There’s a street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that wouldn’t usually draw attention, if it weren’t for the high barbed wire fence and the security guard stationed next to the gate. Otherwise, the stack of shipping crates 50 yards behind the chain link wouldn’t seem out of place in the somewhat industrial area near the East River.
Behind those shipping crates, however, lies Atlantic City in the year of 1923 — the set of “Boardwalk Empire.”
In the lead up to season three of the HBO show, premiering Sunday, MTV News traveled back in time to visit the set and see how the pieces had settled after last year’s shocking — and frankly, ballsy — conclusion.
The centerpiece of the set is, obviously, the boardwalk, a vast stretch of slanted wood planks and store fronts, tucked away from prying eyes just behind the shipping crates. The largest outdoor set ever built in New York, the boardwalk immediately impresses because of its size, but even a project this big requires a little help from special effects. (The reverse side of the shipping crates is covered in with blue matting to digitally expand the small patch of sand and add the Atlantic Ocean.)
Looking past the scale of the set, it’s actually the smallest aspects of the boardwalk that make you forget that none of it is real. Many stores along the boardwalk function as working sets, instead being a collection of façades. You can walk into the candy store and find boxes of historically accurate sweets, and the base of the Ritz opens up to an ornate hotel lobby, which doubled as a classroom for the child actors the day we visited.
Though we found the boardwalk nearly deserted, a quick trip around the corner revealed where the cast and crew had been hiding. Season three of “Boardwalk Empire” will introduce a new location, a carnival-like midway, which the crew built directly behind the boardwalk. The new set matches the boardwalk’s mind-boggling level of detail.
The buildings lining either side of the narrow street are plastered with intricate billboards, which were modeled off actual 1923 advertisements. Grips constantly supply extras with new mounts of cotton candy after the older ones dry out in the high-powered set lights. They also replenish their melting shaved ice occasionally.
Extras required costume once-overs between takes, making a relatively straightforward scene an intricate operation, involving dozens of crewmembers.
The midway acts as a darker alternative to the ritzy boardwalk, supplying cheap thrills to those who can’t afford any other kind. At the end of the row, a man on stilts and a fat lady attract visitors to the circus, and the scene’s dialogue refers to a camel, which we catch a glimpse of behind the midway.
Jack Huston was just visible down the midway when we first arrived on set — past the throngs of 1920s thrill seekers, carnies and salesmen. It’s difficult to miss him when he stands taller than most in the crowd and a painted mask covers half his face.
Playing the scarred veteran sniper Richard Harrow, Huston has left little doubt about his status as the breakout star of “Boardwalk Empire.” That’s probably because, despite the unnerving look of Richard, Huston and his character elicit a great deal of sympathy on a show that is full of despicable men and women. As other characters have been blown away and shooters become more and more unrepentant, Richard has remained in the fans’ good graces.
The rasping voice we’re used to hearing from Huston disappears between takes, giving way to the actor’s natural voice, a much brighter English accent. The scene the crew filmed during our day on set is one that should please Richard’s fans. While we can’t give away too much about the scenes, it’ll suffice to say that, with Jimmy and Angela gone from his life, there’s a gap in Richard’s life, and the scene may be a step toward fixing that.
The third season of “Boardwalk Empire” premieres this Sunday on HBO.
What impresses you the most about the “Boardwalk Empire” set? Give us your favorite setting in the comments!