'Boardwalk Empire' debuts Sunday night on HBO. In the days leading up to the premiere, we talk to members of the cast.


If there's one word to describe "Boardwalk Empire," the HBO series about Prohibition-era Atlantic City that debuts Sunday night, that would be it. Actor Michael Pitt, who plays wannabe gangster Jimmy Darmody on the series, says his approach to filming was to view the entire first season as an epic film broken into episodic chapters.

As the premiere approaches, Pitt spoke via e-mail about the production and says two things attracted him to the project: the writing in series creator Terence Winter's pilot script, and the chance to play a guy - or fella, if you'd prefer the vernacular of the day - unlike any he's portrayed in a career that includes roles in "The Dreamers," "The Village" and "Silk."

Unlike those productions, the actor says he's never quite been a part of a project of such scope.

"It was a bit intimidating when I first stepped on set, simply because of its size and accuracy," Pitt says. "But that is always helpful to an actor. The more you can believe the set, the easier it is to become someone else in it."

Winter says he'd been a fan of Pitt's for years, and thought the actor would be able to balance the light and dark shadings of Darmody.

"Michael has an underlying sensitivity that can turn dark on a dime," he says via e-mail, "which was exactly what the role called for. He was thoroughly believable as a war veteran and also as a budding gangster."

Since Darmody is a former Princeton student who left school to fight during World War I, where he was injured, Pitt had to walk with a limp in one leg. No sweat; actors are always assuming different character traits to bring a character to life.

In this instance, that meant tying his leg up with a brace so whenever he was in costume, he'd have an insta-limp.

"Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal on a shorter shooting schedule," Pitt says. "But we shot 12 hours a day on a shoot that took seven months. I found that on my days off, I would have to do special exercises with my opposite leg to mitigate the strain I was putting on it."

As the series nears its debut, Pitt hopes viewers can sit back and immerse themselves in the world "Boardwalk Empire" creates. There is the entertainment value of the piece, he says, but also the chance to become more informed and inspired.

He certainly was. Having completed filming on season one, he can look back on his character's journey and describe it as ... well, epic, you might say.

"Well, I think the arc of the character as it's written is very intense to say the least," Pitt says, "and it has been very good, hard work portraying that. I am constantly surprised by his actions."

Coming Wednesday: Meet actor Shea Whigham who plays Sheriff Elias Thompson.

Contact Kevin Clapp:

609-272-7255; KClapp@pressofac.com