Interview With Erik LaRay Harvey
Dunn Purnsley was introduced in Season 2 at odds with Chalky, and this week, he goes down fighting him. Is this the way it had to end between them?
This year we see a resolution of that initial confrontation. That animosity was never really resolved; it was put on the back burner. I don't think Dunn ever got over the beating he received in the jailhouse. He survived it and he held his tongue until Dr. Narcisse offers him a different avenue to pursue
Was it the situation with Alma and Dickie Pastor that brought out his resentment?
It was a bit of a blindside for Dunn. He didn't know he was being set up by the Pastors. The brutality of that scene—the language, the gun to the forehead, the nudity—it was something he couldn't tell Chalky. The shame of the situation made Dunn keep his mouth shut about exactly what happened. The end result is what gets Chalky so upset. It's business. Chalky has a club on the Boardwalk now; he wants everything to be smooth, and here he is with a death on his hands because of Dunn's frolicking. From there on, Dunn is no longer "Dunn," he's "Sweetback." The name changes in Chalky's mind and mouth. The wound opens between Dunn and Chalky, and Dr. Narcisse sees that and worms his way in. Separate and divide, that's his ideology.
What does Narcisse offer Dunn that Chalky doesn't?
I saw it as Dunn striking out on his own. He's been shown a way to make his own money, to step out of Chalky's shadow. He's an opportunist and in the ‘20s, you try make a living anyway you can. It's not like black men at the time had many options. What Narcisse offers seemed like a viable, lucrative option and he was going for it.
Dunn arrives at Daughter's rooming house when Chalky is at his most vulnerable. Did he go with the intention of killing Chalky?
I think so—if only he could have gotten him in that car. I believe Chalky had the angels on his side that day. If he had gotten in the car, I think the story would have turned out differently. And even though he didn't get in the car, I think Dunn would have choked him out, if only Chalky's amour hadn't saved his back. Chalky's had some grace on his side—I think he would have been a goner in the jail scene too if only his boys weren't there.
What preparation did you do for the fight scene?
[Stunt coordinator] Stephen Pope choreographed all the fight scenes I've had on three seasons of Boardwalk: the original jail scene, the big strike scene on the boardwalk. He has his ideas, and then we tweak based on what I'm comfortable with and what Michael [K. Williams, who plays Chalky] is comfortable with. There's only one point in the scene where we used doubles and that's when we go through the glass. I love that fight scene. You don't know exactly who's going to win until the end when it seems like Chalky's about to be choked out... and then surprise, surprise.
And it's the first time the two are actually at each other.
It's the first time we lay hands on each other. In the jail scene, Chalky does not lift a finger. He sits on that bunk—like a king.
When Dunn goes to the heroin den, he's upset that there are needles on the floor. He won't take advantage of Gillian when she's desperate for drugs. Does Dunn have a code?
Dunn is a great learner. He learns fairly quickly and with Gillian—well, he's been there with Alma, and he's not going there again. And I think Dr. Narcisse's character has rubbed off on him a bit. In Episode 404 ("All In") when Narcisse and Dunn make an alliance in Harlem, Narcisse says to Dunn he's not looking for a "skylark n*gger." That sense of "appearances matter" rubs off on him and that's why he wants to keep it clean and not stir any feathers. Keep the outside clean and the inside neat as best you can.
Do you have any favorite scenes over the course of these three seasons?
Of course, the jail scene [Episode 202 "Ourselves Alone"]. The words in that episode, they were so antiquated, I hadn't heard them in years. And so delicious and beautiful to say. I was only scheduled to do that one episode, I thought that was it and we'd be done, so I had a lot of fun. I was ecstatic months later when my agent called and said they wanted me to recur. Coming full circle, another favorite is this eighth episode. I think Episode 408 is a spotlight on Dunn. Even though it's my last, I feel it's one of the better episodes I've done. It's not sad to me that the character is ending—it's a testament of their belief in what I could do.