to working with Winter, the actors said they were awe-struck to have the opportunity to work with Academy Award-winning director Scorsese. Vincent Piazza, who portrays Lucky Luciano, a Sicilian immigrant, whose working his way up through the criminal ranks on the lower east side of Manhattan says the experience was a dream come true.

“l grew up watching a lot of his (Scorsese) movies and it was quite an experience. It was also in a way demystifying, as I was able to see how someone as accredited and successful as he is, is still so personable and loves his actors and loves to show up to work. It was really inspiring.”

Aleksa Palladino who plays Angela Darmody, a wife, mother and an early women’s rights pioneer said her time with Scorsese was also amazing.

“You can’t exhaust him! He has so much energy and pays attention to every detail and gives each character so much thought and back story and research and references and there’s a large cast and he gave us all tons of time and a lot of support.”

Main character Enoch ‘Nucky’ Johnson was fictionalized on the show as Nucky Thompson  for creative liberties. However, Winter says the show does stay true many historical events,

“I had to do a lot of research about 1920. I really did months of research, before I felt comfortable putting pen to paper, I knew a little about history and I knew a little bit about the history of Atlantic City, but not enough where I felt comfortable, so I spent months reading books, the history, Nucky Johnson, prohibition, the Temperance Movement and then pop-culture,” Winter explained. “But once I got going with the writing, it felt like it was writing itself after awhile. It was really great.”

The lavish period drama was shot on a 300-foot Boardwalk with impressive setsThe cast of 'Boardwalk Empire' at Caesars Casino in Atlantic City. Photos by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics Photography replicating portions of Atlantic City, Chicago and New York, which cost $5 million to erect in Brooklyn.

There are many memorable characters. Lucy Danziger, Nucky’s exotic girlfriend is played by Paz de la Huerta, who describes her character as multi-layered.

“She’s a party girl with a tempestuous temper but she really has a lot of layers to her, there’s a lot of vulnerability under “the act” as we say and just a longing for acceptance and love and as the show goes on, you hopefully get to see all the different sides of her.”

Chalky White is portrayed by Michael K. Williams  who says there are both real and fictional sides to his character, “Well, in real life Chalky was a boxer from the south, he’s listed as one of America’s one-hundred best hitters, but on this show he’s a bootlegger, he’s a businessman, a gangster, he is also the unofficial Mayor of Chicken Bone Beach, which in 1920 was known as 20 percent of the voting population and he and Nucky are allies.”

Michael Stuhlbarg  who portrays Arnold Rothstein said his character is most notoriously known as allegedly financing the fix of the 1919 World Series.

“He’s a gambler, a bootlegger and a racketeer,” Stuhlbarg explains. “He’s a pool shark and he was a multi-millionaire in 1920 and he’s trying to take advantage of a business deal with Steve Buscemi’s character, Nucky Thompson.”

Stuhlbarg says he felt an immense responsibility to try to known as much about his real-life character as possible. “So I can honor their memory and show them justice,” he said.

Kelly MacDonald plays Margaret Schroeder a young Irish wife in BOARDWALK EMPIRE who said before the premiere that working with her fellow cast members was a joy.

“It’s a really vibrant, interesting, brilliant, crazy people in the ensemble and I’m very lucky with the people I’ve been able to work with,” mentions MacDonald.

For Anthony Laciura, the role of Eddie Kessler has become a very special one. Eddie pretty much takes care of everything around Nucky juggling many titles including bodyguard, chauffer, secretary and valet. According to Laciura, during extensive research for the show, he was afforded the opportunity to meet the granddaughter and family of the man “Louis” who his character Eddie is based on.

“She gave me a gold watch of her grandfather and pictures,” explains Laciura. “Upon death, Nucky owed $20,000 in debt to the government and all the gifts were confiscated, how this gold watch remained? Because it was a gift from Nucky in the family,” Laciura recounted shaking his head still in amazement. “If I’m in season two, I will be using the original gold watch.”

BOARDWALK EMPIRE premieres Sunday, September 19th at 9PM ET on HBO and Piazza is wishing for the best.

“I just hope everyone enjoys it, I hope everyone loves it as much as everyone did who worked on it, I hope it has a very long run and it’s embraced as a great cable TV show.”

In true HBO fashion, all the crime, drama, sex and violence makes BOARDWALK EMPIRE a present day saga set in prohibition era Atlantic City- the original sin city. As the show’s season continues, viewers will watch embellished accounts of historical events when Nucky Thompson begins to build his boardwalk empire.

Contact Veronica Dudo at vdudo@philly2philly.com

Photos by: Tom Briglia / PhotoGraphics Photography