Boardwalk Empire returns on September 8th, and at this point, it really has become my favorite fall series of the year. While The Walking Dead can be brilliant, but very inconsistent, and while Homeland has dropped off after its first season, Boardwalk Empire has managed to grow into a better show each successive season, culminating last season in a phenomenal year that elevated the likes of Charlie Cox, Jack Huston, and Stephen Graham into stand-out supporting performers.
That’s been the blessing of Boardwalk Empire, too: It has such a sprawling cast, that even when characters are picked off, there’s someone else to mature into the season’s scene stealer. This year, in addition to the phenomenal returning cast, will also see the introduction of characters played by Ron Livingston and Jeffrey Goddamn Wright, and an elevated role for Michael K. Williams’ Chalky White.
It should be a fantastic fourth season, one of the major highlights in a crowded Sunday night field. Before the season kicks off, however, I thought we’d take a look at some of the more interesting, surprising, and fascinating facts about the cast of Boardwalk Empire.
1. Before he became an actor, Steve Buscemi spent four years as a firefighter in the Little Italy section of NY. In fact, after 9/11, he showed up to his old fire house and worked 12 hour shifts every day for a week.
2. Back in 2001, Steve Buscemi was stabbed four times, including once IN THE NECK and nearly died in a bar brawl, along with Vince Vaughn, after two North Carolinians picked a fight with Vaughn when the girlfriend of one of the men hit on him. The guy who stabbed Buscemi, a college kid, was sentenced to 25 months in prison, and Buscemi still has a scar on his cheek, though it is covered in heavy makeup for his film and television appearances.
3. Steve Buscemi also auditioned for George Costanza on Seinfeld.
4. Steve Buscemi is also best friends with Stanley Tucci (in fact, he was the best man at Tucci’s wedding to Felicity Blunt, who is Emily Blunt’s sister, making Tucci and Jon Krasinski brothers-in-law). I mentioned this in a Sons of Anarchy piece, but it’s worth re-mentioning that Buscemi is also close friends with Mark Boone Junior, who was Buscemi’s writing/theater partner in the early part of their career. Here’s a rare live performance of the two from way, way back in the day.
Buscemi is also married to this woman, Jo Andres.
5. Michael Pitt, who played Jimmy Darmody in Boardwalk Empire, is the guitarist and singer for the Nirvana-sounding band Pagoda.
6. Back in 2002, Michael Pitt and his then girlfriend Alexis Dziena were in Joey Ramone’s music video for “What a Wonderful World.”
7. Pitt also played Henry in Dawson’s Creek, a gig he landed after someone in casting at Dawson’s saw his stage work.
8. Kelly MacDonald’s screen debut was in Trainspotting, where she can be seen nude. However, she refuses now to do nude scenes, and in fact, won’t even be filmed in a bikini.
9. Michael Shannon’s very first screen role was in House of Pain’s video, Every Mother’s Nightmare. It’s super cool to see a young General Zod in this, but I would advise you to do so on mute. The song is terrible.
10. For whatever reason, Michael Shannon has also been in a ton of Michael Bay movies, including the Bay produced Kangaroo Jack, which has to feel like some kind of career low for the guy.
And though everyone already knows this, if I don’t mention it, I’ll get yelled at: Shannon was also in Groundhog Day.
11. Shea Wigham, who plays Nucky’s brother, Eli, co-founded the New York City theatre troupe The Rorschach Group with his college roommate Kirk Acevedo, also known as Charlie from Fringe.
12. Aleksa Palladino, who played Angela Darmody, made her big-screen debut in Manny and Lo opposite Scarlett Johansson.
She is currently the lead singer of ExitMusic.
13. Stephen Graham, who plays Al Capone, is a fairly recognizable British actor, although American audiences probably first saw him in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
He’s also in a Babybird music video called “Unloveable,” which Johnny Depp actually directed.
14. Vincent Piazza, who plays Lucky Luciano, used to be an amateur hockey player and, disappointingly, also used to date Ashlee Simpson. YOU THINK YOU KNOW A GUY.
15. There are a lot of drunken stories about Paz de la Huerta, including the fact that she once used Jack Nicholson to make her boyfriend jealous, that she once borrowed money from a homeless person, that she was arrested and charge with punching and throwing a glass at a reality star, and that she once conducted an interview naked in a bathhouse while rubbing honey on her breasts.
16. On Michael K. Williams, who plays Chalky White, I’ll just say that you should read this piece about his struggles with addiction after The Wire, and how he blew all his The Wire money on blue jeans and sneakers. He also used to work as a back-up dancer for, among others, Madonna. You can actually find him in a Madonna music video for “Secret” at the 2:13 mark.
17. Paul Sparks, who plays Mickey Doyle, is married to Annie Parisse, who you may know from her stint as an ADA in Law an Order, or from The Following.
18. Gretchen Mol is married to Tod Williams, the director of Paranormal Activity 2 and The Door in the Floor, who is also he ex-husband of Famke Janssen. Mol and Janssen have nevertheless worked together, and I believe are friends, because Hollywood is weird.
19. Jack Huston was basically set for life the second he was born. He is literally a descendant of British aristocracy (his mother’s name is Lady Margot Lavinia Cholmondeley), his grandfather is Jack Huston (who directed The Maltese Falcon, among many other notable classics) and his aunt is Angelica Huston.
20. Bobby Cannavale, who played Gyp Rosetti last season, used to be married to Jenny Lumet, which made Sidney Lumet — the 5-time Oscar nominee of 12 Angry Men and Network, among others — his father in law. It also made him brother-in-law with P.J. O’Rourke, who was married to Jenny Lumet’s sister, Amy. Cannavale is now in a relationship with Rose Byrne, because good for him.