Terence Winter on the End of ‘Boardwalk Empire’
Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter has been responsible for more than his fair share of murders, but no hit was more shocking than the one he ordered on the HBO show itself. “The first rule of show business is get off the stage while people still want more,” he says of ending the saga of Prohibition-era gangster Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), whose journey from crooked politician to ruthless crimelord comes to close with the series finale on October 26th. “You tell the story you want to tell, and when it’s done, you’re done.”
For his next act, Winter and two of his Boardwalk collaborators — legendary director Martin Scorsese and actor Bobby “Gyp Rosetti” Cannavale — are teaming with Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger for a new HBO show about the seedy, creatively explosive 1970s New York City rock scene. The music and intoxicants of choice may have changed from the jazz and booze of Boardwalk. But according to Winter, the song — individuals impacted by the chaotic world around them — remains the same.
Nucky Thompson is a relatively quiet criminal compared to many of his larger-than-life antihero-drama peers, wouldn’t you say?
It felt to me like a cerebral half-politician, half-gangster was more interesting than a screamer. I wrote for The Sopranos and worked on big blustery characters for quite a while. It was a lot of fun, but Nucky was just a different person. Fortunately, we spent time with gangsters who provided plenty of bluster. When you have Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano, and Al Capone, a certain number of people are gonna get hit over the head with things as a matter of course [laughs].
Still, when Nucky killed his longtime apprentice Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) in Season Two, it marked a major turning point for the show — and for him.
I always knew Nucky would kill Jimmy. He is the guy who tells Nucky in the pilot that you can’t be half a gangster, and at some point you knew Nucky would cross that line by killing the very same person who gave him that advice. If it didn’t happen, I would call bullshit. If this were a network show, I guarantee that at the last minute Jimmy would have gotten some reprieve.
Nucky started the series as a crooked politician, but as Prohibition continued he became more of the traditional gangster. Was it the law that unleashed the criminal in him?
People were made millionaires overnight by Prohibition. If you were willing to traffic in illegal alcohol and run the risk of getting arrested or hijacked by other gangsters, you had to be prepared to do things you hadn’t done before — like murdering people. That’s what Jimmy was warning Nucky about.