Pop 5: ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Characters

bill bodkin and maxwell barna look at the best characters of the hit HBO series …

With the premiere of Boardwalk Empire this Sunday, I wanted to focus on my favorite aspect of the show: the characters. It blows my mind how a show can have so many characters that are not only interesting, but fully fleshed out, with their own interesting backstories. They are all intricate and intimately involved in the storyline, they compel you to tune in every week.

So here’s my top five favorite characters … which I chose with help from Pop-Break chief photographer Maxwell Barna.

5. Chalky White (played by Michael Kenneth Williams)

Chalky White hasn’t been the most active character on Boardwalk Empire, but he is certainly one of the most important.
When he takes over as the head bootlegger for Nucky after Mickey Doyle fouls up, that’s when one of the main story arc kicks in for Boardwalk Empire — the power struggle for bootlegging in Atlantic City. Chalky, like many of the characters on the show (or at least the ones involved in illegal activities) is a cool, calm and collected character. However, underneath this stone cold demeanor is a bombastic volcano of violence. This is evidenced when he confronts a KKK leader who he believes murdered one of his associates. Chalky confronts the man and in a slow, deliberate and menacing way. He then “brings out his daddy’s tools” and then chops off the man’s finger. It’s one of the seminal moments of the series and one can only hope that the series expands on Chalky’s role in Season 2.

4. Al Capone (played by Stephen Graham)
I think this more of a case of I love the actor as much as the character. Every since his performance as Tommy in Snatch, I’ve
been a big fan of Graham. From his underrated performance in Gangs Of New York to carrying the British gangster flick The Crew, Graham has proven he’s a super solid actor. However, I never thought he’d ever be recognized for anything but his role as a wannabe boxing promoter named after a Russian ballet dance.

Now, for the majority of the first season Graham portrays Capone as a live wire, a trigger happy loose cannon on the verge of inevitable greatness. However, Capone’s “moment” comes when we meet his deaf son. You can see through his interaction with his boy that the hard-as-nails maniac actually is completely devastated that his boy is suffering. It’s one of these moments that makes the show so good. It’s not all guns, boobs and booze — it’s about characters. What’s cool about the Capone character on Boardwalk Empire is that they’ve been able to logically incorporate him into the storyline and the fact he’s returning for Season 2 intrigues me.

3. Margaret Schroeder (Kelly MacDonald)
Boardwalk Empire is full of interesting, engaging and charming female characters, but none of them are on par with
their male counterparts like Margaret Schroeder. The lovely Kelly MacDonald is perfect in this role as the simple Irish immigrant turned high society magnate. You can’t consider her a typical “moll” like the Lucy Danzinger (Paz de la Huerta) character. She’s much more than a sex type thing. She may come from a simple upbringing, but she’s as tough, tenacious and intelligent.

While all the characters in Boardwalk Empire take some sort of journey, Margaret’s is the most tumultuous and interesting. Starting out abused and taken advantage of by her husband. She rises through the socioeconomic ranks by not only catching Nucky’s eye but also being sharp as a tack. She knows something’s afoot with Nucky, and when she discovers about Nucky’s dirty deeds, she has the tenacity to stand up to him and leave him despite being in the lap of luxury.

However, at the end of Season 1, she returns to Nucky’s side … but why?

2. Richard Harrow (played by Jack Huston):
Harrow is one of the most intriguing characters not just on Boardwalk Empire, but on television in general. He’s a World War I veteran whose
had half his face blown off in battle and is forced to wear an expressionless half mask to cover the horrific injury. A master marksmen in the war, Harrow is brought into the world of Boardwalk Empire when Jimmy Darmody recruits him to work as a hitman in Johnny Torrio’s gang. He’s then brought to the East Coast when Nucky asks Jimmy to go to war with him against the D’Alessios in the season finale. His best scenes are A.) in Chicago when his amazing sniper skills are put on display and he assassinates someone from across the streets, and B.) the painful scene where he’s watching Mrs. Schroeder’s daughters and they say he’s a monster. The pain that scrawls across his face is heartbreaking.

Now, if you want to get all philosophical about it the mask represents the cold and emotionless side that lives within the kind-hearted and endearing veteran. See, inside of Harrow’s soul harbors a stone cold killing machine. Richard evokes a ton of sympathy with his slow, almost Eyore-ish speech, but he also evokes fear — you can never forget this man has killed a lot of people. This duality keeps my eyes glued to him every second he’s on set, even when he’s merely in the background. He’s such a memorable and engaging character that he steals every scene he’s in.

1. Nucky Thompson (played bySteve Buscemi)
All roads lead to Nucky Thompson. Nucky might just be the treasurer of A.C., but he’s really the king. Buscemi is the perfect actor to portray NUcky, a character whose mood can change within a matter of moments. From exasperated to voracious to brutally sarcastic, Nucky can sometimes run this gamut in the matter of a

Steve Buscemi as Nucky Johnson

sentence. His character is brilliantly written — he’s a genius, tactical and smart, yet at the same time highly emotional and volatile. Every decision he makes effects every character in the show, and by mid-season, the decisions Nucky makes seem to have his world spinning out of control. He’s throwing people in and out of his life, calling in favors that’ll cost him, making threats against men more powerful than him and letting people, particularly Margaret Schroeder, in too deep into his close to the vest world of bootlegging and crime.

Nucky’s “moment” in the series, while their are many, has to be the entire episode when he has his childhood home fixed up. Visions of his abusive father rage through his head, almost cutting him in half emotionally. We, along with Margaret Schroeder see this fragile side of Nucky. It’s touching, endearing … and then Nucky strikes back. He goes on a rampage destroying the newly restored house and then sets it on fire. It’s a strikingly powerful scene.

And now with Season 2 upon us, one has to wonder how Nucky will handle Atlantic City. Can he trust anyone, even the people he loves?