I loved Bobby Cannavale on Boardwalk Empire. I think he did his job awesomely well as the frightening mobster Gyp Rossetti. There were scenes of stomach-churning violence, nudity, sexual depravity and emotional pain –sometimes all in one– that lesser actors would not have had the guts to take on, but he tackled fiercely and fearlessly. The meltdown-inducing BDSM scenes between Gyp and Gillian Darmody (the amazing and underrated Gretchen Mol) in season 3’s last two episodes are so raw they aren’t even on YouTube. (And others that were clearly award bait, like his hilariously blasphemous tirade against Jesus in a church.)
But there are those in the semi-fictional Atlantic City doing work just as good, if less flashy, than Cannavale. The Emmy category could have been populated with just actors from this show. Here are a few of the best.
1. Jack Huston as Richard Harrow. Looking up video interviews of Jack Huston will reveal a handsome, plump-cheeked young Englishman approximately a kajillion miles away from disfigured war veteran Richard Harrow. With his half-face mask, his impeccably sober three-piece suits, his facial tics, and his growly stammered delivery, this could have become a caricature. Instead, Huston makes Harrow into Empire’s most realized character, and possibly its only one with a soul, damaged as it is. His reserved quietness most of the time makes his outbursts of violence, few and far between as they are, all the more shocking.
Huston is appearing in the new Beats movie Kill Your Darlings as Jack Kerouac, alongside Daniel Radcliffe as Allan Ginsberg. I can’t wait. And I forgive him for being in Twilight:Eclipse.
Stephen Root as Gaston Means. Stephen Root is always funny, whether in NewsRadio, King of the Hill, or Office Space. Naturally his Empire character is funny, but with courtly, formal touches like his elaborate wardrobe and flowery language. His Gaston Means is an old-school confidence man, and he’s a joy to watch and listen to every time he appears.
3. Michael K. Williams as Chalky White. It’d be inevitable to suspect that any award given to Michael K. Williams would be belated recognition for Omar Little, his epic Wire character. But Chalky’s surly drawl, perpetual sneer, and calculating mind make him such a joy to watch that Williams would deserve it even if Omar had never prowled the streets of Baltimore. (“I sure ain’t building no bookcase!”)
4. Michael Shannon as Nelson Van Alden, alias George Mueller. To watch a man with a self-righteous, judgmental, ostentatiously Christian worldview like prohibition agent Van Alden get dragged down into the muck of murder, adultery, organized crime, bootlegging, and (worst of all) door-to-door salesmanship, has got to be one of the finest pleasures on TV. Shannon’s smiles are so forced they look like they’re painful. Playing Van Alden/Mueller with dead seriousness while allowing us to laugh at him is a brave actor’s choice, for which Shannon should be lauded.
Bonus 5. Paul Sparks as Mickey Doyle. Because he’s got the best screen laugh since Tom Hulce in Amadeus.
Bonus 6. Anthony Laciura as Eddie Kessler. Because he’s adorably funny (and a former opera colleague of mine).
Bonus 7. Michael Stuhlbarg as Arnold Rothstein. Because his glacially eerie calm and terrifyingly good manners are exactly what you’d expect when portraying a man who almost got away with fixing the World Series.
- Gretchen Mol Is the Damaged Secret Weapon of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ (theatlanticwire.com) (WARNING- link contains 4th season spoilers)