Gretchen Mol on the Boardwalk Empire Finale and Gillian Darmody’s Vindication
After five seasons, we learn that Gillian is the linchpin in Nucky's fate. Do you think she's been vindicated this season?
I do, I do. Every actor on this show wondered, "How's it going to end for my character?" You want some kind of justice for them, though it doesn't always end that way. Gillian's life has been so tragic, vindication for her is having her story told.
Gillian's often atrocious behavior is really hard to forgive, and I don't think that [seeing] Nucky's betrayal during their youth is asking the audience for forgiveness as much as understanding. Understanding how people arrive at the place that they do. This season shows Gillian's humanity. All the other stuff has been stripped away.
Did you ever think we would see Nucky's moment of betrayal?
I was thinking back on some of her arcs, and how her story with Nucky was already laid in. This season's arc wasn't an afterthought. What had happened with the Commodore -- how Nucky was the one who brought her to him -- was known right from the beginning of the series. I always thought that you could know that detail and never address it -- I never expected it to be as important as it turned out to be. The fact that it has come full circle was exciting for me, as someone who loved Gillian and played her for five years.
Why does Gillian reach out to Nucky for help, despite all that he's done to her?
I think she's appealing to something that she saw in him long ago. I mean, he gave her to the Commodore and killed her son. Yet, it's still, "Can you help me? I can forgive you." Not to mention, Gillian's made attempts on Nucky's life too. The bomb at Babette's was because of her, and he would have been dead if her plot hadn't backfired. How terrible, their relationship.
All of the male characters do horrible things to each other on the show, but I don't know if they have paid for the crimes as harshly as Gillian has.
I always wanted to fight for her, like, "Oh it's just one murder that she commits." She gets singled out and the whole arc of her story is based on that one murder. I think it's really interesting because what we're left with is a comment on women and their choices, and the predicament of the time. Even having your insides taken from you bit by bit seems like a metaphor of how women have to pay whereas the men get away with a lot more.
Are you surprised that she survived the show's run?
That's the flip side to this conversation -- Gillian could have easily been knocked off many times and yet they remained interested in telling her story. I remember describing her early on as a survivor -- because I wanted her to live. When I look back on it, because of all these little details and the tie to Nucky, it makes sense, but I really didn't expect it to turn out this way.
Did you do any research on psychiatric hospitals or the real Dr. Cotton?
I did. Once I knew where Gillian was, I looked into the hospitals of the time period and what the different kinds of procedures were -- like if she would have underwent electric shock therapy. As I the scripts came in, I kept wondering where her story was going and thinking, "Please don't let the last shot be of me with no eyes!"
Nellie Bly, the author of ‘Around the World in 72 Days' also wrote a book about her undercover work in an asylum. Do you think the parallel between her and Gillian is intentional?
It must be. I didn't even know about the book [‘Ten Days in a Mad-House'] until after we had stopped shooting, so I didn't have access to it. I feel like that's the brilliance of Terry [Winter, series creator] and the writers, how they always find these amazing connections. The presence of these kinds of details remind me of the Beatles and the subliminal messages on their records.
How do you think Gillian survived the last seven years in the psychiatric hospital?
She must have found a new way of being, learning not to play the games she's always played because she's resigned to her powerlessness. I do think Gillian has enormous resilience, which I've always loved about her. Maybe it's from a childhood of reading books and living in fantasy. Even the Artemis Club was a fantasy -- she didn't want it to be a degradation, but a beautiful place, like a spa. There's just enough of her that gives over to the fantasy of what her life could be, and I imagine she's had to call on that over the years. She probably has a little Stockholm syndrome as well. But on some level, I still feel there's a chance she could find her way out. Maybe that's just me wanting a happy ending.