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How James Gandolfini Almost Played Nucky Thompson and More From Last Night’s PaleyFest ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Panel

How James Gandolfini Almost Played Nucky Thompson and More From Last Night's PaleyFest 'Boardwalk Empire' Panel

Boardwalk Empire” showrunner Terence Winter joined writer Howard Korder along with cast members Gretchen Mol, Michael Kenneth Williams and Jeffrey Wright in a PaleyFest: Made in NY panel discussion last night that navigated the HBO series’ intricate tapestry of characters and themes.

Now in it’s fourth season, “Boardwalk Empire” follows Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi) through the dimly lit Prohibition-era streets of Atlantic City, NJ. The Martin Scorsese-produced show offers a portrait of the bootlegging criminal underworld of the 1920s and 1930s as it slowly descended into violence, fueling different criminal organizations. The Paley Center for Media has in the past week endeavored to promote local filmmaking by launching a series of screenings and panel discussions featuring New York City-based productions, from the hit comedy “Louie” to “Orange is the New Black.” Boardwalk Empire, exclusively shot throughout the Big Apple in a way that revives the old mobster drama feel of the last century, emerged as a natural highlight of the Paley Fest: Made in NY lineup. Here are some of the more memorable moments of last night’s panel:

Terence Winter on last night’s shocking episode ending: “If it works for the show and it’s organic to what’s happening we’ll do it, we don’t shy away from things that might be hard for us or hard for the audience or unpopular just because they are. If it works, again, we do it and I think that was a good example.” 

Gretchen Mol on her character’s love affair with heroin: “I just think of this as the perfect love affair, for Gillian to find heroin, because it releases her from all this stuff — the whole trajectory of her life has been one way. I think she finds this thing, and now if there’s anything that can make her open to a man who is straight and could be promising this kind of future with this good, decent life for her, this is the time she’d be open to it. I don’t think she in her wildest dreams could have ever gone there before.”

Jeffrey Wright on joining the “Boardwalk Empire” cast: “Well, a number of things, largely after the first week with Terry and Howard what attracted me was, well, the writing (which) is what’s driving everything here. One of the most daunting things for me, and the thing that attracted me at the same time, was the work of my fellow actors. Tonight I just look at this stuff and it has such breadth and beauty to it and complexity, but there’s this tangible quality about the work that they’re doing, it’s at the highest level. That’s what drew me in as well, which was a bit concerning because you’re stepping into this and you either add to it or you don’t.”

Howard Korder on the real-life inspiration behind Jeffrey Wright’s character Dr. Narcisse: “We started talking about exactly how he would figure in and what he would be doing. I think we had this idea that he was a fantastic hypocrite. Under the guise of some kind of legitimacy he was basically a vampire of his own people.”

Winter on race relations in the show: “You almost can’t help it when you’re going to explore that world — race relations are a natural offshoot of what’s happening. Just the fact that Chalky [Michael Kenneth Williams] has a nightclub on the boardwalk is groundbreaking in that time. The fact that now Chalky is spending so much time in that world and then sort of turning his back on the north side of town, that causes trouble, so it wasn’t something we set out to do or explore but again just organically flows from the storyline we set up.”

Michael Kenneth Williams on Chalky White’s relationship with Dr. Narcisse and the race-related dynamics of the city: “Chalky is a bit of a deer in headlights now that he got his wish — you know the old saying, be careful what you ask for. I wonder if he is really prepared to deal with all the ramifications of this world that he’s led into. You have this character Narcisse, and Chalky’s never dealt with a man of this caliber — he pretty much says what’s on his mind, wears his heart on his sleeve. That’s pretty much the world [Chalky’s] dealt with up until now and he needed Narcisse, who is conniving and manipulative — a new animal for him. [Chalky’s] a little unnerved as to this new ground he’s on. We see him with the responsibility of the club, he’s still dealing with the race issue, maybe there must have been some thought in his mind that he would be accepted into this world on another level but still can’t sit in his own club.” 

Winter on the James Gandolfini to Steve Buscemi early casting switch for the role of Nucky Thompson: “James Gandolfini was one of the first people we talked about. Not only because I had just worked with him but because he bore such an incredible resemblance to the actual Nucky. But we knew coming off ‘The Sopranos’ for many years he wouldn’t be interested in doing a series anyway and it probably wouldn’t have been a good idea for any other number of reasons because it’s another gangster [show]. Early on in the casting process, we realized nobody knew what the real Nucky looked like anyways, so Martin Scorsese said ‘Let’s just pick an actor we like and want to work with.’ I said, ‘What about Steve Buscemi?’ and he said ‘I love Steve Buscemi’ and I said, ‘Well me too, he’s a great guy, he’d be terrific.’ And a week went by and I truly don’t remember some of the other names that were thrown around and Marty called me up and said, ‘I can’t stop thinking about Steve Buscemi,’ and I said, ‘I can’t either.'”

Korder on the show’s classical style: “The show — maybe unusually, perhaps uniquely on TV today — has what we call a very classical style of cinematography and pace which some people like and I gather some people don’t. That look of the show evolved in the pilot and I think that among other things everything would look extremely rich to echo the plushness and the darkness of the world that it’s set in. We shoot on film, we’re one of the very few shows that still does that.”  

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