Eddie gets his moment in the spotlight in Episode 16. How did you select the opera?
Terry [Winter, series creator] called and said, "I think we figured out a way to get you to sing in one of the episodes. It's at Mayor Bader's birthday party. We would like you to sing something from a German opera." He set the scene for me and I thought anything from the Wagner school would be too heavy. But I knew there was a comic aria from 'Der Zigeunerbaron' [The Gypsy Baron] about a pig farmer with the "oink, oink, oink" and all that.
So you wanted something light all along?
Yes, I kept thinking about the scene and I just knew it had to be something playful. There were others, 'The Abduction From the Seraglio' by Mozart, but when Terry was talking about the spanking, I thought about the little piggies and the farmers, because of all the double entendre - the little pink skin. In Eddie's aria, the farmer comes out and he's carrying a pig. He's so happy to be a pig farmer, because that is what he's meant to do. His father was a pig farmer, everyone in his family has been a pig farmer. It's very German!
Was filming the scene as much fun as watching it?
I mentioned to people I would be singing in the fourth episode. But I also told them, "You're really not going to pay attention to me singing." Because of what's happening, there's no man in the world that's going to be paying attention to the guy singing.
So it's good to have a light moment like Mayor Bader's party.
You have to. Moliere got it from Shakespeare, who got it from the Greeks: There must be a clown. There must be a character who comes from nowhere, says something totally ridiculous, everybody looks, laughs and then you go on slitting people's throats. From the beginning Marty Scorsese wanted that, someone in the cast who retains the Old World feeling. Someone walking around tipping his hat, making way, making sure the person he worked for is as protected as much as he can be protected.
Does being an opera singer make it easier for you to speak with a German accent?
I've been working with Europeans my whole life, especially Germans. If you have an ear, you pick it up. In opera, I've always been the second banana. Now I'm doing the same thing, but I don't have to sing, I just have to speak with a German accent!
How much of Eddie is based on fact?
There was a real Eddie, Lou Kessel, and he was always there. From the research I did, and from becoming friends with the family of Lou Kessel, I know he was my height and had my hair, but he was 260 lbs. We found out he was a wrestler in Austria. He had a house with his wife and he had an apartment in the Ritz. He was on call 24-7, but let's face it, Nucky [Johnson] didn't get up 'til 4-4:30. And Lou was right there. Lou would dry him off after his bath, shave him, massage him, the works. And after he dressed him, he and Nucky dressed to the nines, they would go down to the Boardwalk.