'Boardwalk' brings new dimensions to FBI agent

Michael Shannon shares little in common with his “Boardwalk Empire” alter ego, FBI agent Nelson Van Alden. Still, the two could bond over one sentiment.

“Guilt,” quips the actor, who can even muster some sympathy for the homicidal fed. “He’s complicated, but I understand him. Somehow, he makes sense to me. I don’t see him as scary and creepy. I see him as a sad and lonely man who has made a lot of mistakes.”

And though critics raved about Shannon’s tour de force in episode 11 (“Paris Green”) of the HBO series, when he drowns his partner during a forced baptism gone awry, the thesp prefers a more subtle scene earlier in the season, when he professes his love for and is rejected by Margaret (Kelly Macdonald).

“That was very sad for Van Alden and precipitates everything that happens after — the drinking and bad choices,” says Shannon, who was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role in “Revolutionary Road.” “I think it resonates because we’ve all been in that situation, maybe not to that degree. But who hasn’t put their heart out only to hear the other person say, ‘I’m not interested in you. Leave me alone.’ ”

As for preparation, Shannon admits he did very little to slip into the shoes of the religious zealot with a penchant for self-flagellation.

“I get the script and just use my imagination,” says the Kentucky native. “I’ve been around religious people my whole life. I grew up with a very devout mother. In fact, she didn’t go to church at all because she thought church was a social thing. I wound up going to church with a friend from school.”

ROAD TO THE EMMYS: THE SUPPORTING ACTOR & ACTRESS:
Supporting drama actor race wide open| Shows elevate when ensembles gel
Drama
Peter Dinklage | Michelle Forbes | Irrfan Khan | “The Killing” cast | Kelly Macdonald | Margo Martindale | Denis O’Hare | Amy Ryan | Michael Shannon | Donnie Wahlberg |
Comedy

Mayim Bialik | Garret Dillahunt | Oliver Platt | Adam Scott

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