Martin Scorsese brings gangland drama to HBO

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Never one to shy away from putting gangland dramas on film, Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese is now bringing an underworld story to television as executive producer of upcoming HBO series “Boardwalk Empire”.

Director Martin Scorsese arrives on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps" during the 63rd Cannes Film Festival May 14, 2010. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

The filmmaker said he had been eyeing the opportunity to work on an HBO series for years, noting “it’s very different from television of the past.”

“A number of the episodes, in so many of their (HBO’s) series, they’re thoughtful, intelligent, brilliantly put together. It’s a new opportunity for storytelling,” he told reporters on Saturday at a presentation of upcoming HBO shows.

Scorsese worked alongside “The Sopranos” writer Terence Winter to direct the pilot episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” and he told reporters in Los Angeles, via satellite from London, that he would “very much like to” direct more episodes if time allows.

“Boardwalk Empire” is based on a nonfiction book by Nelson Johnson, chronicling the life of Enoch “Nucky” Johnson, played by Steve Buscemi. It is set in New Jersey’s Atlantic City during the 1920s, just as World War One ended, women received the right to vote and the sale of liquor became prohibited throughout the United States under federal law.

Equal parts corrupt politician and gangster, Nucky is Atlantic City’s treasurer, which puts him in perfect position to capitalize on the opportunity to traffic in illegal, bootlegged booze. But Nucky is both bad guy, and good, as he also helps a woman with her estranged and abusive husband.

“This is one of the best parts I’ve ever had in my life...To play a character who is ambitious, certainly has a dark side, but has a lot of humor and genuinely has a good heart and wants to share the wealth with the world,” Buscemi told reporters at the HBO presentation.

He said he had not received an offer to portray Nucky when he first read the script and thought, “Wow, I’m almost sorry I’m reading this because if I don’t get it, I’ll be so disappointed.”

Scorsese, who won an Oscar for corrupt cops and gang drama “The Departed,” said the program put a spotlight on “the nature of America’s love affair with the gangster as a sort of tragic hero,” and that idea drew him to “Boardwalk Empire”.

“It resonates today, not only in America but around the world,” said the director of movies such as “Goodfellas” and “Gangs of New York.”

“Boardwalk Empire” creator Winter had just finished working on “Sopranos” when Mark Wahlberg and Steve Levinson, who produce HBO’s “Entourage”, pitched him the idea for the new show.

“HBO told me, ‘Why don’t you read it and see what you think. And by the way, Martin Scorsese is attached to this.’ As soon as I heard that, I said, ‘Believe me, if there is a television series in there, I’ll find it!’”

The first season of “Boardwalk Empire” premieres on Sunday, September 19.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte