Buscemi gives Nucky a well-rounded ride

'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.

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Lead Actor Contenders
Sean Bean | Steve Buscemi | Jeremy Irons | Matt LeBlanc |

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