By Frazier Moore
AP Television Writer
For the first two seasons of “Boardwalk Empire,” romance was elusive for Enoch “Nucky” Thompson.
He rules Atlantic City, N.J., as its city father, major-domo mobster and, with this HBO drama set in Prohibition days, its reigning bootlegger.
But never mind all that. Nucky (played by unlikely leading man Steve Buscemi) wants love.
By now his overwrought mistress Lucy Danziger is history. His marriage to social climber Margaret Schroeder is over in every way but keeping up appearances.
How nice for Nucky that as Season 3 begins, he has lost his heart (or a reasonable facsimile) to Broadway chorine Billie Kent. And how nice, too, for viewers, who will surely fall for the actress who plays her, a budding It Girl named Meg Chambers Steedle.
Airing tonight at 9 p.m., “Boardwalk” picks up the action on Dec. 31, 1922, as Nucky and Margaret host a rousing New Year’s gala. The entertainment: famed Broadway musical star Eddie Cantor teaming up with his slinky song-and-dance sidekick, Billie, who perform a fanciful number, “Old King Tut,” for the ballroom full of revelers.
It’s the viewers’ first brush with Billie, but not the last. In the wee hours after the party, Nucky is seen ditching Margaret at home to rejoin Billie, who, stripped to her drawers, awaits him in bed at his boardwalk suite.
“This is the only place I can truly rest my head,” says Nucky, resting his head in her lap.
She smiles. Then she playfully warns, “You aren’t resting NOW,” before climbing astride him.
This is Nucky as we’ve never seen him: the power broker as a lovestruck swain.
But who can blame him?
“Billie is really a breath of fresh air for him,” says Terence Winter, the creator of “Boardwalk” and one of its executive producers. “She represents the whole idea of the youth culture that took over the 1920s — half-bohemian, half- adventurer, and out to have a good time.”
“How the writers described Billie to me was, ‘The second girl from the left,”’ Steedle says. “She’s ‘the girl onstage who’s not the lead, but the one you can’t take your eyes off.’ She’s fun. She loves the limelight. And she’s not where she wants to be: She’s moving from the left, trying to get to the center.”
It was Winter who wrote this season opener and thus gave birth to Billie. But you can thank Meg Chambers Steedle for giving her life.
A 2008 graduate of Northwestern University’s School of Communications, the North Carolina native found quick success in regional theater.
Meanwhile, “Boardwalk Empire” was on her radar: “I grew up loving the Jersey shore and I love period dramas. I thought, ‘This show’s right up my alley.’”
Then, happily, she was called in to audition. Time passed. She got a call back. More time passed.
“We had her in to read a few times for the role,” says Winter, “but the role was sort of a tall order. We wanted somebody who was beautiful, who could sing and dance, and who brought a young, fresh, different type of energy. Meg was the complete package.”
In discussing her, Winter reels off glowing adjectives: calm and sweet and funny; charming; and disarmingly adorable.