In the rough-and-tumble world of Boardwalk Empire, violent deaths are an occupational hazard for the gangsters that populate the Prohibition-era series. The historically accurate death of Chicago mobster Frank Capone (Al’s brother), for example, was played out on this past Sunday’s episode in a spectacular display of gunshots. But it was the quiet, more solemn suicide of Nucky Thompson’s longtime manservant, Eddie Kessler, a character who has been part of the Atlantic City scene since the pilot, that carried much more dramatic weight. New Orleans native Anthony Laciura, a seasoned opera singer who imbued the German-born, put-upon Eddie with dignity, grace and a healthy dose of comedic timing, called up Rolling Stone a few days before his alter ego said auf wiedersehen to the boardwalk. While he’s hardly the first actor to have his character killed off on a popular drama series, Laciura’s jolly, upbeat attitude toward having lost his day job was absolutely infectious, as he punctuated many of his sentences with a hearty laugh, a few bars of song or his flawless German accent. His positive take on leaving Boardwalk Empire notwithstanding, there is no doubt that Eddie will sorely be missed.
When and how did you find out that Eddie was going to die? Was it the dreaded [series creator] Terence Winter phone call?
Yes! I got it after Episode Two, while they were filming Episode Three. Sometimes you have that feeling, and you see this character getting stronger and stronger, and you keep thinking, “You know, something’s gonna happen.” I kept feeling like they were fattening the turkey for the kill, so when Terry called, he said, “Anthony, this is so difficult.” I said, “So Eddie bites the dust” [laughs]. I said, “Terry, what do you want me to say?” Come on, what a run I’ve had! It’s the greatest show around! It changed things, it brought clothes back. You wanted the Twenties clothes? Fine. You came to us. You wanted those ugly things that we used to wear in the Sixties and the Seventies? You went to Mad Men. It’s given me a profile! Listen, how could I ever complain? You can’t! It’s been an absolutely spectacular run. I wish I could’ve been flying out the window on Episode 12, but it was done the way they needed it to go at that particular time, so what are you going to do?
Well, it’s just upsetting because Eddie was one of the few good guys on Boardwalk.
Yes, and the genuine comic relief. Not that there were many comedic situations, but Eddie, being with the damn ramrod up his ass, was always dedicated [breaks into Eddie’s German accent], “I was following orders. He told me to drop the money off. I dropped the money off,” you know, all of that.
Just before Eddie leapt from the window, he was writing a letter. Are we going to find out what that was all about?
[Spoiler alert] All I know is there’s an episode where Mickey Doyle reads it, and he just makes up things. Just awful things. And he steals my cane. My question was, “How is it that I got killed before Mickey Doyle?” [laughs]
I agree! Even Eli had that line last season when he said to Mickey, “How the fuck are you still alive?” You are going to have a lot of upset viewers after Sunday.
Good! One of my students takes care of my Twitter page – I hope it goes like crazy! I hope I get inundated with scripts! There’s old men in every show!
Where do you think this unwavering loyalty to Nucky comes from?
Well, partly it’s historical, because of his background. Lou Kessel, a.k.a. Eddie, was a wrestler, he was a bartender, he was a bouncer, a cab driver – that’s when he met Nucky [Johnson, the basis for Steve Buscemi’s character, Nucky Thompson]. He took care of Nucky, and then Nucky, we assume, said, “I’m going to give you a job as my Man Friday, and my bodyguard, my driver, my haberdasher, my gentleman’s gentleman. And Eddie was rewarded very well. That watch I wore in the show is the watch that was given to Lou by Nucky [Johnson]. Because I know the family well enough now, after the middle of the first season, they said, “Why don’t you wear the watch?” I said, “I’ll be happy to wear the watch!” The pen I use to write the letter – that was Lou’s pen.
Did you get to keep the pen and the watch?
Oh, I would never assume that! Although, these people, it’s like a whole new family for me, and it has been that way for the past four years. What Boardwalk Empire has done for me personally, is, I’ve said this from the beginning – this is a miracle. You get a guy who retires from opera, he’s running around directing and teaching, the next thing you know, he’s using all that he learned, without having to sing! And all of a sudden, he’s in a Martin Scorsese, HBO series! My God, let’s face it, that’s what you call a miracle. Does this happen every day? No, it does not!
You have an incredibly positive attitude toward your situation. Most actors are pretty bummed out when they get written off a show.
I’ll tell you, during the filming, you make so many friends. Not just the cast, but the crew – the wigs, makeup, costumes, the PAs. [Starts getting choked up] That last episode, when I was being tortured [by Agent Knox], not so much when we filmed the suicide, but the torture scene, when everybody was there, because we worked it and we worked it and Terry would say, “Do a little of this, do a little of that,” and then finally it was growing and then he came over to me and said, “Let it go.” Bang! That was all I needed. I said, “Did you think it was believable? Did you think it was totally sincere?” He said, “Of course, Anthony.” I said, “I don’t want you shitting me. I want you to tell me. Because I want those viewers to believe that that poor man did in his mind what he thought was the best for Nucky.“
When you have these key grips crying, and the camera operators crying, and when the kid that’s torturing you starts to fill up, I said, “Holy moly!” And then Brian [Geraghty, who plays Knox] would say, “Oh, God, everybody’s gonna hate me!” And I said, “No, they’re going to hate Knox. They’re not going to hate you.”
And I do hate Knox! Brian’s doing a great job!
He is! “We have to find the weakest link!” I never thought of myself as the weakest link! [Laughs] I just thought of myself as saving the man’s life – on several occasions!
Now that you get watch the show as a spectator, what are the plot lines that you’re most interested to see develop?
Well, I’m very interested to see what happens in Florida, where that’s going to go. And then – who gets it after me! Because we all speculate. Now, some people have said, “You know, I’m watching and there’s so many new characters! Who’s this? Who’s this?” I said, “Yeah, but you will see, as time goes on, how these people, the ones that are really important, will become more integral in the whole situation.” But serious villains, for instance, Bobby Cannavale [Season Three villain Gyp Rosetti], he’s a perfect example. Great character, but you know it’s not going to last. So, we don’t know how long Valentin Narcisse will last. We don’t know how long Chalky will last! Because, let’s face it, Chalky is a total creation of Terry. But then you have an actor like Michael K. Williams, well, wait a minute, we’re not just throwing that aside! He’s too great! He’s too strong! He’s got such a following!
Do you want to see Nucky come out on top?
Absolutely. Watching the past four [episodes], there’s something about Episode Three that made him stronger, more secure with himself than ever before, and Episode Four as well. It was the strength that Steve was exuding that I thought, “Well, all right, he’s not in the episode that much, but he’s a major force in it.” And you see the same thing in Episode Five, when he’s dealing with [Willie].
What will you miss most about Eddie?
His relationship with everybody around him. Whether he was taken for granted or he was respected, he was never not a gentleman.
This has to be one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done.
[laughs heartily] You never get to express totally how grateful you are for being one of those fortunate people who is able to take the talent that God gave them, and just throw it out there. And then I’ll go home and have a beer – or several Scotch!