|HBO hit series - Broadwalk Empire||Subtitles advertisement|
HBO hit series - Broadwalk Empire
Article online since: 2010-09-21 19:23:40
Written by: Martin Morrow
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Nucky Thompson. But if the sizzling new HBO series Boardwalk Empire, which begins Sept. 19, catches fire with audiences, Nucky could soon be as familiar as Tony Soprano.
Nucky is no mere gangster. He’s a politician, the treasurer of Prohibition-era Atlantic City, no less, and as such a first-class hypocrite. As played with suavity by a dapper Steve Buscemi, he can dish out a sob story about the wages of demon rum to a ladies’ temperance league, then turn around and cut a deal for crates of bootlegged Canadian Club to keep his city wet and wild. To steal a phrase from W.C. Fields, the guy’s as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. And he was a real person, to boot.
Steve Buscemi’s role is loosely based on Enoch (Nucky) Johnson, an Atlantic City official whose colourful, two-faced career is delineated in Nelson Johnson’s Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City, the history book that inspired the series.
“Nucky Johnson was such a big character who stands out in 20th-century America,” says the 61-year-old author, a U.S. Superior Court judge and lifelong New Jerseyan. “He really wore two hats the way that nobody I can think of did. He was a member of organized crime and he was a very influential politician who was invited to the White House to sleep in Lincoln’s bed.”
Nelson Johnson — who is unrelated to his namesake — published his tome in 2002. Soon after, he began vigorously pitching it in L.A., convinced Nucky belonged on the screen. “I was hoping someone would find him attractive,” he says, “and HBO did.”
Not only HBO, but Martin Scorsese, who is an executive producer on the 12-part series and directed its bang-up pilot. The head writer, meanwhile, is Terence Winter, an Emmy Award winner for his work on The Sopranos. The resulting collaboration is a mix of history lesson, black comedy and gore-spattering violence that’s as potent as a beaker of bathtub gin.
The pilot opens on New Year’s Eve 1920, as Atlantic City’s flappers and swells bid a fond adieu to booze with the introduction of the Volstead Act, the new law prohibiting the making, importing and sale of liquor. Nucky, however, is ready for the crackdown. He’s got his fingers in bootlegging and an illegal still and he’s also ready to help some interested “businessmen” from Chicago and New York. They include mob boss James (Big Jim) Colosimo (Frank Crudele), gambler Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Rothstein’s associate, a hotheaded kid named Charles (Lucky) Luciano (Vincent Piazza).
Meanwhile, Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt), Nucky’s young protege and a veteran of the First World War trenches, has returned to Atlantic City and isn’t too happy about his lack of advancement. He becomes partners with another ambitious young guy itching to make his mark — a bartender named Al Capone (Stephen Graham).
The series is flush with terrific character actors, among them Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) as a God-fearing but ruthless federal agent; Michael K. Williams (The Wire) as the head of the city’s black community; and Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men) as an abused wife who comes under Nucky’s protection.
Then there’s the inimitable Buscemi himself. The weaselly looking actor is cast against type for a change, and makes the most of it. He promenades down the fabled Atlantic City Boardwalk in smart tailored suits and impeccable starched collars, a dandy’s red carnation in his buttonhole. But Winter also lets Buscemi indulge his comic side in his exasperated scenes with his well-meaning but fumbling factotum (Anthony Laciura).
“Steve Buscemi’s got a lot of moxie and it takes someone like that to play Nucky,” Johnson says. However, the series takes some liberties with the facts. The real Nucky was an athletic powerhouse of a man who stood close to six-foot-four and weighed 220 pounds. “Buscemi’s five-foot-eight and maybe 155 pounds,” Johnson says. “But I think that’s by design. They wanted him very much not to look like a Tony Soprano figure — the big, hulking don. They wanted somebody that survived more by his wits and his wisecracks and his cunning than by his physical power. I’m OK with it.”
Johnson certainly has no complaints with the show’s assiduous period details, from the Jazz Age slang to the popular entertainment of the time. Sophie Tucker and Al Jolson are heard warbling on the gramophone, there’s a Fatty Arbuckle comedy at the local nickelodeon and a white-faced Eddie Cantor (Stephen DeRosa) regales a vaudeville audience with sexist jokes.
Then there’s the recreation of old Atlantic City itself — part family-friendly seaside resort, part nighttime Babylon — which today exists only in photographs. Most of the city’s original architecture was torn down during its decline in the 1960s and ’70s. “The first time I saw the set in Brooklyn, where they’d rebuilt a miniature boardwalk, I was really impressed,” Johnson says. Johnson, whose family roots in New Jersey stretch back to before Atlantic City was incorporated in 1854, is just old enough to have caught the end of its golden age. He remembers the town in the postwar era. “In those days, the boardwalk was really a big deal, it was sort of like Times Square by the ocean,” he says. “General Motors unveiled all their cars there. Heinz 57 Varieties had a pier to display their products. Movies and plays tried out in Atlantic City first. It was a really jumpin’ place.”
Johnson first began to delve into its history in the 1980s, when he was a lawyer representing Atlantic City’s planning board. It was the beginning of the city’s revitalization as a gamblers’ paradise, when many of its current casinos were coming before the board for approval. “I went into city hall expecting corruption,” he says, “but what I did not expect was the dysfunction of the place. The more I looked at it, I said to myself, ‘If you’re going to stay here for any length of time, you’ve got to find out why this place is so crazy.’” His research inspired him to write Boardwalk Empire, which he says is the first complete history of Atlantic City. While the HBO show only focuses on its role in Prohibition, it will still be an eye-opener for many. Apart from the occasional film — The Untouchables, Miller’s Crossing (in which a young Buscemi had a small role) — the era has been largely ignored by the entertainment industry in the last few decades.
“That whole era is just filled with craziness,” he says, “the whole idea that you’re going to ban alcohol and that somehow that’s going to turn out to be a good thing. You look back and realize how silly a social experiment that was.” As Boardwalk Empire reminds us, the real achievement of Prohibition was to help make the careers of Capone, Luciano and other legendary gangsters.
In fact, behind its homburg hats and vintage Rolls Royces, the show may be as timely in its way as that other HBO series about battling illegal substances, The Wire. “The war on drugs hasn’t had too many successes, either,” Johnson notes. “Every time we think we have a success, we capture this drug dealer or this kingpin, somebody replaces him and the whole thing just continues unabated. So it really does make you wonder.”
|More articles > TV Series & Talk Show|
| - Aliens are coming!
- The True Blood wedding
- Oscar organizers ponder earlier show time
- Judge says Lohan violated terms of her bail
- Parties outweigh prizes at MTV award shows
- Brad Pitt joins US bid to host soccer World Cup in 2018
- Vampire mania alerts - true blood top video sales
- From Captain to Sir - Patrick Stewart
- Two new roles for the True Blood star
- Lindsay Lohan on bracelet
- Claudia Schiffer gives birth to girl
- 'Avatar' sells 6.7 million DVDs in 4 days
- Megan Fox protests school budget cuts with comedy
- Bigelow pioneers Oscars with `Hurt Locker' win
- Crazy crowd at "Twilight: New Moon" Los Angeles premiere
- Michael Jackson died last night. R.I.P. Mike
- Hollywood: Angelina Jolie gives birth to twins
- Stars Pay Tribute to Jazz Great Oscar Peterson
- Amazon Is Secret Buyer of Rowling's $3.9 Million 'Bard'
- Hollywood Writer Talks Collapse
- West and Winehouse Lead Grammy Nominees
- Wayne and Taylor Enter California Hall of Fame
- Cyrus Tops Highest-Earning-Teens List
- ABC Poised to Claim Victory in November Sweep
- Broadway Strike Deal Reached
- Bindi Irwin Turns to Hip-Hop
- Craig Shoots Down 'Anti-Religious' Claims
- Alba to Take on Broadway
- Timba Lands a Family
- Alicia: I Am No. 1
- Stars Under Threat from Malibu Fires
- 'Idol' Stars Underwood and Daughtry Are Triple Winners at AMAs
- Portman Named Style Queen
- Paige Returns to Spaces
- CBS Rather Annoyed at Newsman's Lawsuit
- Winehouse Dedicates Gig to Jailed Husband
- Broadway Strike Talks to Resume
- Winfrey's 'Devastated' over School-Abuse Allegations
- Britney's Mom to Write Parenting Book
- Jim Belushi Accused of Unloading a Lemon
- Akon Show Canceled after Stage Collapses
- 'Purple Rain' Greatest Film Soundtrack: 'Vanity Fair' Magazine
- Copperfield Sued for Cancelling Tour
- Stars Fear California Fires
- Scientology Gave Seinfeld His Start in Comedy
- Schwarzenegger Declares State of Emergency
- Actress Kerr Dies
- Criss Angel & Uri Geller Team Up for Magic Special
- Kanye, Common and T.I. Lead BET Hip-Hop Awards
- T.I. Arrested After Undercover Machine-Gun Deal