'Boardwalk Empire': Steve Buscemi, Terence Winter Share How They Ended the Final Season
The entire cast tells THR about shooting their final take of the series
On Boardwalk Empire's final day of production, Steve Buscemi broke one of his own cardinal rules. Shooting at their Steiner Studios stage in Brooklyn, the actor stood with his back turned to his onscreen counterpart, Kelly Macdonald, waiting patiently for Margaret Thompson to say the line that cues the nebulous Nucky to turn to her, and the camera, for the very last time.
"Usually, I get very distracted by people in my eyeline," he told The Hollywood Reporter at the show's season five premiere on Wednesday. "But for the very last take, I requested the whole crew to watch. They were all in my eyeline, and I tried to look at each one of them before I turned around and went into the scene. It was such a beautiful moment."
Creator and executive producer Terence Winter had more of a restless perspective on that ultimate moment. "My last day was spent fidgeting a lot because I was on set the entire day, with nothing else that needed to be done; I didn't have any other writing to do, so it was weird," he explained on the red carpet outside the Ziegfeld Theater. "But I just had a really fun day. There was a lot of emotion and tears when we wrapped, followed by a very raucous party out in the studio parking lot in the Brooklyn Navy Yards." Before the series kicks off its fifth and final season on Sunday, he had a message for fans: "I hope they feel they've been told a really fun, exciting, emotionally complete story. I hope they'll feel satisfied, like when you've closed the last page of a great novel."
Buscemi noted that one of his favorite Nucky Thompson lines is, " 'How hard do I work?' which he said when he got very upset with his assistant, Eddie Kessler [Anthony Laciura], in the first season," and that of the many attributes of his character, "I'll certainly miss his wardrobe — he always looked sharp! There's so much I'll miss about him. He was a very scrappy, intelligent guy. He sort of came from nothing and really made something of himself; he had such grit to him and was able to think on his feet."
As for how Nucky became that way, the fifth season finally offers answers. "It's interesting to explore how Nucky became who he became, and the many flashbacks show a lot of different influences, and things he's present for and participates in," teases John Ellison Conlee, who joins the series as the Commodore (portrayed in earlier seasons by Dabney Coleman).
HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler and Winter introduced the season five premiere episode, "Golden Days for Boys and Girls," written by Howard Korder, directed by Tim Van Patten and packed with candy, Havana dancing and Atlantic City flashbacks. "It's so weird to be doing this for the last time, but I came up with an idea: Next year at this time, whatever's playing at the Ziegfeld, we all meet, buy tickets and go to Cipriani's for dinner!" joked Winter of what has become an annual ritual for the series.
As such, the screening's afterparty featured a boardwalk built in to the Midtown venue's ballroom, a costumed performer serving champagne, and a generous spread of pastas, seafood and desserts, all arranged around a ton of feathers, balloons and carousel-themed centerpieces. Alongside Boardwalk's Jeffrey Wright, Paul Sparks, Margo Bingham and Louis Cancelmi, as well as Leftovers castmembers, Cary Fukunaga, John Slattery, Edie Falco, Malcolm Gladwell, Russell Simmons, Amber Tamblyn, Danny Strong, Tyson Beckford, June Ambrose, Frankie Fason, Ben Folds, St. Vincent and Questlove were among those spotted celebrating the series' farewell.
But the bittersweet night wasn't entirely defined by goodbyes: After Winter gave THR his advice for fellow ambitious showrunners — "You as an artist and a storyteller need to tell the story you're passionate about and hope that people like it, rather than have them dictate what they want you to tell them" — he expressed his excitement for his upcoming '70s rock 'n' roll drama pilot for HBO, starring Boardwalk alum Bobby Cannavale and again featuring director Martin Scorsese as executive producer, along with Mick Jagger. It's just like Nucky says early on in Sunday's episode: "If America's not about starting over, where's the hope for any of us?"
THR asked the Boardwalk Empire cast about their final days of production, favorite series moments, most memorable lines and personal keepsakes from the set:
Michael Kenneth Williams (Chalky White)
Last day on set: "It was hard. It was very hot in Harlem, and the scenes were very dark. The reality was setting in that it was over, so it was a bit of a process to get through the day. We shot in the alleyways, I said my goodbyes and I just walked away and didn't look back. Kept my eyes forward to the future — went straight to my trailer, got dressed, hung my clothes up as I always do, took a picture of it and said goodbye."
Top series moment: "The fight scene between Dunn Purnsley [Erik LaRay Harvey] and Chalky, when Daughter kills Dunn. That was really good."
Favorite line: " 'I ain't buildin' no bookcase' is my all-time favorite."
On-set souvenirs: "Just memories." (He added, "Steve and I only have one scene together this season, but it's intense!")
Kelly Macdonald (Margaret Thompson)
Last day on set: "I was at the studio for the last day of production — it was a nice bookend because I was there on the first day of the pilot, too. It started off weird, and then it became like a normal work day, but the end was highly emotional."
On-set souvenirs: "No — all the boys, however, they're ridiculous! I'm far too polite to ask for everything, but they were like scavengers! Vultures! But my favorite outfit is my last outfit, a coral suit in the last episode."
Vincent Piazza (Lucky Luciano)
Last day on set: "We shot in Midtown, and it went by incredibly quickly. They surprised me — I was told there's one more camera setup, so I was sitting down and waiting for it to happen, but they were actually rallying the crew to all come in. It was really sweet and wonderful. Part of me was sad, as you'd expect, but also relieved and liberated, and that we had done something special."
Top series moment: "Shooting in Sicilian with Ivo Nandi in what was Joe Masseria's actual headquarters on the Lower East Side. Being in that space with Ivo was one of the coolest things I did on the show. Intense, but exciting to think that these guys could've had a meeting similar to our scene."
Favorite line: "You'll see them this season; a few made me laugh out loud at the wrong times."
On-set souvenirs: "My lighter that I had since the pilot. I have it now on my coffee table."
Gretchen Mol (Gillian Darmody; wearing Vivienne Westwood)
Last day on set: "I was working with Steve in Yonkers — we counted on our hands how often we actual work together. I talk and think about him a lot, but we don’t have a lot of scenes together. It was really nice for my last day to be with him."
Top series moment: "Season four, episode 11, because of the work I got to do for the long con of Ron Livingston's character, and the betrayal is revealed. It was all written so beautifully, and you just end up on the ground, screaming like a wild animal — it was fabulous!"
Favorite line: " 'Why does a man get to do anything he wants?' That's Gillian's anthem!"
On-set souvenirs: "I didn't take anything; I have my scripts. But the first outfit I wore was a wild showgirl number, and I don't know if I'd be able to put it on now, but it was good.
Michael Stuhlbarg (Arnold Rothstein)
Last day on set: "A beautiful, sunny, charming, lovely day in Brooklyn, in front of an apartment building with Kelly Macdonald and some kids. We were smiling and laughing. I didn't know it was gonna be my last day."
Top series moment: "The first day on the pilot, because we didn’t know what we were setting out to do, and the sky was the limit. We were shooting in some remarkable places, in really beautiful clothing — very generous spirits all around. We felt like we were at the beginning of something special, and indeed it was."
Favorite character: "Richard Harrow [Jack Huston] seemed to really knock all of us sideways. I wasn't expecting him, and he came out of the blue, and Jack did such an amazing job imagining who that guy was."
Anatol Yusef (Meyer Lansky)
Last day on set: "I mupped around a little bit too much, I boomed the scene. It was at Essex House on Central Park South. At wrap, it was far more emotional than I anticipated it to be."
Top series moment: "My first scene — particularly now, it comes into focus even more. Me and Chalky in a warehouse, this little Jewish boy trying to shove Chalky down. Also, the season two scene of Jimmy's death, and when Richard Harrow died in season four."
Favorite line: "Lucky says to Jimmy, 'Go fry a f—ing egg, Farmer John.' "
On-set souvenirs: "My watch, cigarette box, lighter, suits — I stole everything I could."
Chris Caldovino (Tonino Sandrelli)
Last day on set: "It was late night down in Red Hook and everybody wanted to go home — to everyone else, there was still more work to do, so it's just another day. But when you finish, they give you a round of applause because they know it's your last one — that lasts about 10 seconds and everyone goes back to work! Because it's just a job, but personally, it was bittersweet."
Top series moment: "Season three finale, when Tonino killed Gyp Rosetti [Cannavale]. He's my buddy and is amazing, but I got to kill him!"
Favorite line: "When Gyp calls Nucky 'a breadstick in a bowtie.' Funniest line in the show."
On-set souvenirs: "The prop guys gave me some keepsakes, like my antique cigarette lighter."
Christiane Siedel (Sigrid; wearing Marc Bouwer)
Last day on set: "It was a huge day in our house, on the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We filmed a lot of crazy stuff, so I couldn't be more thankful about that last experience. I just felt at home, like I never wanted to go."
Top series moment: "Of course, I think of the most horrifying one: when Nucky shot Jimmy. That was such a shocker — my jaw was on the floor!"
Favorite line: " 'You can't be half a gangster,' of course. For Sigrid, it's, 'I will make for you some fish stew,' because it's so her, always taking care of people."
On-set souvenirs: "There was a beautiful green two-piece dress in episode five of this season that I really wanted, but we found out it was a loan, so I couldn't snag it!"
Ben Rosenfield (Willie Thompson)
Last day on set: "It was in the Bronx — Stephen Graham, who plays Al Capone, had just finished his last day, so everyone was already pretty sad. But it was fun, a nice day."
Top series moment: "I really enjoyed Jake Paltrow's episode — season five, episode 10."
Favorite line: "That one Jimmy Darmody [Michael Pitt] says to Nucky in the first season, 'You can't be half a gangster.' "
On-set souvenirs: "I should've taken one of the suits!"
Domenick Lombardozzi (Ralph Capone)
Last day on set: "Sad, of course. It was with Stephen Graham, who has become my brother on the show, and Tim Van Patten was directing the episode at Steiner. It felt great to have accomplished something, and at the same time, sad that I wouldn't be putting on the wig or those great clothes."
Top series moment: "There's a scene I did with Stephen this season that has us joking around, and I love last season's scene with Eddie."
Favorite line: "A line Stephen says this season: 'I think you're a f—ing badge.' "
On-set souvenirs: "I honestly didn't take anything!"
Michael Zegen (Benny Siegel)
Last day on set: "I was in a whorehouse! In Park Slope. It's bittersweet, because they gave me a lot more stuff to do this season — it's like, I was just getting into it and it's over?!"
Top series moment: "In season three, when they put a hit out for Gyp, and I'm dressed like a paperboy but I shoot up this hotel."
Favorite line: "From this season, I tell somebody to go 'lick the piss off my shvantz,' which is Yiddish for you-know-what."
On-set souvenirs: "I want to take my suits! I've been asking — they're tailored especially for us, so they fit like a glove. I want all of them."
Anthony Laciura (Eddie Kessler)
Top series moment: "One of the ones that moved me was in the third season: after I was shot, I'm speaking to Nucky and giving the poem 'If' by Rudyard Kipling, in German and in English. Also, when I got to tell him, 'I live because of you. Where can I go without you?' Those moments, I think, told the audience that Eddie has deep feelings, and needs to take care of things as a father would take care of a son."
Editor's note: This Q&A has been edited and shortened.