Sunday night ‘Boardwalk Empire‘ delivered a lesbian storyline between Angela Damody (Aleksa Palladino) and her friend Mary Dittrich (Lisa Joyce).
The two shared a scene that was both erotic and poignant, as the women reached a level of physical and emotional intimacy thus far foreign to Angela and her estranged common-law boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Pitt). It also answered Jimmy’s question of why Angela was paying regular visits to Mary and her husband’s photography studio.
New York native Palladino (‘Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’) spoke to us about the challenges of playing Angela, and how this relationship will develop throughout the remainder of the season.
What was your reaction to reading this storyline in the script?
It was actually something that I knew relatively early on. It was one of the first details that Marty [Scorsese] told me. He loved it. I was really excited about it. I think what I did initially was try to understand what was happening at that time with sexual liberation and experimentation at the time. It was becoming fairly common for people to experiment with bisexuality. What I loved about the way that they had written the actual relationship was that it was a relationship – there was a deeper connection. It wasn’t just experimentation or a sexual sort of thing. I thought it was really beautiful and I was excited to be able to explore it.
So you see it more as a true relationship and not just experimentation?
I really did think it was based off a true connection. The way we’d talked about it that it wasn’t this planned, all the sudden Angela wants to be in a relationship with a woman. It sort of just started out of a friendship with someone she could confide in. I think it was a very natural progression. I don’t know if they’d call themselves in a lesbian relationship. I don’t really think it has that kind of title.
Too often lately it can seem like a cop out for female characters. It’s like, Oh, she can’t find any men so let’s just make her a lesbian. This wasn’t something born out of a stale storyline.
No, no. The impression I had is that there’s gotta be a real reason that Angela is torn between how she feels about Jimmy. It’s got to be bigger than just, They’re not the same people they were two years ago. I think it winds up representing all the changes that have happened for her while he was gone, because those two years were so pivotal for her – and for both of them. He was totally changed by war. And she really found herself as an artist, which is huge for a woman in the 1920s. So how do you pick up where you left off? There are a lot of questions going on, and it wasn’t a time where you sit down with a therapist and work out your issues. [Laughs.] There was a lot of self discovery.
How comfortable were you with the nude scenes? Both with Michael [Pitt] and Lisa [Joyce]?
All of my sex scenes in this season are handled very beautifully, and that made it really easy. There’s nothing degrading about them or anything that makes you uncomfortable. It’s a big part of who she was and the story being told. Even that first scene with Michael, [with] them not being able to connect. Then the scenes with Mary, I thought it was really important that it had both the relationship element – you could actually see them talking – and the sexual element, too. It wasn’t just a little peck on the lips. It was actually something that was very alive.
Was it any more challenging to do a nude scene with a woman?
By the time we were shooting those scenes I was so ready for Angela to be connected to somebody, that I didn’t even care about the nudity. It was just that she was finally able to connect with someone and feel she’s not just this lonely planet with nobody else with her.
You actually get to smile.
[Laughs.] Yeah. Exactly. And everyone is so amazing on this job that you’re willing to go anywhere.
The company that Jimmy keeps doesn’t really bode well for Angela’s safety. Do you think she’s at risk?
I don’t know how much she’s aware of what’s going on. At this point she doesn’t know why he left for Chicago. She thinks he just walked out on them. I don’t think she’s worried about the company that he keeps; it’s more about what is she going to do to get herself to the next step. As a young woman who is still trying to discover herself, and who feels very entitled to that discovery, it’s also a really beautiful thing about her character. She feels entitled to be a painter and try that. She has a vision for herself.
Is there a story behind the artist who actually did Angela’s paintings?
I think the art department did them. [Laughs.] I spent a lot of time with Marty going over different styles of what she would paint. There were several female artists who were painting then. It wasn’t a large group of female artists but it was definitely a handful. They were really talented.
How involved has Marty [Scorsese] been? How much have you gotten to know him?
I think his major involvement was just building a strong base for everyone so we kind of knew where we were coming from. We really didn’t know much going into it. Then it’s kind of kept that way. It was really important for me to have such a strong base of who she was so no matter where the writers took her I knew where she was coming from. That’s when I spent the most time with Marty; understanding the time, and understanding the women of that time, and then starting to understand her.
You and your husband are in a band [Exitmusic] together. If you do the hyphenate are you more actor-musician or musician-actor?
[Laughs.] I guess it depends on who I’m talking to! It’s hard to say that one part of you is more important than the other. I feel like they both come from the same place. They’re both things I’ve done forever and want to do forever. Music is definitely a very special thing because it’s something I do with my husband. It’s such an amazing process to grow with someone on so many levels.
Were you intimidated by the scope and the names attached to this show?
On the elevator ride up to Marty’s hotel room where we met I think I started to shake. It’s a long elevator ride when you know who you’re about to meet. But within the first couple of sentences it was totally relaxed. He’s exactly how he comes off in interviews. He’s warm and chatty. By the end of the conversation you feel like you’ve known each other a long time. He’s really wonderful with actors. There’s no idea that’s a bad idea.
What was the casting process?
It was a long process. I auditioned for [casting director] Ellen Lewis in September of, maybe ’08? She cast me in ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.’ We’d known each other and she said I was the prototype for the role. Then in January they called and wanted me to fly – I was living in LA at that point – they wanted me to fly to New York and test. Then there was a long waiting process.
You must have had some idea of what this would become with the pedigree behind it.
Yeah, I definitely did. But when you work in the business for a long time you stop wanting to place predictions of success on a show. You just never know. This was pretty much as safe a bet as you can have, but it’s nice to actually have it be airing now since we’ve been working on it for so long.
How much do you know about season two?
I don’t know anything! We start shooting toward the end of January.
What challenges lie ahead for Angela?
Basically I think what you’ll see is she’s got a lot of choices that she’s feeling her way through. There’s the push and pull with Jimmy and the push and pull with Mary – what direction to go in. Both situations are more complicated because there are feelings in both places.
Last question: Did the vacuum Jimmy bought actually work?
[Laughs.] Yeah! Of course. That’s when stuff was actually made well.