‘Boardwalk Empire’ star Anthony Laciura on ‘La Boheme,’ Eddie Kessler, Steve Buscemi

I got to interview “Boardwalk Empire” actor Anthony Laciura, who plays butler Eddie Kessler on the HBO hit. Laciura speaks about being an adjunct professor at New Jersey City University in Jersey City, directing a production of “La Boheme” at the university, learning all about Eddie by meeting with his family members and working with Steve Buscemi, also known as Nucky Johnson. See the article as it appeared on NJ.com.

Summer Dawn Hortillosa: So what exactly happens in “La Boheme?”

Anthony Laciura: In opera, everybody sings to each other. This one is about four bohemians living in the top floor of a building – an artist, a writer, a music teacher and a scholar – none of which makes money except for the music teacher.

The writer, Rodolfo, falls in love with Mimi. The painter, Marcelo, has had an on-and-off relationship with Musetta. In general, it’s about their trials and tribulations. in the end, Mimi dies and everybody cries.

It’s probably one of the most popular operas in the world. It’s the perfect love story – boy meets girl, girl gets sick, girl dies, boyfriend cries and the other couple goes on yelling and screaming and crying together. The only guy who comes out on top of world is Schaunard, the music guy. He comes out on top. It’s a wonderful story. And that’s it in a very, very tiny nutshell.

SDH: It sounds like a big undertaking. How do you juggle directing “La Boheme” and shooting “Boardwalk Empire?”

AL As a director, scheduling rehearsal time. I’m shooting “Boardwalk” at the same time, I teach privately at home as well as do voice-overs and interviews. It really comes down upon you.

SDH: Has scheduling been a big problem for you?

AL: It’s probably been the biggest challenge. The young people here, since we started rehearsing this month, they also have jobs to pay for their education in the fall so I have to work the schedule around their availability. It gets rough but it seems to be working.

SDH: Is it an all-student cast?

AL: They’re all students with the exception of one faculty member. We mix undergrad and grad – and we’re the only university that does that and I encourage that.

SDH: What are the kids like?

AL: They’ve dedicated, very cooperative and willing to work. It is a new experience for some of them., some of them worked with me before.

SDH: What do you do at NJCU?

AL: I am an adjunct faculty member. I teach voice and applied voice as well as run an opera workshop program. Well, it’s not really an opera workshop program yet, but we’re working on it. It’ll happen, but it takes time.

SDH: How long have you been there?

AL: I’ve been at NJCU for four years.

SDH: Do you live in Jersey City?

AL: No, I live in Teaneck.

SDH: Where do they film “Boardwalk”?

AL: They film in Brooklyn, in Green Point.

SDH: Oh, okay. So that’s not too far. So what are your musical goals at NJCU? What is all this about an opera workshop program?

AL: The idea has always been that we do opera workshop scenes from many different operas and to do a full-length opera. What we’re doing is bringing opera to this particular area where there wasn’t some before, except for the campus music department. We’re doing operas in smaller venues like the West Side Theater, which is a black box. It becomes very intimate with a minimal orchestra, great lighting and sets – it brings the audience into the story. They get a real emotional jolt – and this is without subtitles. We do it in the language it was written and hopefully the audience understands exactly what is being brought in front of them. It’s really exciting and it’s a huge educational format with the audience, director, students, all learning at the same time. It’s very unique and I like it.

SDH: That sounds really great. Do you usually stay in the West Side area where NJCU is or have you been to other parts of Jersey City too?

AL: I’m becoming familiar with the city. I’m looking for apartments in Jersey City, like by Newport Towers. It’s really changing quite a bit, or trying to. From what I heard, they’re trying to top Hoboken. If I’m gonna buy something, I’m going to buy something now.

SDH: That would be awesome! Yes, you should move here! It would help you push the opera program further along too, probably. Have your productions been doing well so far?

AL: Oh, they have. We did “Carmen” last year and we had to turn people away. We didn’t run enough weekends. Now we’re doing this – which is more popular than “Carmen” – so we need to have enough available times so we don’t have to turn people away.

SDH: Wow, you must have an amazing turn-out.

AL: We fill it. Our audience is starting to learn that they have to get there on time because we close the door. As soon as it starts, that’s it. We try to do it through-composed – with no chorus, though, we cut the chorus – so I keep the operas no longer than 90 minutes. With “La Boheme,” though, we have to take little pause after the second act.

SDH: Do you think that a lot of people who love “Rent” will want to come and see the opera it’s based on?

AL: I don’t really know, we’ll find out. I don’t know how many people realize that “Rent” came about because of “La Boheme” or that “Miss Saigon” came about because of “Madame Butterfly.” I don’t know, they might say it’s similar to “Rent.” Well, as long as that gets them interested in opera and getting in. That would mean a healthy, bright future for opera in America.

SDH: What do you think this particular production will do for the future of opera at NJCU?

AL: I want to show the university that they have a jewel on campus that they don’t really acknowledge and that needs to be acknowledged more. Music, both vocal and instrumental, are huge recruiting assets to universities because musical performers can go beyond the university to get to people. It’s hard to have a physicist going out and talking about things.

We’re going out into the world and publicizing, getting lots of national associates of teaching to come in and have auditions there, we’re holding meetings there so people know there is really a school of music for Jersey City. We hope to have building in the future.

Unfortunately, due to our particular environment, some of our young people graduate and don’t even realize there’s a music school.

SDH: Besides helping NJCU’s music department, what are your other immediate goals for your career?

AL: I’d like to do more singing and teaching. As for “Boardwalk,” it was the offer of a lifetime. I accepted and now I happen to be on the greatest television show in the world. I hope I stay on the show. We don’t know, we’ll have to see as the episodes go along.

SDH: I’m guessing from your last name that you’re Italian, but do you have any German in you at all? You speak with a pretty good accent on the show.

AL: No, but thank you! I’m Italian-American – Sicilian. I just do a good job with accents.

SDH: In a recent episode of “Boardwalk,” Eddie saves Nucky’s life and even shoots at the gunman trying to get his boss. Was that inspired by blind loyalty?

AL: It’s absolutely blind loyalty. What you have to realize is that Eddie is an immigrant. His parents were from Russia and they moved, he grew up in Austria as Austrian Jew. During this period of time, Eddie did a bunch of jobs, then went to America, right to Atlantic City. He was a bartender and a cab driver – that’s how he met Nucky. He’d pick himm up to go to Babette’s and pick the fee up as a cab driver.

A lot of the time, Nucky would be inebriated. So Eddie would bring him to a suite, undress him, put him to bed. And one day Nucky said, “Do you want a job?” and he hired him. And Eddie never forgot that kindness.

When Eddie Kessler died – or rather, Lou Kessel, that was his real name – when Nucky was in jail and Eddie died and they wouldn’t release Nucky for day to go to funeral, it was the biggest, saddest day of Nucky’s life. He said he could not be there to show respects to the closest friend he ever had in his life.

SDH: Wow. That’s amazing. How did you learn all this about Lou?

AL: Lou Kessel’s granddaughters and grandson, I became very close with them and so we visit them quite often in Brigantine, N.J. They told me all about Lou and it’s really wonderful to know them. In the second season, I have a pocket watch and there’s a close-up of it in the first episode – that’s a real watch that Nucky gave Lou. It’s engraved, “LK.” Really terrific.

SDH: Wow, that’s amazing. Have they ever been on set?

AL: The other day, we were filming a courtroom scene for the second season and Jamie Kessel sat in the background. The family was called when this first happened, when the network said they were doing something about this. They said, “Your grandfather will be mentioned,” and the six of us had already been cast.

They found out that I was playing Eddie Kessler found Anthony Laciura was playing Eddie Kessler. They called production and said, “Do you think I could meet him?” So they came to me and said a woman, Lou’s granddaughter, wants to meet you. I said, “Oh my God, yeah – I’d love to talk to her. I wanted to see pictures, memorabilia, anything. It’s really something in this situation – it’s an actor’s treasure chest. I learned quite a bit. I’ve been to his grave site, seen his headstone, took pictures. I also met a gentlemen named John De’Alessio, a descendent of the brothers in this season. In Brigantine and Absecon, they all knew Lou Kessel because Nucky wouldn’t go any place without Lou.

SDH: Wow, that’s really nice that you get to see all that stuff about Lou firsthand. What about your costars? What’s it like working with Steve Buscemi?

AL: It is magnificent. He is the most giving person and he is so generous with his time. He pulls me into things a lot when he feels Eddie should be there.

This show is unique because everybody enjoys being with everybody all the time. And we’re not just there to be under the spotlight all the time. We go in and we’re actors. We do our stuff, we leave. We don’t hit nightclubs or anything like that for the most part. Everyone gets along – the crew, the costumers, the cameramen, grips, everybody.

Everybody who’s been on the set said this is remarkable because it’s just never like this. We all had this feeling from the first table read that this was something very special – we could feel the electricity in the air. For me, it’s a miracle. An absolute miracle.

“La Boheme” will be performed at the Park Performing Arts Center, 560 32nd St., Union City, on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 2 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 for seniors and students. For tickets, visit ParkPAC.org.

Season 2 of “Boardwalk Empire” will premiere on HBO tonight at 9 p.m. The show recently took home eight Emmy awards, the most of any program this year. For more information, visit HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” website.

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About Summer Dawn Hortillosa

Summer Dawn Hortillosa is a journalist specializing in arts and entertainment. Among other things, she is also an award-winning playwright, director, singer-songwriter and actress. Her work has been seen in The Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal and other publications.
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