Two of HBO’s finest — the creator of a murderous family man and an actor portraying a 1920s gangster — spoke at The Greene Space at WNYC and WQXR in New York last night about why TV’s best characters are morally corrupt. David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” and Steve Buscemi, who plays Nucky Thompson on “Boardwalk Empire” (and who also appeared on “The Sopranos”) sat down with Kurt Andersen to discuss the past, present, and future of television antiheroes. These are the highlights:
Steve Buscemi believes Nucky Thompson sees himself as a businessman, not a bad guy.
After showing a few clips from “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” moderator Kurt Andersen asked Buscemi if he played Nucky as someone who thought of himself as a bad guy. “Nucky really does see himself more as a businessman or a politician and having to run this town and this is how you do it,” Buscemi said. “This is how you stay in power. He definitely likes doing it. He likes the power. He likes being this guy, and he’s willing to do a lot to continue being this guy.”
David Chase doesn’t believe most gangsters are ever punished for their crimes.
Chase doesn’t think gangsters share the same mentality as Nucky Thompson, at least not the Soprano family. “I don’t think the same thing is true about Tony Soprano and his crew,” Chase said. “I think those mob guys are aware that they’re criminals. That’s the pleasure they get out of it…I think they are consciously telling themselves, ‘I am a criminal. I don’t do things the way everybody else does. I’m a wiseguy, and fuck all y’all.’ I think that’s what they really say to themselves.”
Neither of them is a fan of marathon TV watching, but Chase thinks he’s “a cute guy.”
“I haven’t gotten into it,” Buscemi said. “My wife and I have watched a couple things that way. I get it. It’s nice not to wait. But if I watch three or four episodes in a row, it kind of makes me fuzzy. I can’t remember what happened in each episode. There’s something frustrating to me about that.”
Chase, while not as specific, agreed with his former coworker. “I don’t respond to it,” he said. “I feel old fashioned [but] this is the performance. You’ve rehearsed all week and worked on this thing for three months and this is the fourth episode and it’s showtime at nine o’clock on whatever day.”
Chase even went so far as to say, with “Boardwalk Empire,” he would put in the DVD to watch along with the live broadcast of the show instead of watching it before it aired.
“That’s really kind of cute,” Andersen said.
“I’m a cute guy,” Chase deadpanned.
Steve Buscemi did not want to shoot the finale for season two of “Boardwalk Empire.”
Without getting into spoilers — and Buscemi does a good job of not naming names here — the second season finale of “Boardwalk Empire” had a particularly impactful scene for Nucky Thompson. Understandably, Buscemi was hesitant to go through with it.
“That’s a scene I did not want to do,” Buscemi said about the season two shocker. “I usually don’t call Terry and talk about the character or the scenes, but this one I had to. I really wanted him to tell me why Nucky was doing it, and — this I learned from David — you don’t say, ‘My character wouldn’t do that,’ because David’s response would be, ‘Who said it was your character?’
“But my question to Terry was, ‘Why? Why is he doing this?’ And Terry had to remind me who this guy is and why he’s doing it. Because he could have had somebody else do it, but the fact he does it himself… I had trouble getting there.”
David Chase has written a movie focused on a female war veteran.
Andersen asked Chase about the script being a return to something violent and dark after the writer/director’s last film, “Not Fade Away.” “It’s violent,” Chase said. “Is it dark? People get killed and have their entrails spilled, so I guess that’s dark. Dark is one of those words. Really what dark means, I think, is complicated. It doesn’t mean cynical or nasty. It means complicated.”
Buscemi requested that the Mr. Pink “Reservoir Dogs” doll not be carrying a gun because he thought about kids playing with it.
The first question during the audience Q&A was about gun violence and whether Buscemi felt any extra guilt when real life tragedy strikes given the violence in “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Sopranos,” and other movies in general. “I don’t think I cry more than anyone else, but I think what you’re talking about is really horrible,” Buscemi said. “Gun violence in this country is, I think, insane. […] I do things in my own small ways. I got this from Harvey Keitel, but I won’t sign a picture anymore when I’m holding a gun. When the ‘Reservoir Dogs’ — I know this may seem trivial — but when the ‘Reservoir Dogs’ doll came out, the action figure, I requested that the Mr. Pink character not have a gun, a detachable gun, because I just imagined kids playing with it.”
Buscemi went on to say he feels that violence is a part of storytelling and each person individually takes responsibility for their decisions about what they create as artists.
“He just had this ability to elicit people’s love. It’s really amazing.”
David Chase on “Sopranos” star, James Gandolfini.
Michael Imperioli may have been threatened by mobsters while shooting “The Sopranos.”
The actor, who played Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos,” also owned a bar back when they were shooting the series. One night, Chase said, a man came into the bar and drank alone until bar close. Imperioli walked up to him and told him he’d have to leave because the bar was closing up. “Michael said, ‘Well, we’re closing,'” Chase remembered. “And he said, ‘You’re making a lot of people in Jersey unhappy.’ And he left.” Nothing ever came of it, but Chase said it was something to think about.
“Never say never” when it comes to David Chase returning to television.
Chase seemed open to returning to making television in a shorter format, like the eight-episode run of HBO’s “True Detective” or even the more conventional 13-episode seasons of premium cable these days. “A television series? I never say never,” Chase said before being asked specifically about the eight-to-10 episode seasons. “That I might do, but is that really TV? I think we’re still in the experimental stage of that, and as soon as anyone starts losing a penny that’s going to be the end of that.”
Buscemi doesn’t think TV will ever return to “the way it was,” and that’s okay.
“It might be hard to go back to the way things used to be,” Buscemi said. “I think the landscape has changed, but hopefully they’ll just be better characters. They don’t have to be bad.”
Take a look at the entire hour plus conversation below.