Bil­lie ar­rives all guns blaz­ing

Lit­tle known ac­tress Meg Cham­bers Steedle bares more than she expected, writes

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MONDAY EXTRA -

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

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