Boardwalk Empire's Showrunner Terence Winter on the Rise of the Character Actor

Terence Winter explains why the role player is the most wanted man in Hollywood.

Credit: Abbot Genser/HBO

Having worked with James Gandolfini in The Sopranos and Steve Buscemi in Boardwalk Empire, Terence Winter, has had plenty of experience working with character actors—the unsung, funny-faced heroes of Hollywood—in rare leading roles (click here to the best of the new generation). Taking 60 Seconds off from prepping Empire's second season for HBO, Winter explained how traditional second fiddles are now becoming leading men.

DETAILS: How is television expanding the role of the character actor?

Terence Winter: We're moving away from the traditional leading man. The advent of cable, where the shows are grittier and more real, leveled the playing field. Pretty people are great, but it's not about good looks.

DETAILS: Period pieces like Boardwalk Empire probably help create demand too.

Terence Winter: We have a file called the Rogues Gallery, full of actors who look like they're from another century. Not the worked-over, 21st-century-perfect hair, skin, teeth. There were more "real people" in the twenties, apparently.

DETAILS: So are supporting players the new leads?

Terence Winter: Attitudes are changing. The name-above-the-title roles are a relic of the past. Even Johnny Depp just signed on for The Lone Ranger—to play Tonto! He's playing the sidekick!

By David Walters

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