'Boardwalk' brings prohibition to life

Throughout his career, Steve Buscemi has played a wide range of nefarious characters, from a wood-chipped kidnapper (“Fargo”) to an eight-legged color-changing chameleon (“Monsters, Inc.”) to the “only professional” among a group of doomed jewelry thieves (“Reservoir Dogs”). But one role Buscemi doesn’t often play is that of a good guy.

Not that Atlantic City political boss-racketeer Enoch “Nucky” Johnson in Terence Winter’s “Boardwalk Empire” is a humanitarian. Far from it. While he’s quick to offer help to those in need, how he gets those goods — be it booze, cash or female companionship — and hands them off is often a dubious undertaking.

There were some critics and viewers who early on weren’t convinced Buscemi had the stature to be an intimidating enforcer. Some may have been looking for more of a Tony Soprano-esque physique that could naturally make enemies quiver at the knees. That argument, however, didn’t hold water.

“If Buscemi is an unexpected main man, he’s also a superb one, helping to center the complicated plot and huge cast of characters and adding a moral heft that keeps the show from ever letting itself become Prohibition’s Greatest Hits,” wrote Hitfix.com TV critic Alan Sepinwall. “And in a storyline involving Kelly Macdonald as an Irish immigrant trapped in a bad marriage, Buscemi proves a surprisingly convincing, tender romantic lead.”

Buscemi’s ability to blend Nucky’s greedy agenda with his sensitive humanity was a rare combination that convinced HBO execs he was clearly the right man for the role.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. agreed, awarding Buscemi the Golden Globe in January.

ROAD TO THE EMMYS: THE ACTOR
Antiheroes and the actors who love them | Actors always playing the bridesmaid | Prior noms hope to repeat | Actors in Emmy contention
Lead Actor Contenders
Sean Bean | Steve Buscemi | Jeremy Irons | Matt LeBlanc |

Andrew Lincoln | Louis C.K. | William H. Macy | Tom Selleck

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