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Boardwalk Empire’s Patricia Arquette on Playing Sally Wheet and Punching Nucky As Foreplay

Patricia Arquette. Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty

After her Emmy-winning turn on Medium, Patricia Arquette is back on television on Boardwalk Empire, playing the irrepressible Sally Wheet. “It’s great to not carry the show,” Arquette told Vulture about taking the supporting role, which has found her tending a bar in Florida, giving Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson a black eye before initiating sex, and negotiating her way into his business as a full partner in last night’s episode (after more sex, of course). Arquette chatted with Vulture about Sally’s unusual form of foreplay, her recipe for a good meal, and finally wrapping her twelve-year-long film project with Richard Linklater.

When you first got cast, did you know what your character’s arc would be? Did you know you would punch Steve Buscemi as a form of foreplay?
[Laughs.] Surprise! I know! Isn’t that a crazy scene? When we shot it, I turned and looked and saw that the guys from the crew were like, [imitates, open mouth in shock]. They’d been on the clock for three hours, and one of them was like, “My wife is going to kill me, but this scene’s so good I had to stay.” I was like, “Wow, that’s rad.” It was pretty funny, and it was fun to shoot it, and I know that sounds horrible — in my real life, obviously, violence in a relationship is not to be taken lightly. And yet, these people, they are from some different time, a time when violence was much more … I mean, people were smacking each other around! And smacking their kids around! It was just a part of life. And there was a bit of wildness in the South at that time that was very primordial — shooting and skinning raccoons, and the bayou. I think she really grew up with the boys, and she doesn’t take any crap from people. She’s had enough in her life already. She’s always been familiar with a colorful sort of dark world.

And yet she has a gentle, almost maternal side, like when she feeds them breakfast.
Yeah. And that’s another thing … I’m glad they wrote that in, because I was talking to them about how in the South, the things that are different in the South, and feeding people is a big part of the community, like playing music, getting drunk, and feeding people. I mean, it’s like you feed people to death. It’s your hospitality. It’s who you are. I definitely do that, too. I grew up with five kids, so I don’t know how to cook for just a couple of people. It’s like I’ve cooked for an army. Everybody’s always going home with lots of Tupperware. If you eat meat, I know it sounds weird, but if you turn your oven up to 450 degrees, and you just put a little olive oil on your chicken, and you put half a bottle or a quarter of a bottle of cheap white wine, some yams, some onions, some garlic, and cilantro at the bottom of the pan, and you cook it at 450 for 45 minutes, it’s really crispy and really tender. That’s an easy one. [Laughs.]

What do you think Sally really wants from Nucky?
I think Nucky is very different than anyone she’s met before. They’re all very isolated, and it’s a lonely world, but Nucky has, oddly enough, his own moral code, and it’s a different moral code than anyone she’s ever met before. And she’s done a little snooping around, and she wants to see what the hell is going on. Is his wife around? How would he react to her being around? Is there something there? Is there not something there? And his attitude toward her is kind of crappy. But she wants to know what the hell is going on and flesh it out, and I think she gets pissed by the way he responds to her. They’re both strong-willed people, and they’re kind of like magnets, where there is a bit of an attraction, but also a repulsion. They’re drawn and repelled by each other at the same time. It’s about mixed polarities. And it’s all animal. But she wants a certain response, like, “Yeah, I’m glad you’re here!” And she’s not getting the reaction she wants. And Sally’s like, “If that’s how it’s going to be, I’m going to go and get some of my needs met. I’m not going to be a sad sack lady bumming out because you’re being a jerk. I’m moving on.”

There’s a lot of potential there, now that she’s a love interest and a business partner.
I’m okay with whatever. I don’t even care if I die, as long as I get a cool death. I want a cool death. I would like to be surprised. But it’s weird, as an actor — if you die in a piece, how would you react to that? You know? It’s kind of a weird thing that actors have to think about. But Sally seems like she would go down kicking. She can punch, she can shoot, she can hunt, so watch out!

And she’s got access to alligators …
I think that’s a great way to get rid of corpses. Feed them to alligators. It could happen! It was weird, when I was getting ready for this, they didn’t give me any information other than that first scene, so I didn’t really know where the hell it was going. So one of the things I did was these Native American medicine cards, and they have these different animals with different powers,  different strengths, and lessons that they teach you. And the card I picked for Sally was the alligator, which means integration. And then I went on the set, and there were alligators everywhere. [Laughs.] They’re half submerged under water. And they watch you. And when it’s time, they can really dig their teeth in, and pull you under, and they’ll drown you. And when I first started getting ready to play this character, that’s what I thought about. Part of being an actor that’s really fun is to approach it from so different ways. There’s no right way. There’s no one way.

While you were shooting this, you were also wrapping up Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s twelve-years-in-the-making film with Ethan Hawke.
Yeah, I finished last month. And that’s a very different character.  Honestly, I’ve never had that kind of experience, because it was like our secret project. No one knew what we were doing, and we would go do this every year for twelve years. The strange thing is, it’s not really something I want to share with the world now. Of course I want it to come out, but a part of me is like, “I don’t want to share it with the world.” It’s such a cool, secret, little part of my life, my artistic life, and then you give it to the world, and they get to decide what they think about it, and it becomes their thing. Right now, it’s our thing.

Boardwalk’s Patricia Arquette on Punching Nucky