On last night’s Boardwalk Empire, the shifty Agent Sebso took part in what must have been the most disturbing baptism ever broadcast on TV. Sebso is played by actor and lyricist Erik Weiner (he co-authored the 2000 Off Broadway hit The Bomb-itty of Errors), who landed the role because of a one-line part on The Sopranos that he turned into an ingenious viral video. Here, in his own words, is the fantastically random story of Erik Weiner’s lucky break.
“I wrote a song called ‘One Line on The Sopranos’ about the one line that I had on The Sopranos: ‘Leon, take your break at two.’ In the song, I talk about the experience of coming to the set overly prepared to just nail that line and launch my acting career from that one line. And I exaggerated it in the song, but of course some of it was true; the scene I had was with James Gandolfini and Charles Dutton, a week after they’d both just won Emmys. So I was like, Oh, it’s me and two Emmy winners. Of course. That makes sense. So the first take I did, I said, ‘Leon, take your break at two,’ and then I turned toward James Gandolfini and gave this kind of crazy look that was like, Whoa, Tony Soprano’s here! I’d better get out of here! Then after the director yelled cut, he came over to me and was like, ‘Look, uh, Erik — first of all, good work. Second, just come in, and say the line, and leave.’ And that was his one note to me.
And so years later, I always held onto that line: ‘Leon, take your break at two.’ I mean, it was such a classic one line to have on a TV show. Like ‘These pretzels make me thirsty’ on that episode of Seinfeld. And then I was writing songs with my friend Jordan Allen-Dutton and my brother Mark Weiner, and just came back to that notion that actors have of, This is my one shot at making it, by telling Leon to take his break at two. Bryan Greenberg [who stars on HBO’s How to Make it in America] is one of my best friends, we went to college together, and he had one word on The Sopranos, which was: ‘Here.’ So when I told him about that song idea, he told me he wanted to do a video with me, and we came up with that idea for him to come in at the end.
So anyway, I put the video online and it got a good response. And then I got a call — I guess it was a year and a half ago — and it was my manager, and he said, ‘Hey, I got a call for you to audition for Boardwalk Empire. And I was like, ‘Oh my God, that sounds awesome — how did you get this audition?’ And he said, ‘Oh, someone from [executive producer and writer] Terence Winter’s office called me about it.’ So it wasn’t the casting director. I did the audition in Los Angeles, they sent the tape into New York, and maybe about a month later, I found out I got the part.
And I flew out — still had no clue why I got the audition. I arrived on set for the first day to rehearse, and I rode out to Long Island with Michael Shannon in the car. And we got to set and we walked by the production trailer, and Terence Winter comes walking out, and he says, ‘I wrote your one line on The Sopranos!’
And he did! I had no idea he worked on that episode, but in fact, he had written that line. And then he pulls out his laptop, and he’s like, ‘Michael, have you seen this yet?’ And he brings up my video and he hits play and the other crew members gather around, and we watch my video. This is all within the first two minutes of me landing on set.
As far as I knew, I had one scene in the pilot. And so I show up, and [writer and Sopranos alum] Tim Van Patten is like, ‘Oh, wait till you see the scene we wrote for you in episode six!’ And I was like, WHAT? I really went from ‘Leon, take your break at two’ to — I haven’t counted how many lines I had on Boardwalk Empire, 73, I’ll guess off the top of my head. So if I can keep on doing that in my career, I’ll be at a thousand lines in no time.
I’m still making the videos. I actually wrote a song for Terry and Tim Van Patten and some of the other cast and crew to say good-bye. It was like my parting gift. I thought it was fitting that I got on the show with a song, so I should leave the show with a song. It’s called ‘Boardwalk Empire State of Mind.’”