For actor Vincent Piazza, signing on to play the brooding, quick-tempered Lucky Luciano was a daunting challenge. He learned everything he could about the legendary mobster, immersing himself in the history and lore associated with the man who would eventually organize the mafia into its five families.
I got the chance to talk with Piazza about where 'Boardwalk' is heading in its second season (premieres Sun., Sept. 25, 9PM ET on HBO), a season that will see some the younger generation of gangsters start to carve out new roles for themselves as Prohibition drags on.
Keep reading to find out whether or not Lucky can work effectively with the Atlantic City crew after sleeping with Jimmy Darmody's mother in Season 1, and if 'Boardwalk' will show viewers the birth of an alliance between Luciano and Al Capone.
The younger generation of gangsters portrayed on the show seems ready to assert their independence. Will we see that play out this season?
I think where we saw Lucky at the end of last season, he was thrust into a world where he wasn't quite sure whether the same rules of the street applied. And we saw him by the end of the season start to get his legs underneath him. Throughout much of the season, he was certainly Arnold Rothstein's pupil. When he recommended the resolution for Rothstein's World Series problem, he started to get his confidence underneath him.
As we enter Season Two in 1921, these young guys are saying, "I want more," and he's understanding that the same rules of the street do apply. And I think that's going to be a theme throughout. I think we're going to see these guys say, "Okay I'm in this world, how do I get ahead while maintaining my dignity?"
'Boardwalk' is set during Prohibition, and centers on the fight to control the bootlegging trade. Might they begin to exploit other sources of revenue?
What we're seeing now is younger guys, and Rothstein included, creating the rackets. Coming up with odds-making, coming up with new, innovative ways to make money. I'm not sure any of the gangsters at this point would discriminate against a money-making opportunity.
There's a lot of tension between Lucky and Jimmy Darmody from Season 1. Will that interfere with the business dealings between New York and the Atlantic City crew?
The tension is always there, it's kind of the elephant in the room. Because even though Jimmy had marched Lucky to, at one point, what was his certain death, he survived. And you still always have that thing when you're standing in the room with a colleague or a business person, and saying, "Well, I did sleep with your mother." He owns that. But it will be curious to see how much of an impact it will have on their relationship moving forward.
One scene that stands out from Season 1 was when Lucky was in the doctor's office experiencing some sexual problems. Was that something that you found in researching the character?
When I was on the set of the pilot, Terry Winter and I were talking about some of the research I had done, about how Lucky Luciano intentionally caught gonorrhea to get out of serving in World War I. He later realized maybe it wasn't the best idea, because the treatments that you saw in Episode 3 of last season, was something he had to do every week for a year, injecting sulfur into the urethra to kill the gonorrhea. He described it as awful, and said that he'd rather have served if he knew what the cure was. Terry thought it was a great nugget of history that we could represent, and you don't often get to see gangsters in precarious medical situations like that. The treatments may have made him sterile. There were prostitutes who took the stand in his trial in '36 and said he had problems getting it up. It could be why he never had children ... which certainly made him a very angry man.
Lucky's temper does seem to be one of his defining characteristics. Is that just necessary in that criminal underworld, or does he eventually learn to moderate it?
I think temper gets moderated with success, but I also think that the accounts of mobsters ... there was an underlying ruthlessness. Threats and violence and murder were viable business options, which they aren't in today's world. At this stage of the game, these guys are forming these rackets, and the way to do it is through the use of force to establish power.
How do you think Lucky and Rothstein look on uncertainty among the power structure in Atlantic City?
I think the one thing Rothstein is bestowing on the young guys is the adage that crisis creates opportunity. So if there's crisis in Atlantic City, there's an opportunity in there somewhere.
What about the relationship between Luciano and Capone. Will we see more of a New York-Chicago connection this season?
I think the New York-Chicago connections are inevitable. When they created the commission in 1929, which was at the Atlantic City convention, Capone more or less fell in line with Luciano and I think there was a real friendliness between them, but also a rivalry. I think over time they learned to see how much they had in common. These were both Five Pointers, kids who likely grew up on the same streets. I think they went to the same public school, PS-14, so they likely grew up strike-breaking, doing jobs together. Luciano actually helped finance Capone's escape to Chicago when he was wanted for murder. Hopefully we'll see that relationship form throughout the course of the season.
It sounds like you've done a tremendous amount of research on this historical period, and these players.
I felt like that was the only salvation for me. Learning about Luciano and knowing the pedigree of actors who had played him in the past, it was very intimidating. So I said my only angle in this is to really tell as close to the truth as possible. This is an opportunity to show him as a young man, which many of the films that have been made about him didn't.
So I tried to ground it in as much truth and research as possible. I had a meeting with Scorsese early on and he pointed me in the direction of what he felt was the quintessential Luciano, played by Gian Maria Volonte in Francesco Rosi's 1973 film 'Lucky Luciano.' That was him as an older man, and Scorsese said that if we can create a young man who could conceivably grow into that, then it'll be a victory. So hopefully I can serve that, along with the writers of the show, and get him to go there.
For more 'Boardwalk Empire' coverage, check out Mo Ryan's review of Season Two.
Below, Piazza talks about Luciano's charisma in an interview with 'Good Day New York':