Eli Thompson

played by Shea Whigham

Nucky's younger brother and former Sheriff of Atlantic City.

Character Bio

Atlantic City's former sheriff, Eli is also Nucky's younger brother. Their sibling rivalry came to a head when Eli double-crossed his brother - twice. The first betrayal ended with Eli in jail; the second in exile. Eli lives in Chicago where he reports to Nelson Van Alden in the Capone organization.

Bio

Shea Whigham got his start in New York theatre as the co-founder and artistic director of the Rorshach Group, but quickly made a name for himself in film and television, starting with his stunning debut in Joel Schumacher's 'Tigerland' opposite Colin Farrell.

Many roles quickly followed: David Gordon Green's 'All the Real Girls'; the international film 'Out of this World,' directed by Saamoto Junji; the television film 'Faith of our Fathers'; as well as work in major studio productions such as 'Bad Company' (working again with Joel Schumacher), 'Man of the House,' with Tommy Lee Jones, 'Lords of Dogtown,' directed by Catherine Hardwicke, 'First Snow,' with Guy Pearce and the Sundance hit and Independent Spirit Award nominee 'Wristcutters,' with Patrick Fugit. His recent movies include 'Splinter,' New Line's 'Pride & Glory,' directed by Gavin O'Connor, the Universal hit 'Fast & Furious,' Werner Herzog's 'Bad Lieutenant' remake starring Nicolas Cage and the indie films 'Barry Munday,' 'Spooner,' 'Radio Free Albemuth,' 'The Killing Room,' and 'South of Heaven.'

His upcoming credits include 'The Conspirator,' directed by Robert Redford, and Robert Rodriguez's 'Machete' with Robert DeNiro.

Interview with Shea Whigham

HBO

What's behind Eli's deal with the Commodore?

Shea Whigham

You don't do something like that to Nucky without knowing the repercussions of what's going to happen if it goes south. Eli has eight kids and he's running the town, at least as sheriff. He's been made some promises... and we see very quickly that it was a bad move.

HBO

The new partnership requires him to work with Jimmy. How does he feel about him?

Shea Whigham

Eli and Jimmy - that's really complicated. It's made complicated by Nucky and the Commodore giving Jimmy the reigns and skipping over Eli. Eli watches him as he continues to try to lead while the town falls apart and basically has no power to do anything about that. Eli doesn't think Jimmy is doing it right, like Nucky would do it. He'd handle it seamlessly.

HBO

So how does Eli feel about his brother?

Shea Whigham

The show does a pretty good job showing brothers as they haven't been shown before. You know, the real truth-the fighting, even though he loves him, and trying to get out from under his shadow. Eli is constantly trying to prove himself because he's the younger brother and because Nucky's such a pronounced leader.

HBO

Does he return to Nucky out of desperation or something else?

Shea Whigham

From my point of view, Eli's really been missing his big brother. Even though he's his boss, he's been missing him. I think he goes over there to try to make amends. He's opening up, telling him that he needs him, you know, as a younger brother, and he says he'll do anything for him.

HBO

But instead of a reunion, it becomes a violent confrontation.

Shea Whigham

Nucky puts Eli down. So there's nothing left to do but to do what brothers do-go at each other.

Interview with Shea Whigham

HBO

The first time we see Eli this season is the moment he is standing alone outside of prison. He really looks like a changed man.

Shea Whigham

I physically transformed for the role; that was important. And I talked to Terry [Winter, series creator] and Tim [Van Patten, episode director] about that. But we didn't create a lot of backstory about what had happened to Eli. Hopefully the audience has a visceral response to seeing him. I love that there's no talking about his prison time. I wanted the audience to get a sense of what it was probably like for Eli for 15 months in there, that it was a brutal time.

I'm afraid every time I strap Eli on each season. You dig a little bit here and there and it starts to come. But in that moment Eli is really scared of the unknown and what's going to happen. There's so much coursing through me.

HBO

Can you describe some of what was coursing through your mind as Eli in that moment?

Shea Whigham

Family is the most important thing to me and to do without them was an excruciating experience. I also had time to ruminate on my relationship with my brother. It means the world to me, even though it's true I tried to go against him. That really took its toll on me - on Eli - in prison.

HBO

Do you think Eli saw Nucky during that time?

Shea Whigham

I have my thoughts on that. Steve [Buscemi] and I didn't discuss it but I have a feeling he didn't drop by too often.

HBO

By the end of Season 2, was Eli feeling remorse for having attempted the coup against Nucky?

Shea Whigham

Yes. This season is really about me trying to find where I fit in, trying to get my bearings back. I think there is a tremendous amount of love between Nucky and Eli, but it's a truly complex relationship. There is remorse and there is a lot of hurting - on Nucky's part too.

HBO

Eli understands Nucky perhaps more than anyone else and how he can hold a grudge.

Shea Whigham

Sure. The fact that I was spared tells me I need to make sure I do what's asked of me.

HBO

Was Eli expecting someone else to pick him up?

Shea Whigham

Mickey was the last person I was expecting. Truth be told, I was hoping Nucky might come by and grab me with Eddie.

HBO

Did you and Paul Sparks (Mickey Doyle) discuss the scene in the car?

Shea Whigham

 We don't do a lot of talking. With Eli, I just have a strong point of view about whoever I'm dealing with and I don't play the scene, I'm just in the moment with that point of view. And Paul is very easy to work off of. He's an extraordinarily gifted - and comedic - actor. We just let that play out in the moment.

HBO

Can you explain Eli's hostility towards Mickey?

Shea Whigham

I used to be Nucky's right hand man, but I've been usurped by Mickey. I don't think he's capable, and now he's got me under his thumb? I'm going to have to pay the piper with Nucky it seems.

HBO

Eli refuses Mickey's job at first but turns around pretty quickly. What makes him change his mind?

Shea Whigham

Whatever Nucky asks me to do, I'm going to do. It's difficult but I have to start at the bottom rung of the ladder again, in the warehouse. I know what I have to do to get back into Nucky's good graces. I want to prove to him that I will run through a house on fire for him if I need to. I have seen the error of my ways.

HBO

There's the homecoming scene of Eli greeting his family.

Shea Whigham

I love the way that Terry, Tim and Marty [Scorsese] sprinkle that in with Eli. It's such an anchor for me - how much Eli cares about June and the kids.

HBO

Like when Eli makes the model airplane for his son...

Shea Whigham

Yes, Eli sees how quickly he's grown up.

HBO

 Is that part of the reason he swallows his pride and works for Mickey?

Shea Whigham

Certainly I want to lead by example for my son, so I do what I have to do. But at the end of the day, Eli's got a lot of pride. So I think working for Mickey is more because Nucky says he has to. So I do it.

HBO

Is there anything that helps you get into character in particular?

Shea Whigham

It's an interesting year for me because I got rid of the costume: the boots and the Sheriff outfit. You'd think it wouldn't be that big a deal, but it's a big deal to take that suit off. And to not have that gun strapped right to you. I found myself missing it this year, for sure. It's a very internal season for Eli.

HBO

And you now have that hat.

Shea Whigham

We looked at a bunch of hats and that one spoke to me.