Boardwalk Empire: Gangster Rapture

Three faces of Boardwalk Empire grace a photo studio in Manhattan's meatpacking district on a sunny Saturday: Gretchen Mol is glowing, not only because she's expecting her second child, but because her makeup's done and she now sits rosy-hued as her stylist affixes fiery-red extensions to her blonde locks. Michael Pitt, the very image of laconic Hollywood cool in his gelled locks and pinstripes, lounges on a sofa languidly strumming his acoustic guitar. Finally, a haggard Steve Buscemi shuffles in. He's here on two hours sleep, having worked till 4am directing an episode of Nurse Jackie. He plops down, takes one look at the tape recorder in front of him and grouses, "I got nothing."

Still, he rises to the occasion when discussing his new gig, and why not? After only a few weeks, HBO's surfside drama Boardwalk Empire is a smash. The gorgeous, painstakingly re-created story of Atlantic City circa 1920 and the attendant sin and intrigue unleashed by the enactment of Prohibition has received near-unanimous kudos from the critics. More important, it has killed in the ratings, with its September 19 premiere notching the highest debut number of any HBO series since 2004.

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