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Northwestern grad grabs spotlight in 'Boardwalk Empire'

SHOW PATROL

October 05, 2012|By Curt Wagner, @ShowPatrol | RedEye

Meg Chambers Steedle was a little intimidated by her first starring TV role, but not because it required her to sing and dance.

The 2008 graduate of Northwestern University's School of Communications stars opposite Steve Buscemi in the Prohibition-era drama "Boardwalk Empire," which airs at 8 p.m. CT Sundays on HBO. She plays Broadway hopeful Billie Kent, a freewheeling flapper who has ignited a youthful spark in Buscemi's bootlegging gangster Nucky Thompson.

"Oh my gosh, it was terrifying at first just because I've looked up to him for so long," said Steedle, who lights up the screen with her flirty, magnetic performance. "And then my first scene in the show I was grabbing a drink from Steve Buscemi and throwing it back. I choked a hundred times!

"But he also was just so welcoming and ... made me feel like part of the family."

Stealing Buscemi's drinks, it turns out, hasn't been the most awkward part of the job. With Nucky's marriage to Margaret Schroeder simply a front, he spends a lot of time in Billie's New York apartment--under the sheets. Steedle was a little apprehensive to do nudity in just her second TV role (she was guest-starred on ABC's "Body of Proof" last season). But after careful consideration about whether it was right for her character, whe was ready to shed her inhibitions for Prohibition.

"She's strong and she's in control and she's not being taken advantage of," she during a recent trip to Chicago. "There was still a sense of power about it, which I actually liked. I also trusted HBO."

She trusted Buscemi and the crew as well, who have made her feel safe when filming the scenes.

As for having Buscemi as a romantic interest, the quirky actor sells it a lot better than fans might believe. "He is actually attractive to me," Steedle said, laughing. "He is! .... I guess when you're playing opposite someone it's just natural to find an attraction to them, but yeah, I think he's a handsome guy if you get up close."

The role of good-time gal Billie, who in the Season 3 opener performed a rousing "Old King Tut," seems almost tailor-made for the North Carolina native, who found success in regional theater outside New York after graduating from Northwestern, where she played Sally Bowles in musical "Cabaret."

"It's funny because when I was talking to the writers of this show they were saying, 'We're thinking kind of like a Sally Bowles meets Holly Golightly from "Breakfast at Tiffany's,"' she said. "I was like, 'Yes, yes, yes! Right on board!'"

But landing the role wasn't a snap. "My theater background helped me get that job," she said, adding that "Boardwalk" creator Terence Winter asked her to read several more times after her initial audition. "They called me and said, 'We're going to have you sing an Irving Berlin song-and-dance.' I was like, 'Yes!'"

The on-camera acting classes Steedle took outside of school also helped. While living in Evanston, she took the "L" to downtown Chicago to work with acting coach Oksana Fedunyszyn and study at Act One Studios. Now, she said with a laugh, her studies continue "with Steve Buscemi as my teacher."

"I'm having a great time and I do feel really blessed," she said. "They're just the best in the business I think, it's fair to say. I feel like I'm learning from the best and you can't pay for that kind of education, so I'm grateful."

In the video above, Meg tells us a few of her favorite things (yes, she once played one of the Von Trapp children in a production of "The Sound of Music") and shows us her one-handed clap. Below we discuss more about Billie, Meg's musical theater background and what she hopes to do in the future.

When you were doing theater at Northwestern what kind of things did you do outside of classes? How many years were you there?
I was there four years. I did the whole liberal arts thing. I was thinking about this the other day and I remember having my first sushi at Sushi Samba. It was eel. Love Sushi Samba, but not a fan that time. Some of my fondest memories were when I was writing a paper late at night, pulling an all-nighter, I would just walk out to the shore to the beach and watch the sunrise, kind of get all my sweats on and after working really hard just watching the sun come up. It's such a unique experience to be right on the lake there.

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