Interview Date: 11/18/2010
Run Date: 11/19/2010
There are a lot of reasons to love HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” and even if you pinpoint your praise to focus specifically on the performances of the show’s cast…well, geez, that’s not really narrowing it down at all, because it’s a heck of an ensemble. This is a good thing, though, because when the Bullz-Eye TV Power Rankings appeared on the horizon and we dropped a line to the network to see if we could chat with someone from the show, we knew that we’d end of a winner no matter who they hooked us up with. Still, we’d have to say that it was a nice, beautiful bonus that we were afforded the opportunity to speak with Aleksa Palladino, who plays Angela Darmody, Jimmy’s wife. During the course of our conversation, we obviously focused on her work on “Boardwalk Empire,” but we did end up with enough time to touch on a few of her film roles, as well as her occasional musical career.
Aleksa Palladino: Hey, how are you?
Bullz-Eye: I’m good! It’s a pleasure to talk with you.
AP: Thank you! You, too!
BE: Well, we here at Bullz-Eye do a TV Power Rankings feature twice a year, and “Boardwalk Empire” is one of the highest rated new series on our list.
AP: Wow! Thank you!
BE: So how did you come aboard “Boardwalk Empire” in the first place?
AP: I auditioned for it pretty early on. The casting director, Ellen Lewis, had cast me previously in a Sidney Lumet film, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.” Actually, it was with Michael Shannon. He played my brother in that, weirdly enough. (Laughs) So, yeah, she was a big supporter of mine and really wanted me for the part. I had worked briefly with Terence (Winter) on two “Sopranos” episodes, and it was a role that never really developed into anything, but I think we hit off. And so then the final step was just meeting Marty (Scorsese) and reading for him and going over some ideas and stuff like that.
BE: What was your familiarity with the Prohibition era prior to coming aboard?
AP: You know, it wasn’t that intensive. I knew it more from just the old films and stuff like that, like “Some Like It Hot.” (Laughs) That’s my education! So, yeah, I did a lot of research when it came down to it.
BE: Did you find it an intriguing era once you started to get the scripts?
AP: Yeah, I’d have to say it’s probably one of my favorite times in American history. Between Prohibition and just all of the stuff that was happening socially here, the real changes that started to happen for women, and just life in general.
BE: You and Michael Pitt have some pretty impressive chemistry, particularly he tension that you guys manage to create in your scenes together. Had you ever worked with him prior to this series?
AP: (Laughs) No, this was our first time meeting and working together, but I love working with him.
BE: So how much did they tell you about Angela when you signed on? How developed was she as a character?
AP: She wasn’t that developed, honestly, when I got the first word that I was auditioning for the role. There really wasn’t anything on her except that, you know, she was the common-law wife of someone who had just come back from war. Once I’d gotten it and they started to get more bits and pieces of her, like that she was a painter, but that was the majority of what I had before coming in and starting to do all the prep work with Marty. And I found out that she was going to be having an affair with a woman.
BE: Now how did you take to that material when you first found out about it? I mean, I don’t know if you’ve played a lesbian or bisexual before.
AP: No, I’d never done anything like it before, but I was really excited to do it, and especially just talking to everybody about it, it seemed like it was going to be… (Hesitates) You know, she had a genuine relationship instead of just something to sort of scandalize the viewers or whatever. When we talked about the way it was going to be handled, I really became very interested in just discovering what someone in that time period would be going through by having such a challenging relationship, to try and conceal it from people. And, at the same time, it’s hard enough just to explore yourself, but when it’s something that off-limits…
BE: I was impressed with the way they handled the storyline with Angela, the photographer, and his wife, as far as gradually laying out exactly what sort of relationship existed between them.
AP: Right. Yeah, as we sort of see in the last episode that aired…Episode 9, I think…there’s been a little bit of history between all three of them. Probably more between Angela and Mary in terms of…that’s really the relationship that’s happened, at least for Angela, and when you see that scene where Mr. Dietrich is also trying to get involved in the relationship. (Laughs)
BE: Yeah, actually, when I blogged about the episode, I said, “Boy, she just looks really uncomfortable with a man’s arm around her.”
AP: (Laughs) Well, yeah, I mean, I think in particular that man, because it’s not like Angela’s just up for experimentation of any sort. I think she has true feelings for Mary…and not for Robert Dietrich.
BE: So what are your thoughts on the relationship between Angela and Jimmy? Because, obviously, it varies wildly. There’s certainly love there to a certain extent, but at the same time, she’s able to set him aside and have the other relationship as well.
AP: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s that simple and that complicated: she has feelings for both people. Her feelings for Jimmy were sort of dormant for years because there was no communication between them, so she moved on as if he were dead and started to develop another friendship, one with a woman that then turned into a relationship. I don’t think she was intending for it to go that way. I think it was just a very natural progression of two people sort of courting each other, and me being so close to someone. So I think Angela still loves Jimmy, but there’s a lot that is just sort of left unsaid between them. There’s a lot of hurt there that neither of them really knows how to deal with and how to bring the relationship back from where it was. So, yeah, it’s that complication of loving two people at one time, and they’re so different that it’s really hard to choose one over the other.
BE: What’s been your favorite part of the experience of working on “Boardwalk Empire” thus far?
AP: My favorite has been… (Hesitates) It’s funny, because what seemed challenging at first was getting your character in little bits and pieces and not knowing too far down the line what was going to happen to you, and that’s really become one of my favorite things, because it just keeps it so fresh for you. There’d be moments where you’d get the next episode just days before you would shoot it, and something would happen and it would resonate so deeply in you, as a person and not just as an actor, because you didn’t know it was coming. It makes it that much more real when you’re just shooting it a couple of days after knowing that.
BE: Is there any actor you haven’t worked with yet on the show that you’re looking forward to the opportunity to work with?
AP: Yeah, a lot of them! (Laughs) I don’t work with very many of them!
BE: Yeah, I know, you’re pretty limited in your scenes.
AP: Yeah, I’d love to work with Steve (Buscemi), I’d love to work with Kelly (McDonald), I’d love to work with Michael Shannon in this. I’d like to work with all of them! (Laughs)
BE: How are you enjoying the fashions of the show?
AP: I love it! It’s really special. Because of my size, I’m actually one of the people who’s wearing a lot of the original pieces, and they’re so delicate, because, really, no one’s worn them in years and years. Sometimes, if I have to wear one shirt a couple of days in a row, it’ll start to rip at the elbows and all these places. (Laughs) But, yeah, it’s amazing what dressing in period clothes does to your whole mindset. It just lets you believe what you’re doing all that much more.
BE: I wanted to ask you about a few other things you’ve worked on. I’m a big fan of “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole,” so I was curious about your experience working on that film.
AP: It was… (Starts to laugh) It was a long time ago! Let me think. It was…well, yeah, it’s one of my favorite films that I’ve done as well. It was a hard job for me, because I was so young, and I think…God, I’m trying to remember! I don’t know, I loved it, and watching it now as an adult, I just think, “That’s when I was young and so self-conscious.” Just the idea of having to emote in front of people was very hard for me! (Laughs) But it’s always weird when you look back at films that you did as a kid. But, yeah, that’s a special film.
BE: You mentioned it earlier, but with “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” how did you enjoy the opportunity to work with Sidney Lumet?
AP: Oh, he’s amazing. That was actually my second film with him, but he’s just so true with his direction that you just really feel like you’re in amazing hands, and he would answer questions that I had so simply. He’s a director who so involved with the storytelling of it all, and he really doesn’t… (Hesitates) I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. Sorry I’m having so much trouble with your questions! (Laughs) But, yeah, I loved working with him!
BE: And, yeah, I’m sorry, I’d forgotten about the fact that you were in “Find Me Guilty” for him as well.
AP: Yeah, I loved that job, too. That was an intense job, ‘cause we were shooting for, like, two and a half months on a soundstage in New Jersey, and once we sat through that whole trial… (Starts to laugh) It really felt like a long time!
BE: To use directors as a segue back to “Boardwalk Empire,” how involved is Martin Scorsese in the day to day operations of the series? Is he there pretty consistently, or at least checking in regularly?
AP: Yeah, he was really involved, particularly at the very beginning. He really helped us build the foundation for our characters. He would just send me file after file of all of these different things he’d pulled from female artists of the time. Just all these different kinds of things so that we could become familiar with the time and place and all that stuff, so that we’d know that whatever was coming to us further down the line, in terms of story, we’d have a place to pull from. And he’s very involved when he’s directing. Now, though, he’s more just, like, executive producing, and I think he’s working more closely with Terence than he is us at this point. But, yes, he’s really involved.
BE: Before we start wrapping up, I wanted to touch at least briefly on your music career, with Exitmusic. It’s always interesting when actors dabble in music, but it’s especially so, given that it’s a husband and wife situation. Are you guys happy with how your music’s been progressing. I mean, you’re kind of spacing your records out a little bit…
AP: (Laughs) Yeah, we take our time to write!
BE: (Laughs) I was being polite.
AP: We do space them out! But we’re almost done with our second, and it’s really good. For me, I think because as an actor I’m always falling into someone else’s words and someone else’s stories and trying to bring those to life, it’s been a really important thing for me to have that sort of control in my own life, writing my own words and my own stories and songs. So, yeah, they take time. But they should.
BE: Can you kind of describe Exitmusic for those who may only know you for your acting?
AP: It’s really hard for me to explain what it’s like? Could you? (Laughs) Are you good at explaining it?
BE: Geez, I was a music critic for a long time, but I don’t do it much anymore now that I’m writing mostly about TV!
AP: It’s hard to explain. It’s very...it’s layered, and… (Hesitates) I don’t know! It’s just very tricky to describe it. Maybe you could just put up a link to our MySpace page. It’s kind of soundscape-y, but it’s still very song-structured. It’s got all the sounds of experimental music, but it’s still really based in song structure. There are some ambient sounds, but there’s a song there.
BE: And it’s possibly a little dark.
AP: (Laughs) Possibly. It’s not hopeless! There’s music that’s so much darker, that’s so grim. Ours at least has hope in it! It’s more melancholy than grim.
BE: Well, to bring it back to “Boardwalk Empire,” I know you don’t want to offer up too many spoilers about how things are going to wrap up, but can you at least give us an idea where we might find Angela by the end of Season 1?
AP: I think she’s just really stuck. I think she’s very confused with what is the best thing to do, so you’ll see her struggling with that, really, until the end. She has to really figure out what’s best for her and the child and do it, and that’s been really hard for her thus far because, like I said, everything’s really complicated, and there’s not that many options.
BE: Lastly, for viewers who haven’t yet checked out the series because they’re intimidated by period pieces, can you offer them a reason why they should give it a chance?
AP: Hmmm. I don’t know, it’s hard for me to explain it and then recommend it… (Laughs) …but I just think it’s really well done! I think the writing is amazing, and I think it’s one of the most amazing casts that’s ever been assembled for one project. So I think it’s worth checking out just for those elements.
BE: Excellent. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time to chat. Thanks a lot!AP: Thanks so much!