As I stand a few feet away from Michael K. Williams, the actor responsible for Omar from The Wire and Chalky White of Boardwalk Empire, a woman trapezing upside-down on a Cipriani chandelier pours me a glass of champagne. The Boardwalk Empire season-premiere party, hosted by HBO and Time Warner Cable, is as appropriately decadent as evenings at Babette’s Supper Club, Nucky’s Atlantic City hangout on the show; Steve Buscemi is said to be making rounds, although probably not pouring coupes of illegal champagne to guests.
As crowds pour off of buses coming from Manhattan’s Ziegfeld movie theater (where the new episode was screened), it becomes obvious that HBO likes to keep roles in the family. Not only have Buscemi and Williams appeared as headliners on other HBO programs, but the Cipriani dining hall is filled with familiar faces. Ron Livingston, who played Captain Nixon on Band of Brothers, is sporting a silk suit. Dominic Chianese, best known as Junior Soprano (who plays a powerful lawyer on Boardwalk), hides behind a thick beard.
The atmosphere is cozy—Livingston is chatting with Stephen Root, his old friend from Office Space, and Steven Van Zandt schmoozes with Sopranos co-star Tony Sirico. Sirico seems in life as much a member of the Sopranos crew as he does in the show—his gesticulations and his intonation are the very same many of us have gotten to know since the show first aired more than ten years ago.
Three suspended glasses of champagne later, I’m speaking with Stephen DeRosa, who plays the outlandishly burlesque Eddie Cantor on Boardwalk. “If you think this episode was intense,” he tells me, of the fourth-season premiere, “then you won’t be able to fathom what happens next.” He jumps between the caricature speech patterns he uses while playing Cantor, and his normal voice.
A few moments later I am waiting by the bar beside a man who looks somewhat familiar. It takes me a few minutes to realize that it’s Jack Huston, who plays Boardwalk‘s Richard Harrow, the marksman who had half his face shot off during the First World War. (He’s hard to recognize sans mask). Harrow has been one of the most fascinating characters on Boardwalk Empire; he operates under his own, rigid but violent sense of morality, and is behind some of the most entertaining killing sprees in the show’s history.
Several other characters from the show stand around an oyster bar. There is something eager, but dark in the air. With the gruesome and unexpected end to the show’s third season and the death of Boardwalk super-villain Gyp Rosetti, it is difficult to predict exactly what direction the fourth season could take. The only certainty is of a mounting, and as-of-now unresolved tension in the opening episodes—perhaps even a tension whose very source is entirely unidentifiable.
The fourth season, without giving too much away, will explore an element of Atlantic City that has remained, up to this point, just on the verge of interesting, drawing viewers in every so often with small hints, but never going too far beyond that. The final episode of the third season made it clear that the fourth will be, at least in part, one that focuses on Chalky White and Al Capone, who both share the same aggressive, coy sense of humor that would have fit in so neatly on The Sopranos.
Neither DeRosa or Huston were willing share any revelations regarding their show, and perhaps it was for my own good. The answer to my question, remains, after all, almost as simple as simple as the ornamentation of the quintuple-tiered shrimp cocktail sitting before me.