Billie arrives all guns blazing
Little known actress Meg Chambers Steedle bares more than she expected, writes
OR the first two seasons of Boardwalk Empire, romance was elusive for Enoch ‘‘Nucky’’ Thompson. He rules Atlantic City, New Jersey, as its city father, major-domo mobster and, with this HBO drama set in Prohibition days, its reigning bootlegger.
But never mind all that. Nucky (played by unlikely leading man Steve Buscemi) wants love.
By now his overwrought mistress Lucy Danziger is history. His marriage to social climber Margaret Schroeder is over in every way but keeping up appearances.
How nice for Nucky that as season three begins, he has lost his heart (or a reasonable facsimile) to Broadway chorine Billie Kent. And how nice, too, for viewers, who will surely fall for the actress who plays her, a budding It Girl named Meg Chambers Steedle.
The new season of Boardwalk picks up the action on December 31, 1922, as Nucky and Margaret host a rousing New Year’s gala. The entertainment: famed Broadway musical star Eddie Cantor teaming up with his slinky song-and-dance sidekick, Billie, who perform a fanciful number, Old King Tut, for the ballroom full of revellers.
It’s the viewers’ first brush with Billie, but not the last. In the wee hours after the party, Nucky is seen ditching Margaret at home to rejoin Billie, who, stripped to her drawers, awaits him in bed at his boardwalk suite.
‘‘This is the only place I can truly rest my head,’’ says Nucky, resting his head in her lap.
She smiles. Then she playfully warns, ‘‘You aren’t resting NOW,’’ before climbing astride him.
This is Nucky as we’ve never seen him: the power broker as a lovestruck swain.
But who can blame him?
‘‘Billie is really a breath of fresh air for him,’’ says Terence Winter, the creator of Boardwalk and one of its executive producers.
‘‘She represents the whole idea of the youth culture that took over the 1920s – half-bohemian, half-adventurer, and out to have a good time.’’
‘‘How the writers described Billie to me was, ‘The second girl from the left’,’’ Steedle says.
‘‘She’s the girl onstage who’s not the lead, but the one you can’t take your eyes off. She’s fun. She loves the limelight. And she’s not where she wants to be: She’s moving from the left, trying to get to the centre.’’
It was Winter who wrote this season opener and thus gave birth to Billie. But you can thank Meg Chambers Steedle for giving her life.
In discussing her, Winter reels off glowing adjectives: calm and sweet and funny; magnetic and charming; bubbly and disarmingly adorable.
But despite her inherent appeal, her film experience was limited. She landed her first on-camera role only in 2011, on crime drama Body of Proof. Winter wasn’t troubled by her absence of film chops.
But the process of choosing her had taken a while. By the time she arrived on the set, the cast had done the season’s first read-through without her, she says.
‘‘I was so last-minute that I learnt the King Tut dance the day before we shot it.’’
As for the bedroom scene, which she shot next, that, too, served as its own initiation.
Her waist-up nudity ‘‘was a big thing for me. This is only my second (film) gig and I was really hesitant to show in that way,’’ she says, choosing her words carefully.
Before accepting the role, she did place a cautionary telephone call to her parents.
‘‘They knew it would happen,’’ she says, meaning the on-camera nudity, and smiles. ‘‘I just don’t think they expected it so soon.’’
Mondays, 4.35pm, Showcase.
Meg Chambers Steedle