Pittsburgh’s Margot Bingham does 'Boardwalk Empire' visit here, and all that jazz

As Margot Bingham begins living the dream, she has found the challenge is holding on to what’s real.

“It’s a little bit surreal, especially the coming home part of it,” said Ms. Bingham, who grew up in Green Tree, is a 2006 graduate of Pittsburgh CAPA and spent two years at Point Park University before striking out for New York City. “My trips home don’t usually consist of a radio interview, TV interviews and press conferences, then screenings.

“They definitely don’t include hotel rooms and car services.”

'Boardwalk Empire' actress visits Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh native Margot Bingham, the actress and singer who stars on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," was in town for an event at the Heinz Regional History Center. (Video by Nate Guidry; 10/29/2013)

Margot Bingham performs at Heinz History Center

Pittsburgh native Margot Bingham, the actress and singer who stars on HBO's "Boardwalk Empire," performs at the Heinz Regional History Center. (Video by Maria Sciullo; 10/30/2013)

One more time: Margot Bingham

Margot Bingham sings another song at the Heinz History Center. (Video by Maria Sciullo; 10/30/2013)

A stunning beauty who considers herself a jazz singer first, actress second, Ms. Bingham turned what was supposed to be a small role into a major plotline on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

She plays Daughter Maitland, a troubled nightclub singer with daddy issues. Ms. Bingham breezed through the star treatment Tuesday with a whirlwind of events that included a press conference at the Omni William Penn Speakeasy and later, a special advance screening of the next “Boardwalk” episode at the Heinz History Center.

Ms. Bingham sang two songs with the Boilermakers jazz band as invited guests and family enjoyed drinks (no bootleg liquor here) and artful snacks. Then everyone went upstairs for the screening, which featured the usual amount of "Boardwalk Empire" heartbreak and mayhem.

Ms. Bingham also planned on spending time with her family, which, in previous visits, was at the center of homecomings.

“When you come home, you should be with family. I don’t get to see my parents or my brother [C.J.] nearly as much as I want to. I would come home and watch TV with my mom [Lynne] or make dinner with my dad.“It’s just normal, everyday life. … [This star treatment] is a little bizarre but it’s a little fun, even if it’s just for now.”

It certainly was unexpected.

“I was just supposed to be on two episodes, sing a couple of numbers and be out.”

Instead, Daughter has become a pawn among three powerful men and in Sunday’s episode, she saved one by stabbing another in the back with a butcher knife. Now what?

“Here’s a spoiler: Someone gets in a fight. Somewhere,” she added, laughing.

Her breakout led to HBO flying her to Los Angeles for an event, and next thing her father, former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Craig Bingham, knew, she was sending him smartphone messages of herself on the red carpet with the likes of Russell Simmons and P. Diddy.

“The reality of the thing hasn’t sunk in just yet. It’s my daughter,” Mr. Bingham said. “Where I am in my thought process, words don’t do it any justice. The only thing I could think of is, when I made the team and people said ‘You’re with the Steelers,’ it was like, ‘Yeah. OK.’ ”

It’s pretty wonderful, he said, but life happens in the here and now. Margot Bingham said she knows there are no guarantees it will last.

She has finished two movies, “Burning Blue” and “Mallory’s Last Score,” and in two weeks she begins shooting an independent film, “The Americans,” that imagines what would have happened if Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush had met and fallen in love in college.

She is no stranger to success. She celebrated her 21st birthday singing with Jason Mraz on tour and was featured in a number of print and television ads. Her most recent vocal work was for the CD “Live at the Hazlett,” recorded at the New Hazlett Theater on the North Side.

When she was recording the album, her parents — having lived through, admittedly, a less intense storm of publicity during Mr. Bingham’s football career — tried to prepare her for the success they hoped would follow.

“I remember my wife and I saying to her ‘Margot, are you ready for what’s about to go on?’ and she said ‘I think I am, Dad.’ I left it at that.”

Then HBO, which put Ms. Bingham prominently on Season 4 billboards and print promotions, served up a whole new ballgame.

A “Boardwalk” director approached her at one point and said, ‘Do you realize what’s going to happen to your life?”

“That scared her,” Mr. Bingham said.

After striving to reach her goals for so many years, the trick now is to trust others with running parts of her life.

“That’s probably the biggest challenge, to start depending on other people,” she said. “Because I’ve always had just me and my family.”

Boardwalk Empire

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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