Boardwalk Empire was full of compelling characters but which got less screen time than they deserved and which got more?
With a sprawling ensemble cast like in Boardwalk Empire, it’s difficult to give every character their time in the limelight. Like HBO’s other hit series Game of Thrones, it labored to devote enough focus on its many leads, much less the dozens of tertiary parts. The gangster epic wove a series of intricate criminal narratives from multiple points of view, with both historical figures and fictional characters constantly entering and exiting, swirling around the nucleus of Nucky Thompson, bootlegging kingpin of Atlantic City.
Over its five seasons, fans began to resent the amount of screen time given to certain main characters, clamoring for more attention to be paid to secondary roles with more nuance, or guest parts who stole every scene they were in. One thing’s for sure, no matter how much time was spent with the wiseguys on the boardwalk, every character was memorable.
Deserved More Screen Time: Manny Horvitz
Played by the stellar William Forsythe (who has a knack for playing gentlemen wiseguys), Manny Horvitz was the Jewish-Ukrainian butcher who became a close part of James Dormady’s crew. Unfortunately, young Jimmy got too big for his breeches and thought he could disrespect the dignified crime boss by not paying his debts, resulting in Horvitz turning him over to Nucky Thompson.
The Butcher commanded attention whenever he was in a scene, walking a fine line between charming and ruthless, and he had more screen presence than many of the series regulars. Forsythe got several great pieces of dialogue (purred in an accent somewhere in between Philly and Ukrainian), as well as a truly exceptional monologue before Horvitz was unceremoniously gunned down.
Deserved A Lot Less: Lucy Danziger
Nucky Thompson had a penchant for performers, and prior to meeting his second wife Margaret Thompson he was involved with Lucy Danziger, a lounge entertainer with a distinctive speaking voice and a love of couture clothing.
While Lucy could have been an intriguing character because of the eccentricities given to her by Paz de la Huerta, her personality was incredibly grating, to the point where it was difficult for audiences to believe someone as powerful as Nucky would stay with someone so irritating and childish. Her character was given slightly more to do other than be Nucky’s vapid girlfriend in Season 2 with her attachment to Val Alden, but then her story fizzled out.
Deserved More Screen Time: Arnold Rothstein
Boardwalk Empire featured many prominent titans of industry, chief among them being Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein, the racketeer and business mogul who famously tried to fix the 1919 World Series while still commanding the Jewish Mafia in New York City.
At the time the series took place, he was the biggest gangster in the country, and his influence was felt far beyond the East Coast. Michael Stuhlbarg didn’t play him as a two-dimensional characterization; he imbued him with many humanistic nuances, particularly his habit of eating milk and cake and perfected his particular speaking cadence. Rothstein was killed off abruptly off-screen when the series did a time jump, to the great dismay of his fans.
Deserved A Lot Less: Margaret Thompson
Despite being on the arm of one of the most powerful men in New Jersey, Margaret’s life wasn’t all bootlegged champagne; she’d been inadvertently rescued by Nucky Thompson from poverty and physical abuse, an Irish immigrant who’d lived a hard life despite her young years.
As a character entirely made up for the series, she was given an arbitrary amount of screen time in comparison to historical figures that needed to be present during important events in Nucky’s life. Kelly Macdonald gave her an intrepid spirit and resourcefulness in the first two seasons, but by the third season the writers clearly didn’t know what to do with her character, and she was given insufferably self-righteous storylines that didn’t match with her development.
Deserved More Screen Time: Angela Darmody
Angela Darmody was the long-suffering wife of war veteran Jimmy Darmody, who went from wondering if she’d ever see her husband again, to wishing he’d never returned home from the war. She suffered in silence while Jimmy went through his mood swings, quietly raising their son despite the influence of his increasingly riskier criminal ventures.
Aleksa Palladino wasn’t given very much material to work with after the first season, where she painted a tragic figure whose internal struggle was restricted to maudlin facial expressions as the series went on. Her character was killed just as she was embarking on the next chapter of her life; a tragic end for a tragically underused figure.
Deserved A Lot Less: Eli Thompson
As the younger brother of Nucky Thompson, Eli was often put into an awkward place both as a youngster and an adult standing in his brother’s shadow. He fought to be recognized by Nucky as a legitimate part of his racketeering enterprises but always seemed to disappoint him in one way or another.
With no disrespect to Shea Whigham’s performance, Eli’s character was the resident black raincloud of the series, hovering over other characters and drowning the merriment out of every scene he occupied. Eli’s life was such a mess of his own making that it seemed like he would have self-destructed long before he did were it not for Nucky, lasting all the way to the end of the series.
Deserved More Screen Time: Valentin Narcisse
Introduced in the penultimate season of the series, Valentin Narcisse was a fascinating character who was never fully developed. A highly educated Trinidadian-American, he was a Black rights activist, orator, and crime boss responsible for organizing Atlantic City’s Black population.
Played by the magnetic Jeffrey Wright, Narcisse lived up to his name, a charismatic mastermind who reveled in the unfolding of his carefully laid plans. Unfortunately, he wasn’t given enough screen time to allow fans to understand his motivations, making him somewhat of a two-dimensional threat to Nucky’s operations. He ended up becoming a narrative device for more well-developed characters (like Chalky White) to be pitted against.
Deserved A Lot Less: Gillian Darmody
Groomed from the time she was a young teenager to placate powerful men, Gillian Darmody took advantage of her associations with The Commodore, the most powerful man in Atlantic City to provide a better life for her son Jimmy, with whom she enjoyed a very close relationship.
Gillian’s horrible early life twisted her sense of morality and priorities, and she became an opportunist of the highest order. It was no coincidence she was closely associated with a siren; she led many male characters to their deaths, and Gretchen Mol knew how to be captivating on camera. Unfortunately, Gillian’s behavior became so distasteful and uncouth fans weren’t even sympathetic when she ended up in a mental institution at the end of the series.
Deserved More Screen Time: Arquimedes
Nucky Thompson acquired a Cuban bodyguard in Season 5 named Arquimedes, a cold and brutal man with various talents for applying pain to those foolish enough to cross his employer. Economic with his words, he let his hands do the talking.
Puerto Rican actor Paul Calderon infused Arquimedes with an icy intelligence, communicating to the audience there was much more to the enforcer than met the eye. Unfortunately, fans never got to know the mysterious Cuban, who they’d hoped would come to resemble a more cutthroat Eddy Kessler from the first few seasons.
Deserved A Lot Less: Gyp Rosetti
Gyp Rosetti was the biggest threat to Nucky Thompson’s empire after his hostile takeover of Tabor Heights, which led to his subsequent usurpation of Nucky’s authority in Atlantic City. All because Nucky’s caravan couldn’t bring extra gas in drums to re-fuel on their way to drop off their product through Rosetti’s newly claimed territory.
Rosetti’s character was given a lot of power for being introduced later in the series, and Bobby Carnavale had the tendency to overplay the character to the point where the gangster’s irascible nature, i.e. violently overreacting to perceived slights, became cartoonish.
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