[Spoilers ahead.] Ever since the beginning of Boardwalk Empire, Eddie Kessler has had Nucky Thompson’s back, acting as a bodyguard and even taking a bullet for his boss. But this season Kessler’s loyalty was put to the test. After delivering money to one of the Capone brothers, he was picked up by two federal agents, including the undercover Agent Knox, a proto-FBI type working for J. Edgar Hoover who wants to prove that there is a web of organized crime emerging across the country. (Connecting the dots between Capone and Thompson would be a vital piece of the puzzle.) To get Kessler to confess, Knox tells him that unless he rats on Nucky, they would reveal his past misdeeds in Germany, which involved a lengthy session auf Deutsch. Not able to live with his betrayal, at the end of last night’s episode Kessler commits suicide. Anthony Laciura, who played Kessler, and Brian Geraghty, who played Knox, filled us in on shooting this heartbreaking episode at the Boardwalk Empire premiere last month.
That interrogation scene is probably the longest scene you’ve ever had on the show.
Laciura: The breakdown. Everything that led to the breakdown. Even before that, the punching, the vomiting, all of that. “Blaerrgh!” I never thought I’d have to projectile-vomit on Boardwalk Empire! It was actually oatmeal and chicken soup.
Geraghty: Oh, man! The writing. That was probably the best writing I’ve gotten. Luckily, when I got the episode, I had three weeks to work on all that, learn the German, because there was so much.
Laciura: Brian and I would practice our German together. He was very good! He did very well. He had just the right accent.
How many different ways did you try the scene?
Laciura: All of that, it’s one moment. I remember [showrunner] Terry Winter saying, “We did so many takes. Do what you want?” We did it over and over, but I didn’t want to peak too soon, with breaking down totally. So there were a couple of takes where I broke down, but not the one that we finally got. At one point, just mentioning Nucky’s name was enough. He’s like a father figure to Nucky, and he was there for everything. So it’s sad.
Geraghty: Instinctively, the director just kind of let me be on my own, which was really exciting, you know? We tried to keep it as simple as possible.
Laciura: Isn’t Brian wonderful, though? And such a respectful young man. I just said, “Do what you have to do.”
Geraghty: It was like a perfect storm, I felt like, “Man, whatever happens to my character after this, I’m really lucky.” I’ve never gotten to play quite like this. They took something that I can do quite easily and flipped it. Actually, two things that I can do very easily, but one thing I don’t get asked to do as often. I think I have an intensity to me, a volatile side. But I can also play an “Aww, shucks” sensitive guy as well. And the first type, I don’t often get to play, so this is a perfect character for me. Every time, I can’t wait to get the script. Usually, I only have a little to do, but this episode? I’ve had far more to do than I thought I would.
The moment Eddie steps through the window, it’s both beautiful and tragic. There’s a moment where you can’t quite believe or comprehend what he’s doing.
Laciura: You’re like, “Wait! What I just saw … didn’t happen, did it? It couldn’t have!” He could never face having to tell Nucky of his past, which is really so long ago and should be forgiven. Why did he do it? Who knows? But he’s too much of a straight up-and-down guy. He would certainly never steal all that money! And the little bit that he did, back there in Germany, it was all madness. And it’s ancient history. But it’s dug up to attack the psyche of this older gentleman, and when he’s threatened, his family is threatened — what can he do? Now, he could have realized that Nucky would do anything for him. But he didn’t want to bring Nucky into it, and he didn’t want to bring Nucky down. So he did what he thought was best. He’s loyal to the very end.