Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
James Gandolfini as Boardwalk Empire kingpin Nucky Thompson? It might have happened had the stars aligned differently, the HBO drama’s creator and showrunner Terence Winter said today during the concluding panel of the PaleyFest: Made in NY event at New York’s Paley Center for Media. In response to a question from an audience member about actors other than Steve Buscemi who were considered to portray Nucky, Winter said that Gandolfini — who died in June — was “one of the first people we talked about” for the role. “Not only had we just worked with him,” Winter added, “but he also bore such an uncanny resemblance to the actual Nucky.” But Gandolfini was never really given serious consideration because he was coming off having portrayed an iconic gangster on The Sopranos, Winter admitted. A few other names came up, but because most people had no clue what the actual Nucky Thompson looked like, exec producer Martin Scorsese recommended that they just pick an actor they “really like and want to work with,” Winter said. “Then Marty called me up and said, ‘I can’t stop thinking about Steve Buscemi.’” I said, ‘I can’t either.’ And that was it.”
That tidbit aside, the Boardwalk Empire panel appeared to run on fast-forward, with the actual Q&A taking up a mere 12 minutes and the entire session a scant half-hour as moderated by Hitfix TV critic Alan Sepinwall. Moreover, series star Buscemi and most of the rest of the series’ regular cast weresn’t in attendance. Instead, the panel featured Winter, writer Howard Korder and co-stars Gretchen Mol, Michael Kenneth Williams and Jeffrey Wright, earning kudos after joining the show for its current fourth season as the sinister mobster Dr. Valentin Narcisse. Wright, who has never done series television, said he was inspired to say “yes” to the role based on the level of the writing, the acting, “and the fact that much of the show is shot about five blocks from my house in Brooklyn.” Indeed, for a series set in Atlantic City, it’s noteworthy that not a single frame of Boardwalk has been shot in New Jersey. In keeping with the theme of the PaleyFest event, the cinematic HBO drama is filmed throughout the five boroughs of New York City. “We also still shoot this show on film,” Korder added. “We’re one of the few that do. It’s really all about abetting the style of the show we’re trying to create.”