ATLANTIC CITY - After shooting for months on a New York soundstage's fake boardwalk, "Boardwalk Empire" actors Paz de la Huerta and Michael Pitt looked at each other with big eyes and a smile when they made a public appearance on the real Atlantic City Boardwalk on Thursday.
"It was fun walking down the Boardwalk," de la Huerta said. "I looked at Michael Pitt and said, ‘Is this for real?' Wow! It felt like I've been here, but in the '20s."
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De la Huerta and Pitt joined 10 other castmates and writer/executive producer Terence Winter for the Atlantic City premiere of "Boardwalk Empire" at Caesars Atlantic City. The new HBO series debuts 9 p.m. Sunday and is based on Hammonton resident Nelson Johnson's book, "Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City."
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Premiere night began as about 200 people flashed cameras and craned their necks to get a view of the cast on the Boardwalk, which posed in front of a Rolls-Royce used by the main character, Nucky Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi, who did not attend the premiere.
Many of the onlookers came specifically to catch a glimpse of the actors, while others stumbled upon the scene as they walked the Boardwalk, asking others what was going on. As the cast was escorted into Caesars, many of the cast members posed for pictures with the public and signed autographs.
Inside, the cast offered media interviews and walked a red carpet into Caesars' Circus Maximus Theater, where 700 invited guests and high-rollers were treated to an early screening of the first episode, which was directed by series producer Martin Scorsese.
The reviews from the guests were overwhelmingly positive.
"It wonderfully presents the 1920s Atlantic City and how beautiful it was," said Jody Kessel of Newtown, Pa. "The characters are well-developed and interesting because most of them are good people caught up in a world of corruption,"
Barb Rice, of Sea Isle City, said she "adored the show," even though violence usually turns her off.
"I am not a big fan of blood and shootings and violence, but they did it in a tasteful enough fashion that I could tolerate it," she said. "I really loved the way it reminds me of the Boardwalk that I walk on every week."
Following the premiere, guests were treated to a lavish "Prohibition's Eve" party at One Atlantic inside The Pier Shops at Caesars.
"Boardwalk Empire"-themed drinks were flowing, and shrimp the size of fists were being devoured as Vince Giordano and his Nighthawks Orchestra, which is featured regularly in the show, offered big band tunes. Throughout the room, blackjack tables were filled, but no real betting was allowed, and actors mingled with people around the room.
Don Marrandino, eastern division president for Harrah's Entertainment, said the premiere's importance went beyond Caesars.
"This is big for the whole city," Marrandino said. "This is an international show that will have people all over the world talking about Atlantic City. I grew up here, so it's exciting to see this. Just like people went to Satriale's and the Bada-Bing when they saw ‘The Sopranos,' they are going to do the same here."
Winter, who came to Atlantic City for research before writing the series, was glad to come back. He hopes the series will propel tourism in the city.
"This city has been a joy to come to even before I thought about writing about it. I have been coming here since I was a kid," said Winter, who also wrote "The Sopranos." "I think there will be a lot of recognition and things that are familiar: the Boardwalk, the piers and the different attractions. I wanted to walk the Boardwalk that Nucky walked. I wanted to see the Knife & Fork. I wanted to stand in the lobby and feel those ghosts. I hope people come down and see it because it's really spectacular."
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Vincent Piazza, a New York native who plays a young Lucky Luciano in the series, agreed: "It's an amazing place. Just being back here makes me want to come more."
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