Terence Winter

Photo by Macall B. Polay/HBO

Earlier this year, fans of the New Jersey-based HBO series Boardwalk Empire were surprised to learn that it would be shortened from its initially proposed run of seven seasons to five. Editor at Large Tracey Smith, who interviewed series creator Terence Winter for EDGE in 2013, doubled back this fall to get his take on the Nucky Thompson experience, find out what¹s coming next, and talk a bit more about what keeps his creative juices flowing.

EDGE: Shortening this series to five seasons was a big decision. How did that conversation go between you and fellow executive producer Howard Korder?

TW: Somewhere around the middle of Season 4, Howard and I looked at each other and said, “I get the feeling that we’re kind of headed toward a conclusion here.” It was completely inadvertent in our storytelling, but we felt like if we were listening to Nucky and what he was saying and where he was taking us, that he was trying desperately to get out of this business and to wind down.  The more we talked about it, the more we said, “Yeah, we don’t have a whole lot more to explore with this character.”  We didn’t want to just milk it, and the last thing we want to do is to become repetitive. We’re lucky enough to not be in a situation where, like network TV, for example, you have to hit a certain amount of episodes in order to become syndicated. That’s not the model over here, and that’s not the model that exists anymore, and creatively it’s not anything I’m comfortable with. We always felt that when this story runs its course that’s when the series ends. We felt like that with Nucky and started to have that conversation with HBO. Creatively, they are incredibly supportive; they said, “Okay, well how much do you think you need?” We felt we needed eight more hours to properly tell this story, and that’s where we ended up.

EDGE: Give me the two highlights that stand out for you personally on this project?

TW: One would be Martin Scorsese becoming involved—getting to work alongside my cinematic hero, who was the reason I got into this business in the first place. I saw Taxi Driver when I was a teenager and I can draw a straight line from Taxi Driver through the rest of my career. That was a movie that made me sit up and take notice of movies as being something other than just something to do on a Saturday afternoon. I walked out of that and thought “Wow, what was that? Who is this guy Martin Scorsese and what else has he done?” When I hung up the phone after Martin Scorsese told me “I’m going to direct this pilot” I almost fell out of my chair. That was just an amazing highlight. Part two? All the rest of it!  Having my own show for the first time, getting to work alongside my dear friend Tim Van Patten, getting to know and become dear friends with Howard Korder, Christine Chambers—who started as my writer’s assistant fourteen years ago and now is one of our writers—that whole experience. Just lump it all together.

Photo by Macall B. Polay/HBO

EDGE: You’re about to fast-forward 40 years with your new project about CBGB. Are you nervous about how fans will receive it?

TW: No. I try to approach things that I write as if I’m an audience member. What would I like to see? The rule of thumb is, if I think it’s interesting, hopefully other people will too. If I think it’s funny, hopefully people will agree. Rock and Roll…1973…New York City. I’m there!! If I had nothing to do with this, if I saw a trailer for this, I would absolutely tune in to it. And then you say that Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger are involved in it, Bobby Cannavale stars in it—you’re going to see the beginnings of punk, disco, hip-hop, see these bands, hear this music, spend time in that crazy rollercoaster world of New York  when the economy was horrible and crime was to the roof. I’d watch it so I’m confident that there are people that are equally interested. Hopefully, I’m right.

EDGE: It’s just one great project after another for you. What’s it like to be Terence Winter?

TW: I feel like any moment I’m going to wake up and it’s 1975 and I’m going to be late for my job at the butcher shop. I couldn’t have written a script for my own life that would have played out better. I am unbelievably blessed, I am unbelievably fortunate and I don’t take that for granted for one second. I look in the mirror every day and just think I am the luckiest guy in the world. And I really am.

EDGE: What was the toughest choice you had to make along the way?

TW: Leaving a promising law career to embark on a writing career was pretty crazy. I left in 1990 after two years to move to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. People thought I was out of my mind.

EDGE: Had you ever written a screenplay?

TW: No. Nor had I ever been to Los Angeles.

EDGE: When you think about your legacy, what comes to mind?

TW: First and foremost, I want to entertain people. At the end of my career, if I’ve succeeded in that, then I think that’s really all I could’ve asked for as an artist. When I look at movies done in the 40’s or 50’s, I think Somebody wrote that—someone reached out across time and made me laugh. I remember reading Tom Jones by Henry Fielding and there’s a passage that made me laugh out loud. I thought, God, this guy reached out from hundreds of years ago and made me laugh, which is pretty amazing considering sensibility has changed so much. It makes me feel good to know that this will live beyond me, and my kids one day will be old enough to watch The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire and get more of an insight into me creatively. That is, in some way, psychologically sort of a denial of death— “It doesn’t matter because my work is going to live on.” It’s funny. David Chase and I laughed about this. In The Sopranos, I wrote a similar line for Christopher, who’d made that movie Cleaver, a ridiculous horror movie. Christopher said to Tony, “Wow, that’s really cool. Hundreds of years from now people are gonna be watching this thing.” It’s the same way I feel about our work. It’s great that the written word survives and goes on forever. It’s so great to be able to do this.

Editor’s Note: Tracey and Terence covered quite a bit of ground in their conversation. To read more about the actors, characters and experiences that came together in five seasons of Boardwalk Empire, log on to edgemagonline.com for exclusive bonus content.

Lisa Kudrow

Photo by John Johnson/HBO

There are certain roles that even the most accomplished actresses won’t touch. Making an infuriating, exasperating character believable—and, more importantly, likeable—is right at the top of that list. It is the definition of working without a net. For Lisa Kudrow, portraying these women has become almost second nature. From her brilliant run as loopy Phoebe on Friends to her quasi-authority figures in the cable series Web Therapy and The Comeback, she has elevated the portrayal of the terminally clueless to an art form. As EDGE’s Gerry Strauss discovered, comedy for Lisa is serious business…but also fun and games.

EDGE: Do you recall what first inspired you to go into show business?

LK: I liked performing, even in nursery school. I liked coming home and doing the entire album of Alice in Wonderland that they played for us during that time—standing on the fireplace, just reciting the entire thing. How anyone sat through it is beyond me. I am the third child, by many years, and the kind of child that wanted attention. Positive attention. Maybe that’s why.

NBC/Warner Bros. Television

EDGE: How did your parents pass along the work ethic you’re known for?

LK: My father always said, “I don’t care what any of you do as long as you do the best you can at it. If you’re a garbage collector, I’d expect you to be the best garbage collector.” I applied that to schoolwork and tried to do the best that I could, and I always tried to just work as hard as I could.

EDGE: Were you a competitive kid?

LK: Yes. I had a certain level of competitiveness. I wanted to score better than other people.

EDGE: There was a long period where you didn’t perform.

LK: I put it away for high school and college. I put it in a drawer and locked it. But that love of performing was always in there.

EDGE: When you got back into acting there were some near misses and rejections—Saturday Night Live, Frasier. Did you set a deadline for yourself in terms of getting out?

LK: I don’t remember a deadline, but do I remember when the initial blows happened having a very brief consideration that maybe this isn’t meant to be. But I just couldn’t allow that to happen. That meant I had to figure out how to keep going. I would just replay every recording I had in my head of someone saying No, I think you’re really good, so that I could just be full of that. It’s like taking vitamins. I had to supplement with the encouraging things people I trusted were saying.

EDGE: You turned a minor character in Mad About You—Ursula the waitress— into a keeper. Was that the career plan?

LK: I don’t think I was that clever. In fact, the way that role came about was a last-minute call in the morning. “Can you go to Mad about You? They’re offering you this role. The character doesn’t even have a name. It’s called ‘waitress’… and you have to be there in an hour.” I didn’t even know what the lines were. It was two lines. These were agents saying, “I think you should pass.” I thought, I can’t pass. I need to work. That’s the best show on TV and you don’t say no. I got in my car and I drove down there. I remember I was a little nervous because I had no idea what I’d be doing and I just thought, No matter what, just listen and respond, and be funny. When I saw the lines, I just thought, No problem. She’s an idiot. Okay. She’s an idiot…got it.

EDGE: How did Ursula become a regular character?

LK: At the end of the week, Danny Jacobson pulled me over and said, “I think you’re funny, and I would like to write this character more, and have her in this show more, if that is okay with you. Just five more episodes.” I was about to start figuring out what kind of day job I would have. Because of Ursula, I didn’t have to look for work.

EDGE: How did you develop the character of Phoebe in Friends?

LK: The great thing I remember about Phoebe was that the audition piece was this monologue in the pilot that gives her whole back-story. My take on that really was to give a lot of definition to this person, that she’s cheerful about—or just refusing to see—the horrible, traumatic things that happened in her life. Her mom killed herself and then her stepfather went to jail, and she lived in a car, and she thought that was okay. That’s who she was going to be. Just this person who didn’t acknowledge reality the same way everybody else did.

EDGE: Was there any aspect of just playing Phoebe for all those years that frustrated or bored you?

LK: No, I was not bored, and I didn’t feel like, Oh my God, I’ve got to do something else and I’ve got to get out of here. Just period, I did not. I loved going there every day. I loved laughing hysterically with these five other people that cracked me up every day. And I mean it. It’s true. There were some seasons we’d come back and I’d think, I don’t know what I am doing. LeBlanc one time took me aside, so smartly, and said, “Look, there’s no more work to do because you know who this person is. You keep trying to do work, and there’s no work to do. You’ve got it down. Just relax.” He was right. I was that good student thinking, I put this much work into my homework before so I need to do the same now. This was the cushiest job, with family. We’d been through fires, the six of us together.

EDGE: You also were free to do films in between seasons.

LK: That was the other fantastic thing about Marta, David, and Kevin. They allowed the schedules to work so that we could do a film even when we were doing the show.

EDGE: In The Comeback, the Valerie Cherish character is a former sitcom star using a reality show to launch herself back into the spotlight—a story about a woman who allowed a sense of paranoia and fear about her career define who she was. Did you experience anything like that after Friends?

LK: Maybe there’s something wrong with me but I was not worried or nervous about what was coming next. I’d shot an independent film when we were done with Friends and I thought, I’d be thrilled to just do those forever because I don’t need money now, thanks to Friends. I can do whatever I want. But then this great idea happened for The Comeback, and it was sort of, Well, we’ve got to do it now. We went into HBO to tell them what the idea was and they said, “Yes, so just do it. Write a script.” We wrote a script fast, in three weeks or something. Crazy. Then, we shot the pilot and they said, “Let’s do 12 or 13 of these.” But I completely agree with what you were saying—everyone has some of those fears and insecurities in them. The thing with Valerie was that she was desperately trying to look like she was holding it all together and in control of it all, that her hands were firmly on the reins of her own career. And they weren’t.

EDGE: Now as the series reboots, it’s nine years later—

LK: And she’s a little more desperate and has a little less pride. But the DNA is still the same. Valerie is doing a pilot presentation with some USC film students for Andy Cohen, and she’s looking over clips of what she’s been up to since The Comeback got cancelled. She believes that she was a pioneer of reality television. She’s still acting as if she’s the instructor for the audience, teaching everyone about the life of an actor and what the entertainment business is like.

EDGE: How do you, as real-life role as a mom and wife, view the invasion of privacy that Valerie and her family deal with on a reality show like The Comeback?

LK: I have respect for the privacy of my family. If I speak about them, I have their consent. Valerie is so desperate for the spotlight, she always compromises the privacy of her loved ones. To her, that spotlight is synonymous with “the greater good.”

EDGE: You tend to portray some distinctly flawed characters. Is that more fun than playing someone who is normal?

LK: Yes, much more fun. To me, that’s what funny—people who have no idea how they’re coming off. Valerie thinks she’s pulling it off with her composure, her dignity, her phony-baloney way of talking, and she thinks people are eating it up as if it’s 1978. That cracks me up.

EDGE: The same could be said for Web Therapy’s Fiona Wallice.

LK: She’s so insensitive…but really, she’s not even aware that what she’s saying would be disturbing to anybody. That kind of insensitivity makes me laugh. Those things…I just love it when people have no idea how they come off. There’s just a disconnect.

EDGE: What are the biggest sources of pride in your career?

LK: Okay. I’d say The Comeback, only because I got to actually create that one and write it and produce it, as well as be in it. I am proud of that. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before, and I think it was good work. I am proud of Web Therapy because, again, it’s like nothing that anyone had ever seen before, and we weren’t sure if just two people talking and improvising would sustain anything—and whether the people we have doing it would be willing to sit and improvise. Who Do You Think You Are?—even though I didn’t create it—that’s the kind of thing that wasn’t really on American television. I am glad we talked NBC into doing it. Then, there has to be Friends. I have to say Friends.

EDGE: Contractually?

LK: (laughs) That’s so funny! No. No. I am proud of Friends because that was the first time that characters on a show were all young adults, and I remember the network was really nervous at the time. They’re like, “Who’s the grown-up? There is no grown-up in this show. You guys have got to put a grown-up in there.” Now, looking back, that’s really funny. Because, after Friends, everything changed.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

In 2010, executive producer Lisa Kudrow brought the British genealogy documentary series Who Do You Think You Are? to American television. The program, which paired celebrities with genealogists to uncover stories from their family history, ran for three seasons on NBC and now airs on TLC. Kudrow herself starred in one episode, traveling to Belarus and Poland. Others who appeared include Spike Lee, Gwyneth Paltrow, Martin Sheen, Edie Falco, Zooey Deschanel and Jim Parsons.

I saw the show in the UK when I was there in 2007, and thought it was the best show I’d ever seen. I didn’t understand why it wasn’t on in the U.S. There are these fantastic details from history that have a personal effect on families and alter the line of a family, so it’s very emotional. I thought everything about it was fascinating, and it was so well done.

When I got back here, I found out that Alex Graham created the show and then it turned out he did some of my favorite PBS programs, including Manor House and Colonial House. They were so well done. I thought this was not a fluke—he knows what he’s doing. We called him up to see if he wanted to do it here and he said Yes.

At first I wasn’t even considering participating. My father had done a lot of research and made a huge family tree. I wasn’t thinking we would have a story, coming from an Eastern European Jewish background. I was more interested in other people and their stories. But Alex said, “You should do it.” I realized that, of course, I should do it because I am asking other people to do it. I need to know what I am

Kristen Taekman

A Real Housewife of New York City

Does the presence of a video crew alter your family dynamics in any way?

I don’t think so. We signed on to do a reality show, so what you see is what you get. Watching the show when it airs does give you an interesting perspective on things, though. My husband and I have our standard arguments, but on the show you get to see both sides. Imagine having an argument with a friend or family member and then being able to watch it later…and seeing that he or she was right.

How much do you let your kids get involved in the process?

My daughter wasn’t even walking when we started, and now she naps, so my son is more involved. He has fun with it. So does everyone on the crew.

Photo by Nadine Raphael

Have you had to set boundaries for the show, is anything off-limits?

Not when it comes to the family dynamics. I’m not a shy person. I’ve got nothing to hide. People forget that it is realty—the show is about me, my family and my friends. There’s a lot of stuff that’s really fun. Sometimes, I wonder why people would want to see some silly thing we do, but the producers say, “No that’s what people love to see!” I think the only time I got really frustrated was having a camera in my face when we went Geocaching in Montana. But at that point I didn’t have a choice.

What are you doing for the holidays? Does the show have any say in those kinds of plans?

It’s up to us, not the show. My husband’s family is in California and mine is in Connecticut, so we usually split 50-50. We’ll do Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with his this year.

You’ve started a fashion blog on your web site called Last Night’s Look. Are you thinking about that business in addition to your modeling?

My kids are beyond a full-time job, so not right now. I am really into makeup—I’ve started an exclusive nail polish line with Ricky’s NYC, and that’s been a really fun venture. And how great would it be to still be modeling in my 50s? Some women can do it. Actually, my secret dream is to be a TV host or newscaster. It’d be fun to experiment with that. Maybe you’ll see me as your local weather person some day. EDGE

Editor’s Note: EDGE and Kristen wish you a happy and healthy 2015! (Dress: ALEXIA ADMOR; Earrings: GREGG RUTH; Bracelet: SIMON G.; Shoes: STEVE MADDEN)