Vincent Piazza on Lucky Luciano’s Big Kill, His Rise to Power, and Saying Goodbye to the Boardwalk
This is a big season for Luciano -- he’s finally rising to prominence. What’s it like to have finally reached this point in his life?
It was great to see it through. I was so happy knowing that although it was the last season, we got to tell it around 1931. Luciano’s nearly baked as the guy we know in history. In the beginning, we had the opportunity to show Luciano in a way that very few projects have ever explored -- as a young thug just coming out with a few of his cohorts and trying to make it in the world. It’s been such a challenging and fun journey.
What are the freedoms and challenges that come with playing a historical character?
As an actor, I always felt I was serving two masters. There’s the show and Luciano’s identity within it, as part of an ensemble, and then there’s the historical Luciano. I wouldn’t say there were freedoms so much as a lot of accountability. I would always try and find as much opportunity as I could to unearth things about Luciano and find a place for them within his scenes.
How did you approach this season, given the seven-year time jump? Luciano’s personality underwent a noticeable shift.
When I spoke to Terry [Winter, series creator and executive producer] about it, we discussed a timeline of these defining moments that may or may not have changed who Luciano was. There’s an event in 1929 that we don’t get to see, where he was kidnapped and dumped on a beach in Staten Island. He was stabbed and had his throat sliced -- it’s where he got the infamous droopy eye. It was an event that could flip someone on their axis. And personally speaking, I know something changes in a person going into their 30s. I felt it was very important to show the maturation process in the last season, given that he’d gone from a 26-year-old to a 34-year-old man.
At what point does Luciano realize he’s gotten the upper hand on Nucky? Is that confidence real, or an act?
When you respond to threats and crises so frequently, something dies in you. Nothing is really life and death anymore. It also speaks to Lucky’s confidence in how well embedded his guys are, not just in the gangland, but in politics. Their tentacles are far-reaching and they’re confident in their intelligence -- not just their own, but of everyone involved. They know how to play a serious game of chess.
Speaking of chess, Johnny Torrio made some pretty crafty moves.
These guys will do whatever it takes to survive. It also speaks to Luciano and Meyer Lansky’s power at this point, that Johnny’s willing to play ball with them and become a double agent in hopes that there will either be safety or a great reward at the end. Lucky and Meyer are so ruthless that even when their gratitude is expected to roll in, it’s like, “No, you’ve served your purpose. Thank you very much.” Johnny’s obsolete now. He probably feels like my VHS player does.
How does it feel to be the one to kill Mickey Doyle?
Well, I never had a chance to kill anyone on the show. Luciano is seen with his gun muzzle flashing in a montage in Season 1, but it’s a non-descript killing. I always figured I’d be ending someone directly, but I didn’t realize it’d be Mickey Doyle! Paul [Sparks] is a good friend and I felt bad, but you know what -- he nearly made it to the end. It would have been worse if it was Season 2 or 3. It was one of the most intense shoots that I’ve had. It took two nights to film the standoff and we were all working on the fly and battling with short summer nights. We had a real limited window to get that scene done.
Getting Nucky on his knees in that scene was a pretty incredible moment.
What made it more incredible is that I kept dropping my lines when I had him down there. I felt bad because I didn’t want to keep Steve [Buscemi] there a minute longer than I had to. What’s more powerful than seeing Nucky -- the powerhouse on the show -- in that vulnerable state? As Luciano, it was very satisfying, but as the actor, I felt just awful.
Why was it so important to Luciano to get Nucky out of the way? Do you think he wouldn’t have played ball?
I think it speaks to Luciano and Lansky’s meticulousness. They do not want any loose ends, any remnants of the old guard, keeping things from moving forward. Even though Prohibition is on its way out and maybe Atlantic City won’t be as valuable in the years to come, it’s a territory that they want. There’s that fun moment that the writers gave us where we essentially throw it away and give it to Pinky Rabinowitz. We fought for five seasons to have this piece of land and now we’re willing to give it to one of our guys who may or may not deserve it. Atlantic City is tiny in comparison to the empire that they’re trying to build.
'Boardwalk Empire' is such an expansive show. Were there characters that you wish you had more time with?
There’s so many characters I wish that I’d gotten to play with. It sounds like a cop-out but I promise you it isn’t. Capone, Nucky, Van Alden, Gillian -- I would have loved to have spent more time with Gretchen [Mol]. It’s such an epic show and the writers are governing such a large world that I’m happy for all the interactions I did have.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m spending most of my time writing and seeing what comes along -- there’s a few stories I want to tell. It’s been such a blessing to work on a show like 'Boardwalk' that I’m annoyingly picky when I look at things. Whatever the next project, it’s going to have a hard time living up to this experience.