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Boardwalk Empire: Season 4 - Margot Bingham interview

Boardwalk Empire, Margot Bingham

Compiled by Jack Foley

BOARDWALK Empire’s fourth season saw a host of new characters arrive. We talked to 25-year-old Margot Bingham, who played the most interesting of them all: jazz singer Daughter Maitland.

Q: Did you expect the role to get the attention it did (Rolling Stone called it the breakout performance of the US TV season)?
Margot Bingham: Not at all. When I first got the call it was just to come in for a jazz singer and I was told it was going to be one or two episodes at most. I’m kind of happy that it happened like that because I think if I’d gone into the series knowing she was going to be this major character I would have been scared and probably screwed it up.

Q: It’s a pretty difficult role involving a lot of singing and dancing as well as acting…
Margot Bingham: [laughs] I know. In every single episode it was like they gave me a new challenge. In the first episode I had the singing challenge, then the second challenge was the dancing in front of everybody and then the third challenge was stunt work…it was one thing after another. If they wanted to work me hard and stretch my limits then they sure did but it was also very exciting.

Q: How would you describe Daughter?
Margot Bingham: She’s a survivor and she’s been through way too much at such a young age. She’s smart and wise beyond her years but she still acts out and is spunky and a bit daring. When the club owner tells her what to sing she ignores him and chooses her own tune. She’s ballsy and has a lot of chutzpah.

Q: This season the focus really moves on to the black characters…
Margot Bingham: Yes it’s definitely the year of the black [laughs] – it was nice that they stayed true to the time and focused on the jazz age and the Harlem Renaissance and Marcus Garvey and the black uprising and black empowerment.

Q: Most of your scenes involve Michael K Williams and Jeffrey Wright – what was it like acting opposite them?
Margot Bingham: I’m a huge fan of Michael’s so I was really excited to work with him but I don’t think anyone realised how strong we’d be together. We became really close friends and that really shows on screen. It just worked. As for Jeffrey, he’s incredible, really very kind and so smart and I learnt so much from being around him. He also has a really dry, quirky sense of humour – he’d tell me these things with a straight face and just as I’d believe him, he’d say ‘got ya’.

Q: Which singers did you look to for inspiration?
Margot Bingham: Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Josephine Baker – they were my three top gals. I was lucky enough not to have to portray a specific person because I think that really puts a lot of restraint on a character. Terence Winter and Howard Korder gave me a lot of creative control with Daughter – I don’t know why but they just trusted me.

Q: As a singer yourself [Bingham has an established musical career as Margot B] was it difficult to chance your vocal style for the show?
Margot Bingham: A lot of the artists in the 1920s were sold on pure tonality or their connection to music and lyrics alone and it was so raw and exposing. It really was a challenge to kind of strip down what I knew from jazz and oversimplify and keep it so bare. As a singer you always want to do more but more isn’t always the answer.

Q: What about your hair and clothes for the show?
Margot Bingham: The hair was funny because my ‘fro is massive but I just went in every morning with it all shellacked down like a wet dog and then they’d put a toupee round the front and the finger curls would go in the toupee. I’d be sitting in my trailer thinking of all the real women who did this by themselves without people to twist and turn it for them and going ‘Oh God bless these women that did this and did it every day and looked stunning.’

Q: And the clothes?
Margot Bingham: I definitely lucked out for clothes and makeup. They dressed me to perfection and it was always exciting going in for a fitting. I was like ‘What next? What next?’

Q: The music is also going well [Bingham has released three albums as Margot B] so is the plan to continue juggling both careers?
Margot Bingham: Yes, I’m going to try and push both careers forward as much as I can until people get really confused [laughs]. So far it’s been ok trying to differentiate between Margot Bingham and Margo B – a lot of people told me that keeping the two names was a really stupid mistake but you know if it is then let me make it. So long as I’m singing on my own then it’s Margot B, if I’m in character and singing then that’s Margot Bingham. I always want them to be different.

Q: Your father, Craig Bingham, was an NFL player with the Pittsburgh Steelers – did he have any advice for handling fame?
Margot Bingham: My family’s always been really supportive and we’re very close but I was also very aware of coming from that world which is one of the reasons I was Margot B and not Margot Bingham when I started as a singer. It’s not that I wasn’t proud of my dad I just wanted to make my own way. That said he’s a total class act and I’ve learnt completely from him.

Q: Does getting the role of Daughter feel like your big chance?
Margot Bingham: Yes, absolutely because firstly I was given the chance to be able to act and sing without being on a Broadway show and then to be equally acclaimed for the acting part and have some episodes be without music. It really is the role of a lifetime.

Read our review of Season 4

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete Season 4 is released on Blu-ray & DVD on Monday, August 18, 2014