Nucky's been smitten with Billie since the start of the season. What's behind their attraction for each other?
It's interesting that even though Nucky is used to taking care of people, he chooses a girl who is quite independent on the outside. In a way, they're both playing a role. They have this contract: Don't ask, don't tell; but there's an understanding that there's still vulnerability underneath all those trappings. The attraction I think is they both have a common fear -- finding love but remaining independent.
Were you given any backstory about how Billie and Nucky met? Or did you work with any theories of your own?
When I talked to the writers, they just said, "Feel free to go with whatever you think." They said what was most important was the relationship, why they're drawn to each other. Nucky has a great fatherly aspect that Billie can read. Nucky's fun and she sees a vulnerability that not a lot of people see. He wants to know everything that's going on with her life. But Billie's still hesitant to get too close. As we find out in this episode, she has a father that didn't accept her, that does not believe in her. I think there's a real fear that if she gets too close to Nucky, there will be some sort of rejection as well.
In Sunday's episode, Billie films a screen test and talks about "forgetting who you are." Is that something specific to Billie? Or actors in general?
You could argue that is why a lot of people are drawn to this industry. I think for her, she never wants to stay the same person, or in the same place, for too long.
Does this screen test relate to any of your own audition experiences?
Of course! You always try to look in control even when you're actually not! They're trying to make a puppet out of her when Billie's told she's going to kiss this guy. I like that scene because she gets to be feisty.
So after the fight, what makes Billie stay with Nucky?
The "don't ask, don't tell" contract is over now. Now that he's become violent, been involved in her world -- he basically made her a Broadway star -- it's time to talk about what's going on. And he starts it: "I don't like this."
What does she mean when she asks him to be her gangster?
It's the first time that there's any acknowledgement that she knows what he does. She also mentioned the movie that she's in, so there's a lightheartedness to it too. But also she wants him to be just her gangster. I think she knows there's no way she can possess him - in a previous episode, Eddie Cantor mentioned Lucy. So she's very aware of how fleeting this could be.
It looks like they've turned a corner when she introduces herself as Nadine Beckenbauer from Newburgh.
One of the interesting things about that was I wasn't sure if that was just another role she was playing -- she's dyed her hair -- or if it was her stripping away some of the costume she's had on for Nucky. And when we started to do that scene, I found out it's her real name... She says that she's from Newburgh, where Billie is from.
I really think there's a testing of the waters in that scene. She's all stripped down and vulnerable. And Nucky gives her the annuity. At first it seems like a goodbye, but even when she refuses it, he tells her to do with it as she pleases. That's when the relationship turns for Billie. Even if she rejects his help, he still wants to support her. And that means a lot to her, so much so that she changes her earrings-the hummingbird was the girl that was hard to pin down. She lets the hummingbird go, the earrings and the girl. I loved all of that imagery. There's a real potential for a new relationship, a new way of relating to each other. It's one of my favorite scenes.
That makes what happens in the last scene even sadder. How did you find out about that storyline?
Terry [Winter, series creator] gave me a call. I remember I was walking along the East River and he called. I thought, this can't be good, because I've seen interviews with him when he says, "You don't want to get a call from me." So I was prepared for when he said, "Unfortunately..." It's sad that I have to leave, but we talked about what it does for Nucky. Billie brings out the vulnerability in him and we got to see that side of him. And to lose that, it's like: What's next for Nucky?
Do you wonder if they would have had their happily ever after?
Of course, especially after the bathroom scene. And when they're on the Boardwalk, she's walking a little bit behind him letting him conduct his business, giving him his space. It's a mixing of the worlds now, one that she hasn't been a part of. It's a very exciting night for her.