Sunday, March 25, 2012


This week’s edition of Fangirl is handled by none other than the notorious Capt. Hank Sparrow of Black Pearl Philippines who is not only a pirate, but a bartender, former rock star and sometime journalist.

Who better to chat with Michael Stuhlbarg, the actor who plays legendary gangster Arnold Rothstein on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire?

Boardwalk Empire is one of the best shows on television at the moment—it is currently renewed for a third season in the US. It is set in Atlantic City in the 1920’s during the time of Prohibition and the story revolves around the lives of politicians, gangsters, government agents and the men and women who weave in and out of their world.

Rothstein is based on an actual historical figure—an enterprising mobster based in New York. He was “The Brain” who ran an organization that included “Legs” Diamond, “Lucky” Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Dutch Schultz. It’s inevitable for this kingpin and Atlantic City’s Treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) engage in some sort of highly lucrative but certainly shady dealings together.

The man surprisingly shunned alcohol and you may have notice a scene in the season one where he takes iced milk. I doubt he ever got teased about it (either that no one lived to tell the tale).

Michael's biggest break was being cast in a Coen Brothers film "A Serious Man," you may have also seen him in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award winning film "Hugo."

Manila Times: How much fun is it to play a legendary gangster (Arnold Rothstein) on an incredibly well made show like Boardwalk Empire?

Michael Stuhlbarg: It’s a great amount of fun but it’s also a great amount of responsibility--at least I take it as such. I’ve tried to delve as deeply as I can into his life, how he lived it, the people he knew, what he did, what influenced him. It changes you somewhat to learn about someone’s life, to get a chance to live in it for as long as I’ve gotten a chance to so far. It’s the longest amount of time I’ve ever spent exploring a character so that’s been a great delight and challenge as an actor. I can’t wait to see where they take the character this season.

How did you learn speak with the cadence and cool deliberate ruthlessness of Arnold Rothstein?

I looked around for any tape on him and couldn’t find anything, so I just used my imagination and took as much of the historical information that I could find. He was raised in a middle class household in New York City in the late 18oo’s.

I tried to just imagine what he would speak like. I saw as many gangster films as I could and let that sort of play around in my imagination. I imagined him to be a man of authority. He didn’t necessarily have to raise his voice. Historically, he was an even-tempered conservative man and didn’t necessarily show his anger unless it was essential to get his way. It was a natural organic process of just trying to figure out what felt right. I would be curious to know how he actually spoke (laughter) someday.

You have some of the best and wittiest one liners

Thank you. It’s been great writing so far.

Aside from Billiards did you have to learn other betting games and other forms of gambling for the role?

Yes, along with getting some tutorials on billiards, I was offered an opportunity to learn more about the game of poker. HBO hired a gentleman to help me learn more about the skills of poker playing. To practice, I have arranged some games of poker with my friends so I can keep up with the kind of mind that plays poker. So yes it’s mostly been about learning poker and billiards it’s been great fun and I’ve been enjoying it. I still have an interest in poker but I very rarely play for real money

Do you win?

I do better now then I did before.


Catch Michael Stuhlbarg on Boardwalk Empire. Second season premieres in Asia on March 8 at 10pm on HBO. Also look out for him in Men in Black 3 and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Rothstein (seated) is known to have taught Lucky Luciano how to look sharp.


Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” was my favorite book of 2010. I read it because I thoroughly enjoyed author Seth Grahame-Smith’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (2009) immensely and will always be fascinated by period pieces and a well imagined vampire story.

Tim Burton is currently producing the film version of the book and thanks to friends at 20th Century Fox, I got to participate in a live “chat” last week (which was a bit like a 15 minute talk show) with director Timur Bekmambetov (Nightwatch, Daywatch, Wanted), author and screenplay writer Seth Grahame-Smith and actors Benjamin Walker and Rufus Sewell (Dark City, Knight’s Tale, The Tourist).

The film is treated straightforwardly like a “period piece with vampires,” as Grahame-Smith says he, Tim and Timur took the whole concept seriously, never winking and not making a joke out of it.

Grahame-Smith says while he had remained true to the sprit of the book, there were also things he had to let go of, “kill your darlings” so to speak. But the cast and director were ready to point out he had to “create new darlings” like Adam, the new vampire villain character to be played by English actor Sewell.

According to Sewell, “Adam is the first of the vampires…the vampire from which all other vampires came.” He is described as “formidable and ferocious,” yet also “a gentlemen, a great soldier for his cause…in a vampire election, you would vote for him, he’d make a great president for the vampires.”

Grahame-Smith goes further by adding, “We had this image of him in the script—we had him descending the stairs like Rhett Butler,” and describing him as “classic, elegant, but vicious.”

Sewell also says he gives “a nod to the great vampires of the past…when I grew up, it was Christopher Lee.”

For research, Benjamin Walker did a lot of reading—most especially work by Pulitzer Prize winner biographer and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and a book called Lincoln’s Melancholy by Joshua Wolf Shenk, which he found very “helpful” as it talked about “his (Lincoln’s) depressive nature, how he dealt with death, his gothic side…it lends itself nicely to the story we’re telling.”

Timur Bekmambetov on the other hand, read work by a Russian man named Bushkov, which contains “civil war secrets Americans don’t want to talk about.”

Regarding physical preparations for the role, Walker says he had to lose weight as Lincoln was a tall but gaunt figure; he did a lot of Wushu, stretching and “hitting people with rubber axes.” Rufus Sewell, on the other hand, says Adam is “high up on the blood chain,” and basically just sends his minions “so I did a lot of training sitting comfortably in a big chair” with his fight scenes happening in the “final reel of the film” in a new climactic sequence written for the film.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is set for US release on June 22nd. In the meantime, you’ll find Grahame-Smiths’ handiwork in another Tim Burton project, “Dark Shadows” starring Johnny Depp and set for release on the 11th of May.

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox.