Boardwalk Empire should be dope Martin Scorsese is directing the pilot plus a few more episodes... it stars Steve Buscemi
By Michelle Kung
Set in 1920, the coming HBO series “Boardwalk Empire
” is a project tailor-made for coverage by Speakeasy. Good music, illegal liquor, machine guns and saucy molls — what’s not to like?
Created by “The Sopranos” alumnus Terence Winter, who also serves as executive producer, the 12-episode series begins on the eve of Prohibition — literally — as slick, ambitious Atlantic City politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi) simultaneous preaches to the Women’s Temperance League while also toasting the arrival of the 18th Amendment, which he sees has his ticket into the profitable world of gangsters, bootlegging and rum-running. Martin Scorsese, who directed the pilot, is also an executive producer.
Loosely based on Nelson Johnson’s non-fiction book of the same name, “Boardwalk Empire” uses the lives of the real Nucky and his compatriots as a jumping off point for the series; as Winter told a group of journalist visitors to the series’ boardwalk set in New York yesterday, he purposely avoided what he calls the “Deadwood” trap of being able to Google a specific character’s fate, which understandably cuts down on the dramatic tension of a story. (It’s harder to get caught up in the consequences of a character’s risky actions if you know that in real life they live to 102.) “I wanted to fictionalize these people,” said Winter. “So theoretically, with our Nucky, anything can happen.”
Located in Brooklyn parking parking lot, the built-from-scratch boardwalk set took three months to construct and features era-appropriate storefronts for fake businesses such as the Canton Tea Parlor (serving chop suey, of course), a spiffed-up Ritz Carlton, Babette’s Supper Club (where Thompson & Co ring in the start of Prohibition), and one of Winter’s favorites, a baby incubator display, which passersby could check out premature babies (”Come and see babies that weigh less than 3 lbs — 25 cents!”). Truckloads of sand were driven in to recreate the Atlantic City coastline, and a giant green screen (that’s actually blue) faces the length of the 300-foot boardwalk, which will allow the production team to digitally add in the ocean later.
Winter and his crew — which consists of fellow “Sopranos” graduates Tim Van Patten, the executive producer/writer/director, and production designer Bob Shaw, among others — say that they’re striving to make their show as authentic as “Mad Men,” though, as with all historical shows, some anachronisms can’t be helped (for one, lights in hallways weren’t mandated until 1922, which would have translated into some pretty dark sets).
The period series — which HBO is clearly hoping will be their next “Sopranos” and run for multiple seasons — isn’t expected to debut until late summer/early fall 2010, but here are some fun trivia tidbits to (eventually) look forward to:
- The pilot was directed by Martin Scorsese this past July. Winter says that when he went to Scorsese’s house for the first time for the pitch meeting, he felt a girl going to prom. He was doubly nervous after learning from Scorsese’s wife that the director couldn’t really talk courtesy of oral surgery earlier that afternoon, and that he was expecting to hear ideas from Winter, who thought that Scorsese was going to be pitching ideas to him. Though Scorsese remains active in terms of providing notes and guidance, he isn’t currently expected to direct another episode of the show.
- The real Nucky lived on the 8th floor of the Ritz Carlton, one of the building featured on the boardwalk set. However, the TV version of the hotel has been jazzed up considerably, because the original building was a rather drab-looking box.
- Though the series takes place in New Jersey, the production is being shot in New York because of the better tax breaks. (35% versus 20% in Jersey.)
- No huge guest stars are expected, largely because of the already character actor-packed cast, which includes, in addition to Buscemi, Michael Pitt as an aspiring thug, Michael Shannon (”Revolutionary Road”) as a prohibition agent, Kelly Macdonald (”No Country for Old Men”), Dabney Coleman, Pax de la Huerta and Gretchen Mol.
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