The "Boardwalk Empire" Emmy panel I moderated last Thursday night went very well, I thought. It was rare to have that many actors from the show in the same place, it was a chance to get some closure from departing castmember Michael Pitt, and the actors and creator Terence Winter were alternately eloquent and funny (one actor in particular) in discussing the first two seasons of the HBO drama. I had hoped to have some video from the event, but it turns out that the only material available to non-ATAS members are the red carpet interviews the actors did; I've embedded Pitt's below, and you can Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald and Gretchen Mol on our video page. As moderator, I couldn't take notes on what was being said, but after the jump I have a few paraphrased highlights from the event:
* First of all, the biggest takeaway was that Michael Shannon was almost shockingly hilarious. Earlier in the panel, I had asked Pitt and Gretchen Mol about the atmosphere on set when they filmed the Jimmy/Gillian incest scene, and then asked a similar question of Pitt and Buscemi in discussing Nucky's murder of Jimmy (more on that in a minute). So after asking Shannon a question about the degree to which he thinks Agent Van Alden is crazy, I turned to Winter to ask him about the season 1 scene where Van Alden drowned Agent Sebso, but before I could finish the sentence, Shannon interrupted and quipped, "Hey, wait a minute! Don't you want to ask if it was difficult for me to drown Erik Weiner!" Later, in talking about what will happen to Van Alden now that he's a man without a badge and a fugitive from justice, he joked, "I could play the trumpet," and this turned into a running gag anytime season 3 storylines were alluded to. It's hard to convey without video, but Shannon's timing was impeccable throughout. Very unexpected, very amusing.
* In terms of Jimmy's death and his subsequent unemployment, Pitt seemed mostly at peace with it, since he assumed all along that Winter intended to have Nucky kill him. Winter, in fact, had to reassure him at the start of the season that it wasn't happening yet — a promise Winter wound up having to break once he realized Jimmy had pushed Nucky too far and that the inevitable murder would happen sooner rather than later. Buscemi, meanwhile, admitted that he had a much harder time accepting it, and that he had to have a very long conversation with Winter where the boss talked him through the final scene beat-by-beat to convince him exactly why Nucky would take this significant, permanent step with his surrogate son.
* In addition to being the sharpest dresser on the panel, Michael Kenneth Williams gave one of the best answers when I asked him where the physicality of Chalky White came from, since he carries himself so differently in the role than he did as Omar Little. Williams said that Omar was based on various tough guys he knew growing up in Brooklyn, whereas for Chalky, he had to reach further into his past and draw on a quintet of relatives, including his late father and a bunch of uncles, who informed different aspects of Chalky, from the dapper style to the perpetual scowl.
* I asked Buscemi how he decides when Nucky is and isn't telling the truth; he said he thinks in Nucky's mind, it's always the truth.
* Michael Stuhlbarg and Vincent Piazza have done a ton of research into the real Rothstein and Luciano, to the point where Winter says he's started to call on them as resources if he and the writers are struggling to remember what the New York wiseguys were up to at a specific moment in time.
* A few minor season 3 spoilers that Winter was willing to reveal: the new season picks up about 15 months after the previous one ended, and year 3 of Prohibition is when things started to get really violent, because that's when the alcohol people had begun stockpiling before the law went into effect began running out.
All in all, a good night, and a good appetite-whetter for season 3, which we should be getting around the usual time this fall.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com