Can Anyone Beat 'Boardwalk Empire's' Steve Buscemi at the Emmys?

Steve Buscemi in "Boardwalk Empire"
Steve Buscemi in "Boardwalk Empire"
 Courtesy of HBO

Steve Buscemi is a lock for an Emmy. Or is he? Ever since HBO's Boardwalk Empire debuted to broad critical acclaim in the fall and Buscemi won Golden Globe and SAG awards in January, the character actor has been viewed as certain to pick up the statuette for lead actor in a drama when nominations are announced July 14.

Sure, Buscemi got a boost by three-time winner Bryan Cranston's absence. (His Breaking Bad won't be back until July, missing Emmy's eligibility window.) Add the facts that Buscemi has been cast against type as a corrupt 1920s fat cat, that the show is the kind of big-budget drama HBO made its name with, that he received noms for acting on 30 Rock and acting (and directing) on The Sopranos and that he's been toiling in the indie trenches for years, and he can't possibly lose. Right?

Wrong. Here are five reasons why:

Boardwalk is so nine months ago
The pilot, directed with much fanfare by Martin Scorsese, premiered way back on Sept. 19, and the 12-episode run ended Dec. 5. The show not only had lukewarm ratings, it has lost water-cooler talk. As voting looms, you hear more about newer episodes of Justified, Game of Thrones or even Men of a Certain Age.

He's no Tony Soprano
Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't live without their noisy personalities. That's been the rule for Emmy success, from James Gandolfini's mob boss to Alec Baldwin's self-obsessed Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. Although he's a Prohibition-era Soprano, Buscemi is unshowy and upstaged by a stellar supporting cast, lavish backdrops and dense history in a way that never handicapped three-time winner Gandolfini. We are intrigued by Nucky Thompson (and his dapper duds), but do we really care about him?

The surprise factor
Emmy voting is pretty predictable but still has its share of upsets. Who'd have thought Two and a Half Men's Jon Cryer would beat Neil Patrick Harris for supporting comedy actor in 2009? Or that The Big Bang Theory's ultimate fan fave, Jim Parsons, would beat Baldwin last year? Cranston pulled the biggest upset of all when he won his first Emmy in 2008 against Mad Men's Jon Hamm. It would be startling if Kyle Chandler of cult-beloved Emmy underdog Friday Night Lights scored a last-minute touchdown against Buscemi. Could happen.

Sentiment counts
Speaking of beloved, is there anyone more endearing than Tom Selleck, the highlight of CBS' new family-cop drama Blue Bloods? With seven career nominations and a win for Magnum, P.I. (in 1984), Selleck is 66 -- the same age as many voters in the 15,000-plus-member academy -- and has a great backstory. After all, this is the guy who lost Indiana Jones to Harrison Ford because he couldn't escape his Magnum contract. Sentiment counts with voters, and Selleck has oodles of it.

Self-promotion works
Most actors hate glad-handing, but they do it all the same to win. Not Buscemi. Despite just a smattering of interviews (including THR's upcoming roundtable), the private Brooklynite is likely to take a back seat come awards season. Last year, Kyra Sedgwick, a more natural campaigner, finally won on her fifth nomination for The Closer, beating favorite Julianna Margulies of The Good Wife -- who, like Buscemi, had won SAG and Globe awards. Boardwalk's launch hoopla briefly made him IMDb's 42nd-most-searched-for celeb, but he's sunk back to his usual level on the site's StarMeter rankings: the 400s. To grab voter attention, he needs a publicity blitz as dramatically out of character for him as the Boardwalk finale HBO is submitting for his Emmy: "A Return to Normalcy," a two-fisted tearjerker that bares Nucky's heart (and fangs). Buscemi needs to turn up the volume. The very quiet reticence that makes him great onscreen could sabotage him on the Emmy campaign trail.

Buscemi must act more like a normal spotlight-hogging celeb. In a Boardwalk bedroom scene, Nucky's naked mistress (Paz de la Huerta) yells, "Giddyap, cowboy!" and Nucky snaps, "Stop with the cowboy shit!" Time to cowboy up, Steve. Ride into the showbiz rodeo ring. Build yourself an Emmy empire.             

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