Best Actor

Jalal looks at the Oscar nominees battling for a drama actor race nomination and the surprise actor on his way to becoming the most popular man on TV.

With Bloodline not returning until the summer, one new name will enter the the Lead Actor in a Drama series race. Without a clear frontrunner, at least four Oscar winners and nominees are battling it out against a surprising new Emmy favorite. In fact, there are so many fresh names in contention this year that it raises the question of what old favorites are most vulnerable in the drama actor race?

Top Contenders

Rami Malek, Mr. Robot Mr. Robot Season 2 received a controversial reaction, but the one element everyone seems to agree on is that Rami Malek’s performance has gotten even better. Thinking of his performance, I immediately replay that horrifying scene of him digging through vomit to find that pill he re-swallows. So, even if Mr. Robot misses out on a second drama series nomination, the acting branch seem certain to carry Malek into frontrunner status again with a performance most actors would kill to have.

Matthew Rhys, The Americans – After breaking into the Emmy race in a big way last year, it’s hard to imagine Emmy voters dropping The Americans in any race, including Matthew Rhys in the lead drama actor race. In fact he might even have a higher profile with Emmy voters this year after a chilling guest spot in the “American Bitch” episode of Girls, which might just be remembered as the single best episode of television in 2017.

(Photo: USA)
Possibilities 

Sterling K Brown, This Is Us – Over the past year, Sterling K. Brown became one of the most beloved actors consistently working in television. After winning an Emmy as well as two SAG nominations, he seemed like an obvious contender for supporting actor for his ensemble work on This Is Us. Recently, though, murmurs persist of him potentially submitting in the lead race. Brown’s Randall quickly became the most endearing new character of the TV season, juggling the perfect family with issues of adoption, long lost parents, and anxiety issues. As a member of a large ensemble, he might have a harder time breaking into a lead acting race, but if voters fall in love with This Is Us he might just become a surprise contender to win. Is Sterling K. Brown the most popular actor on TV?

Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan Somehow without anyone ever admitting to religiously watching Ray Donovan, Liev Schreiber has been an awards staple with multiple nominations from the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Critics Choice. Still, the eligible season will be nearly a year old by the time voters fill out their ballot, giving many new actors the chance to gain a bit of buzz while Schreiber and Donovan fade to the background.

Tom Hardy, Taboo – While Taboo originally appeared to be a limited series, Hardy announced earlier this week that the show received a second season renewal. Taboo doesn’t seem like the type of show that will compete at the Emmys, but the dark period thriller was a surprise hit for FX. The popularity of the show mixed with Hardy’s undeniable star power might bring him to a surprise first Emmy nomination.

Jude Law, The Young Pope – Last year, Emmy voters surprised everyone by proving they won’t blindly vote for an HBO show simply because it’s in contention. That might be bad news for The Young Pope, although voters might be swayed by the movie star charm of Jude Law (if even still has it?). As pretentious and surprisingly enexciting as The Young Pope may be, it’s still the best material Law has had to work with in years which might be enough for voters to welcome him back to an awards show.

(Photo: HBO)
Worth Mentioning

Anthony Hopkins, Westworld – Hopkins hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy since before I was born, but if anything is going to push the Oscar winner into awards consideration, it’s an HBO hit like Westworld. Hopkin’s Dr. Robert Ford is the mastermind behind the entire first season, but surprisingly he doesn’t have a lot of awards friendly material. While the rest of the massive ensemble has the robotic physicality as well as the western terrain to play with, Hopkins is consistently cool and collected. He would have been a much surer bet in the supporting race, but if voters really respond to Westworld, he could make it in.

Billy Bob Thornton, Goliath – He may have won the Golden Globe, but that feels like an HFPA anomaly. Amazon streamed Goliath for five months now, and I have yet to interact with someone who can confidently tell me what the show is about (after a quick Google search it appears to be about a once successful lawyer now alcoholic). If the show had any more buzz around it, Thornton might be able to earn an Emmy nom, but there needs to be proof that anyone besides a foreign journalist has tuned in.

Paul Giamatti, Billions Giamatti used to be the type of character actors that Emmy voters adored, even nominating him for small guest spots on shows like Inside Amy Schumer and Downton Abbey. However, for whatever reason, voters ignored him in the first season of Showtime’s Billions. In a year with at least one spot up for grabs, Showtime might be able to sneak Giamatti in, although there likely won’t be any passion behind him.

(Photo: FX)
Yet to Premiere

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards – Kevin Spacey just lost the SAG award for the first time in three years. However, as the biggest movie star (and two time Oscar winner), he isn’t going anywhere at the Emmys. Netflix is holding off on releasing the fifth season of House of Cards until the end of May, which might keep the show even more so at the forefront of voters’ minds. Depending the Season 5 reception, he might actually become a contender to win his first award.

Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul – Season 3 premieres in April. Still, if the guilds provide any indication, Better Call Saul‘s passionate and determined fanbase will likely lead to Odenkirk earning his twelfth career nomination.

Justin Theroux, The Leftovers – HBO had a rough start releasing the first season of The Leftovers. Initially, fans and critics cooled to the show’s bleak premise, and Emmy voters ignored the show. The second season earned a huge boost from critics (15 points on Metacritic) that resulted in a surprise cult following. Now for the third and final season, HBO gave the show the spring slot generally reserved for Game of Thrones hinting at a TV sendoff worthy of awards contention. If his material is anywhere close to crawling out of a bathtub naked again, Theroux might be able to end his time on The Leftovers with the first nomination of his career.

Early Predictions

1. Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
2. Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
3. Matthew Rhys, The Americans
4. Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
5. Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
6. Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us

———————
7. Tom Hardy, Taboo
8. Jude Law, The Young Pope
9. Justin Theroux, The Leftovers
10. Anthony Hopkins, Westworld 

Killing Reagan

Long-term fans may know actor Tim Matheson as “Otter” from the cult-classic Animal House, but new fans may recognize him for his portrayal as the 40th President of the United States in National Geographic Channel’s film Killing Reagan. Matheson slipped so deeply into the role, capturing Ronald Reagan’s mannerisms and charisma, that it earned him a Critics’ Choice Nomination for Best Actor in a Movie Made for Television or Limited Series (the film also earned a nomination, along with co-star Cynthia Nixon).

I had a chance to talk to Matheson about this role, the fine line between character and caricature, and whether he’s up for his next presidential challenge.

Congratulations on your Critics’ Choice Nomination. Was that a surprise?

Yeah! I was so thrilled and honored. It’s good company. They nominated a lot of presidents. (Laughs.) [Bryan Cranston was also nominated for playing LBJ in All the Way.] It was really a treat. I just thought it was fantastic.

I’m always amazed by actors who are able to take these prominent figures and make them more than just impersonations. How do you tackle creating a character without creating a caricature? You do it so well. I’m sure it had to be challenging.

Thank you. I find it’s very intimidating. What I really didn’t want to do was an impression. Yes, it has to have elements of the character, because he’s so well-known and revered by so many people. I just wanted to make sure that I honored that. But I thought the most important element for me was the heart. That, to me, was really what it was all about. You found out what was going on inside the man. It’s really a love story between Ronnie and Nancy. Of course, I constantly was listening to his voice. I had a dialect coach to work on getting the Midwestern accent, sanitized by Hollywood. He had a very distinctive, warm quality to his voice. So I would work on those things and the physicality of it, then I just let go of that and just tried to get his heart.

Killing Reagan
Courtesy of National Geographic Channel

You did an excellent job. Did you read the book before taking on the role? What kind of research did you do?

I started with the script. Once I felt there wasn’t a political agenda there, that it wasn’t slanted politically in one direction or the other, then I jumped in and read Killing Reagan and every book I could find on Ronald Reagan. There are libraries full of stuff. I also read most of the stuff that he personally wrote, like his autobiography. I read Nancy’s books, all of the books his advisers wrote. I just tried to get as much under the skin of the man and the backstage of it all. That’s really what our story was, a peek behind the curtain, into the palace. I just wanted to make sure we weren’t taking license and captured exactly what was going on.

You and Cynthia Nixon work really well together on screen, and she was also nominated for a Critics’ Choice award. What was it like to work with her?

She’s a champ. (Laughs.) I had so much fun working with Cynthia. She makes it very easy. She’s a wonderful single partner, if you’re just playing opposite her, or doubles partner, if you’re playing scenes with her opposite other people. It was wonderful. When we were together, we were this united team. I always felt she had my back and was protecting me as Ronnie. I could always count on her. They just had a very intimate connection, Ronnie and Nancy.

Personally, I didn’t realize how much of a role Nancy had in Ron’s campaign. In the beginning of the film, she fires someone. What surprised you when working on this film? Was there anything you didn’t know about Reagan until taking on this role?

I was surprised they were such a singular couple. She was his closest aid and ally. She was the bad cop, he was the good cop. That was in his nature. He was an optimist and didn’t like confrontations with people or firing people. But when he had to do it, he could rely on her to be a good judge of whether it needed to happen. She was that person who really was always so honest with him and he could trust her judgment in that regard. She had a good read on people. He’d see the best in people, and she’d see the truth in them.

You have a Netflix movie called 6 Balloons coming out soon, with Dave Franco, Jane Kaczmarek, and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City. What can you tell us about that?

killing reagan
Photo by Kate sZatmari

It’s a very intriguing story about codependency and how families deal with having a drug addict, what they do, and how they deal with those things. It was wonderful to do something so out of the ordinary and so unique. There are certain sequences in it that are ultra real, and then there are certain scenes that are fantastical. I’m always looking to do something new and innovative and daring. It was a great chance for me to play in a whole different way. I have high hopes for the film.

So you’ve played JFK. You’ve played Reagan. We have a new president now. Are you up to the challenge to play Trump?

Well, I think Alec [Baldwin] did the best. I’d like to put on a white wig and go back and play the early presidents. I think the Trump story is yet to be written, so we’ll have to see about that.

That’s true. Are there any other presidents you’d like to play?

I think they’re all fantastic and fascinating. Because it takes a singular individual to want to be president and then to become president. It’s really the American version of Shakespeare’s Histories. I love doing character roles. I just look for the next one to be hopefully as challenging as working on Reagan was, with as good of a cast and director like Rod Lurie.

 

Check your local listings for showtimes of Killing Reagan on National Geographic Channel. 

All the Way

HBO’s production of All the Way also stars Anthony Mackie, Melissa Leo, and Bradley Whitford

Bryan Cranston won four Emmys for his legendary role as Walter White on AMC’s Breaking Bad. He looks to win another for playing Lyndon B. Johnson in HBO’s upcoming TV movie All the Way. Cranston won a Tony for the role in 2014.

All the Way details the struggles Johnson and others went through to pass controversial civil rights legislation in 1964. The film includes Johnson’s inheritance of the presidency after the death of John F. Kennedy. Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War) plays Martin Luther King, Jr. Melissa Leo (Wayward Pines) plays Lady Bird Johnson, and Bradley Whitford (The West Wing, Transparent) plays Hubert Humphrey.

All the Way is produced for HBO by Amblin Television with Steven Spielberg and Cranston executive producing among others. The film airs Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. on HBO.

As Clarence mentioned in his Golden Globes Drama piece, the Foreign Press likes to reward “hot and new” television series—and actors. But that doesn’t mean that returning favorites don’t have a chance either (after all, it took two Best Actor Drama Series nominations before Kevin Spacey took home the golden statue for House of Cards).

Here’s a look at who’s in the running for Best Actor Drama:

Kyle Chandler, Bloodline
An Emmy nomination surely helps, but this is a crowded category. He could be the one that gets bumped.

Jon Hamm, Mad Men
He’s coming off an Emmy win, which is big, but he hasn’t been nominated in this category since 2012. Have the Golden Globes forgotten about Don Draper?

Sam Heughan, Outlander
There’s some buzz around Outlander this season, which means this Highland warrior could crash the Best Actor race.

Terrence Howard, Empire
He didn’t get any Emmy love, but the Golden Globes love to invite film actors to their ceremony. This could be Howard’s ticket.

Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
If this show gets any nomination, then it’s going to be in this category, since Malek is the show. A lesser actor would not be able to carry this performance. But is this category too crowded?

Wagner Moura, Narcos
While Narcos wasn’t the TV phenomenon of the summer, Moura’s performance can’t be ignored.

Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
The Breaking Bad spin-off has been well-received by critics and audiences alike. Plus, Odenkirk has already received a number of nominations and wins for this role already.

Clive Owen, The Knick
Owen was the new kid on the block last year with this series. Could he land a second nomination and win for Season Two?

Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
He was nominated for this role in 2013 and 2014 and looks to continue this streak.

Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
He won in this category last year, but the buzz around House of Cards has severely died down.

James Spader, The Blacklist
NBC’s biggest hit is due in large part to Spader’s performance. Plus, he’s been nominated for the past two years in this category.

Dominic West, The Affair
Emmy voters may not have had a soft spot for this Showtime series (it was shut out for nominations), but the Golden Globes gave it Best Drama Series last season. If they like Season Two, then West could get another nomination. Although, further handicapping him is the series’s focal shift away from Noah and more toward the secondary characters. That won’t help him this year.

The Golden Globes are a different beast than the Emmys. For one thing, the Hollywood Foreign Press has different tastes than Emmy voters when it comes to comedy. After all, Smash received a best comedy series nomination (yes, really!). Plus, the Golden Globes are more apt to recognize quirky shows (see Pushing Daisies *sniff sniff*).

Here’s a look at which actors are in the running for Best Actor Comedy:

Aziz Ansari, Master of None
His Netflix show made a splash, especially with his commentary on diversity. The Hollywood Foreign Press could take notice.

Anthony Anderson, Black-ish
He’s fresh off an Emmy nomination, but he didn’t get in last year for this role. Could Season Two be his year?

Louis C.K., Louie
Louie C.K. has been nominated in this category before, but never won. He could get in again this year.

Don Cheadle, House of Lies
He’s gotten in for the last two years and could get in again this year.

Will Forte, The Last Man On Earth
This show was one of the surprise hits of last season. Forte should get in for this role.

Rob Lowe, The Grinder
While the show isn’t a huge ratings and critical hit, Lowe is a beloved TV actor on a new show. He could be a surprise nomination. Plus, he would be a welcome asset to the Globes’ red carpet.

William H. Macy, Shameless
He usually gets nominated for an Emmy for this role, but it’s iffy when it comes to the Golden Globes.

Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley
The Hollywood Foreign Press loved season one of Silicon Valley. If that love extends to Season Two, expect Middleditch to get a nom. Although none of the actors managed to crack the Emmy circle, which still remains troubling for the series.

Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory has been fading when it comes to award nominations, but Jim Parsons could still nab a nomination (especially for Sheldon and Amy’s breakup this past year)

Note: This post is the latest in an on-going series of pieces exploring the major categories at the 2015 Emmy awards. We will cover actors, actresses, and series – Comedy and Drama – through the end of the voting period on August 28. See something you like or a performance you’d like to single out? Share the posts and create some Twitter buzz! We’ll see you at the Emmys. 

Now that Mad Men has wrapped up its final season, everyone seems to think that Jon Hamm will finally win his Emmy for portraying Don Draper after seven seasons of lies, affairs, booze, and proficient smoking. And common logic is probably right? However, Mad Men has never won an Emmy for its many fantastic performances. Not even Robert Morse’s musical death sequence last year could merit a Guest Actor Emmy. Conventional wisdom has Hamm comfortably in the lead, but two very popular performances are nipping at his heels. It feels like Kevin Spacey has won an Emmy before for his phenomenal performance as President Frank Underwood, but he’s gone home empty-handed twice now. Also, everyone seems to love Bob Odenkirk’s career-redefining performance in Better Call Saul, and you can never count out previous surprise winner Kyle Chandler for his emotional, soul-wrecking work at the end of Bloodline. It’s a very tough category to call, and I have a hunch that, when the envelope is opened, many an eyebrow will be raised.

Kyle Chandler

Performer: Kyle Chandler as John Rayburn in Bloodline

Episode: “Episode 112” (Season 1, Episode 12)

Highlights: We’ve discussed this one before… Danny and John Rayburn’s brotherly showdown comes to its inevitable and brutal conclusion.

Why he could win: The material is an actor’s dream: Chandler confronts his younger brother (Emmy nominee Ben Mendelsohn) after exploring his dark past and dealing his brother’s thinly veiled death threats against his own daughter. Twelve episodes of stress, anxiety, fear, anger, resentment, disappointment, and, yes, love finally erupt into ***SPOILER*** Chandler strangling Mendelsohn in the shallow waters of Key West. In the Actor’s Textbook, you’ll find Kyle Chandler’s Bloodline performance under the category “slow burn” as Chandler evolved his character over the course of the series, never making acting choices that felt out of turn or unexpected. Plus, it’s very hard to play the “good guy” given so many bigger, broader performances that populate the series, but Chandler (and, to a certain extent, the criminally un-nominated Sissy Spacek) is the emotional core of not only the family but also the series itself.

Why could he loseBloodline is a tough sit for the first six or seven episodes, and Chandler’s performance is difficult to pin down to a single episode. It’s odd that he chose the same episode as Ben Mendelsohn as you’d expect them to spread the exposure to the series. I thought Chandler’s work in the finale (when he suffers from a panic attack) was equally great, so you’d think he’d want to increase his chances by offering something different. He was a surprise winner before, and not many will feel the need to reward him again so soon. Plus, recent award winners in this category haven’t exactly trended toward the good guys.

JeffDaniels

Performer: Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in Newsroom

Episode: “What Kind of Day Has It Been?” (Season 3, Episode 6)

HighlightsNewsroom‘s series finale includes the funeral of Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) which also featured flashbacks of how Skinner molded the career of Daniels’s Will McAvoy.

Why he could win: He’s been a surprise winner before, so anything’s possible. The final episode definitely played to Daniels’s comic strengths, particularly when he reacted to some unexpected pregnancy news. He was also more than capable of delivering on the dramatic front as well, providing a well-rounded performance for the actor in the outgoing series.

Why could he lose: He’s won before for this same performance in Newsroom‘s first season, and many thought he did not deserve the award. Daniels is a nice guy and a good actor, but I don’t think anyone feels the need to reward him again with another win in the light of much more deserving performances across the board. It would be the height of frustration (putting it mildly) to see Daniels at the podium again.

JonHamm

Performer: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men

Episode: “Person to Person” (Season 7, Episode 14)

Highlights: In the Mad Men series finale, Don Draper learns to blend the two halves of his persona, cries a lot, and finds inner peace – as well as the inspiration for the most famous ad campaign ever designed, the “buy the world a Coke” campaign.

Why he could win: The final season saw a lot of characters speed toward happy endings of sorts, but nothing was more unexpected than Jon Hamm’s redemption of Don Draper. The highlight of the episode was his literally phoned-in teary confessional to Peggy Olson, and, if only to top that, Hamm joins a hippie retreat where he bonds and cries with a man named Leonard. In the hands of any other actor, the combination of scenes would seem self-indulgent and melodramatic, but the criminally underrated actor Jon Hamm manages to sell it better than Don Draper ever could. I could go on and on about the performance, but series creator Matt Weiner does the perfect job right here. And let me just say it again: Mad Men has never won an acting Emmy. It’s high time Jon Hamm got his.

Why could he loseMad Men isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and, no matter how much AMC tried to force it, there isn’t an overwhelming sense of affection for the ending series as there was for last year’s Breaking Bad. Perhaps it was a mistake to split the final season over two years? The finale was highly praised by all, but the beginning of the final season seemed to elicit only apathy from those who watched. Hamm’s never won before despite giving fantastic performances, so there has to be something else brewing in Hollywood against the actor. My personal theory is there is an undercurrent of jealousy against the actor for various reasons, and petty actors may not feel the need to ever award him the Emmy. Plus, no one from Mad Men has ever won an acting award. It’s a tough statistic to fight. There is also the minor problem of his second nomination this year – Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – and anyone voting for him in that category might be unlikely to vote twice for him. Wouldn’t it be ironic if he won for that and not the much-publicized finale of Mad Men?

BobOdenkirk

Performer: Bob Odenkirk as James “Jimmy” McGill in Better Call Saul

Episode: “Pimento” (Season 1, Episode 9)

Highlights: Jimmy McGill finally seems to be positioned to win something on his own as he petitions to co-council the case against Sandpiper Crossing. However, he is stabbed in the back by the most unlikely of sources.

Why he could win: Odenkirk’s risky central performance over the course of Better Call Saul has been a revelation for the primarily comic actor. He honed his chops during Breaking Bad, but Saul gives him the opportunity to illustrate the desperation, inventiveness and vulnerability inherent within the early days of the man who would become Saul Goodman. Odenkirk has chosen a decent episode, one that gives him the opportunity to pull some of the character’s bravado and sprinkle it with insecurity as he begs for a position at major law firm HHM. But it’s the painful revelation at the end of the episode – his own brother has sabotaged his career aspirations – that gives Odenkirk the opportunity to truly shine by underplaying the moment rather than sending it over the top. Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is a much beloved character within admirers of the Breaking Bad legacy, and voters may want to reward Odenkirk’s (de)evolution over the two series. The recent rule changes – the final votes come from the broader Television Academy rather than selected panels as before – may dip in Odenkirk’s favor as Saul was both a critical and popular hit. Plus, Odenkirk is just a really great guy, and his recent speeches at awards shows have been particularly endearing…

Why could he lose: …but he continues to make a potentially fatal flaw by underscoring his lack of dramatic acting experience. Every time Odenkirk approaches the podium, he makes some statement reminding the audience that he’s a comedian, not a dramatic actor. Saying that once or twice may be endearing, but he repeats the same line in the press. Emmy voters may hesitate rewarding his performance because he so frequently insists that he’s not a dramatic actor. Is this a fluke? Will the Television Academy reward a fluke performance?

RayDonovan

Performer: Liev Schreiber as Ray Donovan in Ray Donovan

Episode: “Walk This Way” (Season 2, Episode 7)

Highlights: The Donovan family comes together for Conor’s (Ray’s son) 14th birthday after Ray and Abbey forgot it. Naturally, family dysfunction takes center stage.

Why he could win: Schreiber himself directed the episode, which always earns bonus points when an actor stretches. Plus, the episode gives Schreiber a chance to exercise the ticking time bomb that is Ray Donovan. Plus, who doesn’t love the episode-capping dance between Ray and Conor to Run DMC’s “Walk This Way?”

Why could he lose: Who actually watches this show? Raise your hand please. The nomination will be considered reward enough for the actor, and there are frankly better performances standing in his way.

Kevin Spacey

Performer: Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in House of Cards

Episode: Unknown

Highlights: Since no episode submission information was provided as of this piece’s writing, we can only look at the character arc of Frank Underwood over Season Three. Watching Frank become president was fun but watching it possibly slip through his fingers thanks to all of the women in his life was even more fun.

Why he could win: He’s never won an Emmy for this very buzzy, much admired performance. If the first two seasons seemed orchestrated to have Underwood become president against little competition, then Spacey’s struggle to maintain power in Season Three has been the payoff. He kicks the season off by pissing on his father’s grave, and it all goes downhill from there. Highlights of Spacey’s Season Three performance include effectively declaring war against Jesus Christ, a meaty debate sequence, an intriguing deep-dive into his past (and near homosexual dalliance) with his ghost writer, and his complete evisceration of wife Claire toward the end of the season. Plus, Spacey won both the Golden Globe and SAG Awards earlier this year, albeit for his Season Two performance. Still, the appearance of momentum could push him ahead of Jon Hamm (who has thus far only been a critics’ darling).

Why could he lose: Despite movie star cred, he has been denied twice already, and many thought he was assured a win for Season One. Is his performance old hat now? After watching Season Three, it’s not particularly Spacey’s performance that feels memorable and vital – it’s Robin Wright’s. There are scenarios where Jon Hamm receives a Mad Men block vote, and everyone else draws votes from each other as the alternate to Hamm. Plus, Frank Underwood really moved from the “villain we love to hate” category to the “villain who’s just a huge asshole that we really loathe” category. Emmy voters love an anti-hero, but they do have to have some tiny positive characteristics.

Note: This post is the latest in an on-going series of pieces exploring the major categories at the 2015 Emmy awards. We will cover actors, actresses, and series – Comedy and Drama – through the end of the voting period on August 28. See something you like or a performance you’d like to single out? Share the posts and create some Twitter buzz! We’ll see you at the Emmys.

There are a few fresh faces in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series category this year and a few returning faces (that Showtime block must be killing it). The big question mark is will Transparent‘s placement in the Comedy categories clash with voters who may perceive the work to be more dramatic in nature. People like to laugh in their comedies, and, while Transparent is an excellent show, it’s not exactly full of jokes. But if Jeffrey Tambor doesn’t win here, then who does? Our money is on Will Forte’s dark-horse performance in Last Man on Earth.

Here are the episodes these actors submitted for Emmy consideration.

AnthonyAnderson

Performer: Anthony Anderson as Andre Johnson in Black-ish

Episode: “Sex, Lies, and Vasectomies” (Season 1, Episode 18)

Highlights: Andre gets caught in a lie after Bo misses her period.

Why He Could Win: It’s a freshman show, which adds a new face to the category. Anderson beat out golden boys like Jim Parsons to be here. Plus, positive reviews of the show help.

Why He Could Lose: The submitted episode involves a topic that’s been done to death in the sitcom world. Plus, this is the show’s sole nomination, so there isn’t necessarily a ton of love for this series (yet!).

DonCheadle

Performer: Don Cheadle as Marty Kean in House of Lies

Episode: “It’s a Box Inside a Box” (Season 4, Episode 12)

Highlights: In the season 4 finale, K&A is on the verge of becoming huge—if Marty can convince people to stick around.

Why He Could Win: This is the fourth time he’s been nominated in this category for this role, so he’s overdue for a win. He did win a surprise Golden Globe for the role, albeit over two years ago.

Why He Could Lose: Who’s watching House of Lies? It certainly doesn’t have the buzz of shows like Transparent or Last Man on Earth. Plus, no SAG nomination for the role ever shows a weakness among the actors.

LouisCK

Performer: Louis C.K. as Louie in Louie

Episode: “Bobby’s House” (Season 5, Episode 4)

Highlights: Louie gets beaten up by a woman and has to mask his bruises with makeup.

Why He Could Win: Louie got a lot of nominations this year, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Plus, the submitted episode has him at his most vulnerable when he wears makeup and calls himself “Jornatha” proving the actor is willing to explore deeper topics like gender roles and stereotypes – miles above the standard sitcom fare. Hollywood loves drag. He’s also never won for this role, so this might be his year.

Why He Could Lose: Louie’s recent appearance on SNL wasn’t well-received, and his brand of comedy was questioned as going too far.

LastManonEarth

Performer: Will Forte as Phil Miller in Last Man on Earth

Episode: “Alive in Tucson” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Highlights: Phil Miller meanders around Tucson alone before deciding to kill himself.

Why He Could Win: By all accounts, the role/show shouldn’t work. A post-apocalyptic comedy? But in this pilot episode, Forte entertains and makes audiences feel something. Plus, Emmy voters nominated the show in the writing categories.

Why He Could Lose: Phil Miller is not a likable character by any means. Much of the first season brings cringe after cringe.

Episodes-LeBlanc

Performer: Matt LeBlanc as Matt LeBlanc in Episodes

Episode: “Episode 405” (Season 4, Episode 5)

Highlights: Matt owes millions in back taxes and is forced to make an appearance at a war criminal’s birthday party.

Why He Could Win: This episode includes a Friends reunion with David Schwimmer showing up at said war criminal’s birthday party and revealing he was paid more than LeBlanc on the NBC sitcom. Plus, Hollywood loves movies and TV shows that poke fun at themselves.

Why He Could Lose: Some questioned whether the series is running out of steam. Of all the shows, it’s one of the least buzzworthy.

WilliamHMacy

Performer: William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher in Shameless

Episode: “A Night to Remem—Wait, What?” (Season 5, Episode 4)

Highlights: Frank has to retrace his steps after a drunken night (ala Hangover).

Why He Could Win: He’s never won before and he’s a beloved actor in the community. So much so, in fact, that he shockingly won a SAG Award earlier this year.

Why He Could Lose: In this episode, he wrestles with a young girl over her prosthetic leg. Not exactly an ideal Emmy clip. Plus, like House of Lies and EpisodesShameless has been around the block for a few years now. It lacks some urgency or sex appear associated with winners.

JeffreyTambor

Performer: Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman in Transparent

Episode: “The Letting Go” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Highlights: Maura comes out to her family.

Why He Could Win: Thanks to an excellent, raw, emotional performance, Tambor won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy as did the series. Plus, this subject is a hot-button issue right now, especially with Caitlyn Jenner’s transitioning.

Why He Could Lose: The Affair won Best Drama series at the Golden Globes and was ignored by the Emmys, and the SAG Awards ignored Transparent completely. Plus, some voters may feel that this show deserves to be in the drama category—not comedy.

Last month’s Critics’ Choice TV awards mixed things up with some predictable entries alongside some left-field nominees that feel dramatically (pun intended) unlikely to represent when the Emmys have their say come nomination day in mid-July. Exactly three nominees – category winner Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul), Mandy Patinkin (Homeland), and (to a lesser extent) Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) – seem pretty safe to repeat. Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers), Craig T. Nelson (Parenthood), and Walton Goggins (Justified) feel like they’re card-carrying members of the “Critics’ Choice Push Club” – those actors deemed most in danger of being forgotten by an awards voting body who wants to use their conveniently placed awards announcement to maximum influence on the Emmys.

So, if my assumptions are correct, then who fits into the remaining three slots? Much like the Drama Actress category, the Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category has something of an abundance of riches, and the Emmys could go in any number of ways.

The most obvious, perennial nominee missing from the Critics’ Choice list is Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones), a former winner in the category. Like Season Five itself, Dinklage’s character arc through the season has been received with mixed opinions. After ***spoiler?*** killing his father at the end of Season Four, Tyrion Lannister (Dinklage) fled Westeros thanks to the assistance of Varys, the puppet master eunuch pulling the strings behind much of the action in the first four seasons. Since then, he’s spent his time in a crate, in a box, in a brothel, in a sack, on a boat, in a slave trade operation, and finally in the company of the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys. Through it, Dinklage has delivered his lines with the assured, dry wit that’s served him so well in the series thus far. He’s also has several high-profile dramatic sequences recently with Daenerys where he’s had to use his raw intelligence to curry favor with her and save his own life. Say what you will about Season Five, but I suspect Dinklage will emerge unscathed by any perceived disappointments.

Next in line would be Jon Voight (Ray Donovan), not a show I watch but a buzzy performance nonetheless. In fact, most of the awards juice around the show comes through his performance, which has already netted him a Golden Globe. He’s been nominated here before, and I see no reason he won’t be again.

With the final season of Mad Men put to bed, all that remains is handing out the final nominations and awards (if any). Leading up the pack for Mad Men has to be John Slattery for his farewell performance as Roger Sterling. It’s hard to imagine that, after seven seasons of the series, he has never won an award for the performance. Of the men on the show, he’s certainly the one to engender the post buzz and uniform good will with audiences more accepting of his boozy good humor than of Jon Hamm’s tormented, series-spanning identity crisis. Still, this too is a risky proposition considering he hasn’t been nominated since 2011, but I’m willing to go with it given the massive media push for the series finale.

So that gives us the following actors in lead positions:

  • Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
  • Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  • Ben Mendelsohn, Bloodline
  • Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
  • John Slattery, Mad Men
  • Jon Voight, Ray Donovan

If someone has to go, then it’s most likely going to be Slattery, honestly, because Mad Men is really such a wild card when it comes to recognizing the actors. It’s impossible to gauge the final season appeal of a show that, while it is frequently nominated in the Drama Series category, has a very hard time winning for its actors. He’s the weakest of the six. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong. Banks will be there. I’m certain of that. So will Patinkin for his stunning acting in Homeland Season Four where his character is kidnapped and terrorized, at one point causing him to beg for his own death. It was a memorable arc for the actor, and he will be there as well with a strong chance to win. Dinklage will most likely be the sole acting nominee for Game of Thrones this year. I will also defend Mendelsohn’s inclusion here because, of all the high octane cast in Netflix’s Bloodline, he’s the one you remember, drawing from Robert DeNiro’s more subtle moments (if there were any) in Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear. I can easily see Mendelsohn and Sissy Spacek both recognized for the series as they share many tender moments of (dubious) reconnection toward the end of the series.

So, if Slattery falls out, then who takes his place? That’s a trickier question as there are literally a dozen actors would could fill the slot including Norbert Leo Butz (Bloodline), Alan Cumming (The Good Wife), Jim Carter or Brendan Coyle (Downton Abbey), Michael McKeen (Better Call Saul), Michael Kelly (House of Cards), Matt Czuchry (The Good Wife), Sam Elliot (Justified), Joe Morton (Scandal), Joshua Jackson (The Affair), and the Critics’ Choice-mentioned Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers), Craig T. Nelson (Parenthood), and Walton Goggins (Justified).

Cumming seems best poised to bump Slattery because his recent performance in The Good Wife has been very well received, potentially putting him back into contention for the first time since 2011. And you can never officially count out anyone from Downton Abbey. If I’m being honest, then I’d like to see Timothy Dalton considered for his wonderfully loony work in Showtime’s Penny Dreadful. He is campaigning in the Best Actor category, but that’s a mistake. Eva Green owns the show, and the rest are all supporting players. At any rate, category confusion aside, make no mistake that he isn’t getting anywhere near the nominee’s circle, but it takes a certain kind of actor to act in such outlandish scenarios and give them credibility.

Just because it’s pulpy fiction doesn’t mean it’s not great.

“I want to be near you, got to be with somebody, I can’t be alone! Because – as you must have noticed – I’m – not very well…” Blanche DuBois, A Streetcar Named Desire

I went into Nightingale, the newest film made for television from the HBO factory, knowing absolutely nothing about it. I knew that it was on HBO and that it starred the brilliant David Oyelowo (Selma). That was it. And that was the best possible circumstance. Writing a review of the piece will be tricky as I don’t want to give away any cruicial details. So, if you want to remain as pristene on the film as I did, then read no further. Just know that Nightingale is a brilliantly fascinating and absorbing journey into a solitary mind as it falls apart. It’s not an easy sit, but you’re not likely to see a better performance this year by an actor in any television medium.

Oyelowo stars as Peter Snowden, a man living in near-complete isolation at home with his mother. Peter was once enlisted in the Army, although it’s not exactly clear how long and how in depth his involvement was. En route to basic training, he quickly bonded with another recruit named Edward but has sense lost touch with him. Nightingale, at its most basic plot, is about Peter’s many attempts to reconnect with Edward and regain that component of his lost youth. Not much else is known about Peter – the piece is a one-man show for Oyelowo and, as such, it only gives us the story from his perspective. There are knocks at the door and several phone calls made, but everyone is kept off-screen, hightening Peter’s rapidly deterioriating mental state. The entire proceedings rest on Oyelowo’s shoulders, and he carries it beautifully, digging into Peter headfirst in a wild performance unhindered by vanity. He delivers it all brilliantly, only fully diving into rage a few moments and making the audience believe that Peter is a deeply troubled man whose mental issues could indeed go undetected by the casual observer. It’s a fantastic performance that ranks with his formidable work in Ava DuVernay’s Selma. He will be nominated.

Director Elliott Lester and first-time screenwriter Frederick Mensch have, in my opinion, created an admirable modern update/homage to the work of celebrated playwright Tennesse Williams. Isolation. Financial woes. Mental struggles. It’s all here coupled with modern medication and presumably some influence of PTSD. Oyelowo’s Peter has roots in The Glass Menagerie‘s Amanda Wingfield and, of course, A Streetcar Named Desire‘s Blanche DuBois. Infinitely more dangerous than either of those women, Peter is nonetheless struggling to regain a sense of his self, his own persona, by desperately reaching out to that elusive other – an other that never really seems to materialize in the way Peter needs him to. Much like Williams’s plays, the setting is constrained to the dilapidated house – furnished with religious iconography and personal relics from their past – that Peter shares with his mother, and the claustrophobia we feel greatly suppliments the dread of the piece. Given that, there are even echoes of Roman Polanski’s claustrophic chamber pieces such as The Tenant or Repulsion where the setting influences the main character’s mental state.

Nightingale certainly isn’t a film with mass appeal, yet the experience is an extremely rewarding one should you give it the time. It is an engaging and fascinating work that you still may never want to revisit. But there is much more at work here than simply a man losing his mind. This is a film of profound sadness and desperation. Peter, like Blanche DuBois before him, is a man looking for kindness from a stranger. These people suffering in the shadows that we all ignore, these are the ones in need of help far more than we are willing to admit. Oyelowo and his team bring that truth to light in a shattering way.

Kyle Chandler is the latest of the strong best actor contenders to join this year’s Emmy race. Chandler, who first rose to prominence with Friday Night Lights burns up the screen in Netflix’s Bloodline, probably his most challenging role to date. Chandler plays the sheriff in town but more importantly the older brother of a troubled family. He’s the “good guy,” like his Friday Night Lights character but is also in the business of hiding lies big and small from other people about the family.

The series has been renewed for a second season and is one of the best things on TV. Chandler may enter the Best Actor race in a big way but his main competition would be Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, another Netflix competing series. There is also Jeff Daniels in The Newsroom to contend with, Bob Odenkirk making a footprint with Better Call Saul, Clive Owen for The Knick, and Terrence Howard for Empire.

The big question this year is going to be whether Jon Hamm will finally win an Emmy for playing Don Draper in this the final Mad Men season. Hamm’s notable but somewhat understated performance has one last chance to receive some much overdue credit.

Unlike film, television divides its power between men and women with strong performances all around.

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