Queens native Vincent Piazza plays notorious mobster Lucky Luciano on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire

According to historians, it’s unclear how famed mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano got his nickname. No matter, it was a little bit of luck and a whole lot of talent that helped actor and Queens native Vincent Piazza land the role of young Luciano in the acclaimed HBO drama Boardwalk Empire. “I had been fascinated with classic gangsters for a couple of years before I ever auditioned for Boardwalk Empire,” says Piazza.

The actor had been inspired by a turn-of-the-century book of children’s stories to create and film a monologue of a classic gangster. “The messages were so outdated, about how kids were to be raised,” remembers Piazza. “I turned one into a monologue of a classic gangster talking to his young son and got a buddy of mine to film it. I brought it to my agent, who held on to it and a year later calls me up and says, ‘You’re never going to believe this, but remember that tape you gave me? Martin Scorsese and HBO are looking for a young Lucky Luciano. I sent them that tape, and they loved it!’ That got my foot in the door.”

That first step has now led to three seasons and two Screen Actors Guild Awards on the celebrated series that follows Atlantic City treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi) through Prohibition-era New Jersey, New York, and Chicago. Piazza’s role, resplendent in wingtip shoes and period tweeds, has had an effect on the actor’s own style. “I like to dress down a lot because the character Lucky dresses up so much with collars and suits,” says Piazza. “My girlfriend [singer Ashlee Simpson] also has somewhat of an influence.”

Beyond the series, Piazza is expanding his film repertoire as well, including a starring role in the forthcoming 3 Nights in the Desert opposite Amber Tamblyn and Wes Bentley. “After the second season of Boardwalk, I knew I had to trust the work and try to seek out other things,” says Piazza. “I was looking to stretch out.”

That stretching also includes writing—Piazza has been working on a TV pilot, a screenplay, and “a lot of poetry.” How many former college hockey players can say that? “I had to let that dream go,” confesses Piazza, who was sidelined by a shoulder injury and unable to pursue opportunities with the NHL. “But I always have to have something cooking creatively. I’ll just look for the next hockey movie.”

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