Erik LaRay Harvey is one of the most imposing figures on ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ a show that is rife with intimidating men. Now amid Season 4, Harvey’s character Dunn Purnsley has become one of the most popular characters among the ensemble—yet Dunn was originally scripted to only appear in a single episode. I was lucky enough to get to chat with Erik today about Dunn, his fury, his motivations and that incredible Season 4 premiere.
TVRage: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to TVRage.com!
Erik LaRay Harvey: My pleasure, definitely.
TVRage: As Dunn Purnsley you are one of the most popular characters on a smash-hit HBO series, but you’ve been acting for several years before this. I know that you have a legion of new fans who found you through ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ but what can you tell us about how you got started, in the years before this?
ELH: I caught the acting bug at a very young age. I saw a production when I was a young kid after church services one Sunday. From then on, I’ve just been fascinated by the medium ever since. It has lead me to this point in my life. I’ve really enjoyed the journey and I’m so glad to be continuing on in the craft.
TVRage: I read online that your appearance on ‘Boardwalk’ was originally scripted to only last a single episode. First of all, is that correct? And if so, how did we get here?
ELH: Yes, it was! It was only for that one episode. And in that one episode I got beat down pretty severely. But as an actor I felt that my character still had some life, you know? He wasn’t dead, he was just very badly bruised. *laughs* I guess that the producers felt the same way, too. They allowed Dunn to stand up and continue on.
TVRage: And we’re all very glad that they did. Unlike many of the other characters on ‘Boardwalk,’ Dunn Purnsley is a man of very few words, whereas some characters like to talk an awful lot. I was wondering what you can tell us about your process of going from the few words spoken on the page to the commanding presence on the screen.
ELH: You know, I believe in the old adage that it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. I did a production of ‘Master Harold and the Boys’ years ago where my character said absolutely nothing for two hours.
ELH: His presence spoke louder than the words he wasn’t given, if you know what I mean. So I brought a lot of that into Dunn over the years. He is there in that presence and his presence says more than any words he might have said. It’s better to watch and perceive than to speak and not hear.
TVRage: Speaking of the process of going from the page to the screen, what went through your mind when you first read the script for this season’s premiere, when you realized you were going to be filming one of the most intense scenes in the show’s history?
ELH: *Laughs* Oh… *Laughs* … Shock. Haha, definite shock. I was like “whaaaat, you want me to be naked?”
ELH: It was my first nude scene. It was what was required, it was what the writers had planned. I’m just the actor, I’m the medium between the two, so I sort of put my personal feelings aside and just tried to service the character. And fortunately the other actors in the scene with me felt the same way as me, as well. So we all got through it. Actually, it was a lot of fun—that sort of squelched or calmed the nervous aspect of being naked.
TVRage: That’s really interesting to hear you guys were having fun with that scene because on the screen the tension is just unbelievable. To know you guys were having fun behind the scenes is really interesting.
TVRage: Speaking of that scene—particularly the end of that scene, and similar scenes, say with the man that Dunn accosts in front of Dr. Narcisse’s party—‘Boardwalk Empire’ has never been a stranger to violence and murder but Dunn’s violence comes from a place of unrestrained fury, it seems. I was wondering, as an actor, how do you get to that place mentally?
ELH: Well, it’s all in the service of a character. The character of Dunn, he’s an opportunistic guy. So he’s going to do whatever is needed or whatever it takes to advance his own autonomy. He’s trying to make a connection with Dr. Narcisse in that moment. If that’s what it takes to impress Dr. Narcisse, then Dunn is going to do that. I don’t think he has any fear or shame or remorse about doing whatever is needed in order to further his own cause.
TVRage: Well as we’re all loving this season as it continues on, how about outside of Dunn Purnsley and beyond ‘Boardwalk Empire’—what is next for Erik LaRay Harvey?
ELH: Well I’ve spent many years with Dunn. He’s grown on me and I love him to death. The next episode is definitely going to be a shocker. It’s my favorite episode, actually. We’ve wrapped for the season, so now I’m in the off-season and I’m exploring options and we’ll see where it goes from there.
TVRage: I know that you’ve done a lot of theatre, is that something you still feel passionate about?
ELH: Oh definitely. There’s so much to do in my career, yet. I’ve yet to do Broadway, so I’m definitely looking to try to do a Broadway show one day. Who knows what the future holds? Films, television, whatever project is really interesting and really speaks to me, I’m all for it. I’m willing to move around TV, film or stage in order to get that story told. So whatever comes next will be a blessing and I look forward to it.
TVRage: Thanks so much, again, for taking the time to chat today, I really appreciate it.
ELH: I appreciate that, Adam.
Be sure not to miss the next, shocking episode of 'Boardwalk Empire' to find out what Erik is talking about!