Season three of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire begins this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST, which is a very important thing to know because Boardwalk Empire got very, very good last year. Now, the cast’s ranks have been thinned, new characters have been brought in, and a certain someone has turned pure evil — in the words of Vincent Piazza, who plays up-and-coming mobster Lucky Luciano, this season will be “incredibly gangster heavy.”
We had a chance to speak to Piazza to discuss what fans should expect this season, TV’s most shocking death in 2011, and how one prepares to play a guy who killed people in real life. Also, Paz de la Huerta, obviously.
So, you’re pretty much the guy who brought heroin to New Jersey, or at least popularized it, judging by last season’s finale. That’s a pretty big deal.
Yeah, it is. [Lucky’s] such a complex character, and obviously he’s this iconic gangster, but he’s been portrayed so many times, and my hat goes off to the writers and the creator of the show because they’re trying to demystify who he was. Trying to bring some understanding to him that we may not have seen before.
How shocked were you with the way last season ended?
Oh my god, very. First off, as an actor, you never want to see friends lose work, but the show breeds it. It’s a gangster series; people are going to come and go. It was very shocking. But in a way, it was great. It keeps the audience off balanced. Let me put it this way: it was great from the show’s standpoint.
Do you think Lucky’s happy to have Jimmy out of the picture?
I don’t think he’s happy. I think Jimmy was a part of the landscape, and as long as he’s not working against Lucky, there’s no reason to see him go away. I think time proves that he was shrewd enough to have people follow his current of what he wanted to achieve. He wasn’t the hierarchy, so he wasn’t in his way.
Along those lines, where do you think Lucky sees himself in the power hierarchy?
He’s always perceived himself as being a boss, and I think that’s part of his trouble. He has a real problem with authority because he sees himself as the authority. And I think it’s going to become…it has become, in the past season, it’s part of his hang up. It’s almost a character flow because he’s not able to ebb and flow with what people are telling him to do. But history has shown that when given the opportunity to be in charge, he’s been an effective leader. And I think that’s in part with his relationship with [Meyer] Lansky. It was such a symbiotic relationship. A guy like Lucky would have never lasted without a guy like Lansky, and a guy like Lansky never would have lasted without Lucky. They just complimented each other so well.
The new season begins in 1923, which is right around the time the real life Lucky begins to become more and more powerful. Is there a shift in the way you played the character?
We haven’t gone to that change yet. Time proves he will change in certain ways, but I think his core never…there was a part of him that was always a thug, and I think he’ll learn different dances with different people in different social circles. I think his view of the world changes, but up through season two, we haven’t seen that yet. You need force to get power.
I know you can’t say too much about season three, but is there anything you can tease?
Unfortunately not, but I can say it’s incredibly gangster heavy. There are some great new characters, too. Bobby Cannavale comes in, he’s wonderful. He plays Gyp Rosetti [Nucky’s new rival]. There’s some great people that shake up the landscape.