Boardwalk Empire's Michael Pitt Looks Back
by scott huver
Pitt at the Boardwalk Empire premiere
Like his Boardwalk Empire character, actor Michael Pitt originally hails from New Jersey. “But don’t hold it against me,” he deadpans. Done.
Pitt’s been shining in the role of James “Jimmy” Darmody, a young WWI vet trying to carve out his place in Atlantic City’s burgeoning Prohibition underworld on HBO’s dazzling Jazz Age epic. Pitt split the Garden State as a teen to pursue acting, with little notion of its historic role in the origins of organized crime. “When I was a little kid, my mom took me down to Atlantic City and I got some taffy, but that’s about it,” he says. “I wasn’t aware of what a big role it had in the Prohibition era.”
Now, even after extensive research, “I still don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface. I found the 1920s to be a very radical time, with a lot of similarities to now and to the ’60s in that everything was just upside down. I relate to Jimmy in that he’s dealing with a crazy time.” Despite appearing in avant-garde films helmed by esteemed directors (Bernardo Bertolucci, Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke among them), Pitt admits his first meeting with cinema titan Martin Scorsese, who executive produces Empire with revered Sopranos scribe Terence Winter, was “nerve-racking.” “I became more relaxed when we started running the scenes, because then I felt I could show my skills—but it was intimidating.”
Pitt—who also fronts the band Pagoda—found the long-form nature of inhabiting a TV character challenging, but he’s settling into his extended tour of the ’20s spectacularly. “It was a really amazing time,” says Pitt. “It definitely helps you contemplate the future when you reflect on the past.”
photographs by abbot genser/hbo (film stills); bobby bank/wireimage.com (portrait); WireImage.com (appearances in slideshow)