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Meg Chambers Steedle on Her ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Debut, Nudity on Screen, and Kissing Steve Buscemi

The Northwestern grad opens up about playing flapper Billie Kent on this season’s Boardwalk Empire


Meg Chambers Steedle and Steve Buscemi on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire
 

It was only a few years ago that Meg Chambers Steedle was watching Steve Buscemi on the Sopranos in her Northwestern University dorm room. Now the “budding It girl” is starring next to the Emmy nominee every week on Boardwalk Empire (Sundays on HBO). The scene-stealing Steedle, who spends just as much time in her dress as out of it on the show, plays Buscemi’s new love interest, bubbly flapper Billie Kent. I met up with Steedle at Tommy Gun’s Garage (2114 S. Wabash Ave.) on Tuesday to talk about Billie, Boardwalk, and of course, Buscemi. (Full disclosure: Meg and I were classmates at Northwestern together. We think we ate at the same dining hall a few times)

OK, tell me. What’s it like to make out with Steve Buscemi?
People have asked me that, and this is what I say: It is amazing, when you go through the motions of making out with someone, that you can kind of develop a little crush on them. He’s an attractive guy to me. It was awesome making out with him. I watched him on Sopranos when I was in college, so it was just so cool. Also, that’s the first way we met each other, just thrown into the intimacy. He made me feel so comfortable. If anything, that was one of the most comfortable scenes to do.

What drew you to Boardwalk?
Funny enough, I had been doing a lot of regional theatre since school, and I loved theatre, but I was at this point in my life where I wanted to do more. I was in LA auditioning but also exploring grad schools for writing and directing. So when I got the call, I was like, all right, I’m flying back only because this is a show I’ve had my eye on for a while, I love period dramas, I love [series creator] Terence Winter. It takes place in the Jersey Shore, and I grew up going to the Jersey Shore every summer, so it felt close to my heart.

What about Billie?
Actually when I was first given the script, her name was Ivy, and she was different. In my interpretation of that reading, she had a little more of an edge. And I went in there and did that and it was great. I felt like it went well, but I was told they were going to go in another way. And then I got a call two months later that they wanted to see me again, they had changed the role. She was now bubbly. I went in and had fun, and they said, OK, now we want you to sing and dance. And I thought, yes! Yes!

Did you put any thought into Billie’s voice or mannerisms?
No! I felt just some of the lines that she has, I guess I have…she’s a spitfire. She’s teasing. I really identified with a fiery woman who could really just say what she wanted.

What’s been the weirdest part of all this for you?
I think two things. One, when I first got cast, I was so excited, but also terrified. It’s a great show, it’s won awards, it’s a well-oiled machine, and here I am coming in as someone who has one other credit, as a guest star, on one other TV show. I’ve been given this gift from the writers and team to play this incredible character that really represents a movement for women at the time. My first scene, when I knock back two drinks talking to Steve Buscemi and Kelly Macdonald, I just thought, here we go. I remember being so nervous, and I chugged my drinks a few times. It was just ginger ale, but still. It was just being so aware I’m a rookie at this, working with the best of the best.

So it was not being naked on screen.
That was my number two. They said, “Oh, there’s nudity.” Okaay. I told my mom, “I just want to warn you, there’s nudity involved.” And she said, “Oh, yeah, I know, it’s HBO.” So my parents go off to choir practice—I hadn’t told my dad yet—and when they come home, I get them both on the phone. I told my dad, “As your daughter, it may be a little weird for you, there’s nudity involved.” And my mom chimes in and says, “Wait, you??” They had already made an announcement in the church that I was going to be on the show, not knowing that the first episode was going to have this “wham, bam, there I am” moment.

What can you tell us happens in the rest of the season?
(teasing in Billie’s voice) Well, you’ll have to watch and find out what happens! There’s going to be some singing and dancing, which we haven’t seen in past seasons, which is a credit to Terry Winter. In that time, it makes sense that showbiz people and gangsters would be mingling. A lot of previews for Broadway shows happened in Atlantic City, so it’s a culture that definitely influenced whatever scandal that was going on there. I do know that, just in the way history goes, there’s some Al Capone stuff that should be interesting. I don’t know much about that storyline, to be honest, since we only get our own scripts, but just doing my research, this is a big time for Chicago.

Speaking of, what’s it like being back in Chicago today?
It’s awesome. I woke up this morning to Lake Michigan. I used to live at 1835 Hinman (one of the dorms at Northwestern) and be able to see Lake Michigan every time I walked out my door. A lot of Billie, I was able to pull out a lot of my background from school with singing and dancing. Actually when we were talking about the character, we were throwing around the idea that she’s kind of a Sally Bowles/Holly Golightly, and I got to play Sally Bowles at Northwestern. It feels like coming full circle.

 

Photograph: Macall B. Polay/HBO

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