EmmyWatch: Supporting Actor Drama – A Fait Accompli?

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.

The Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama category is full of fantastic, often scenery chewing, performances that often dominate their respective seasons. In some cases, the actors are the very definition of the classic supporting actor – solid, dedicated performances that seldom detract from the main talent but are always there to lend additional spice – while some performances could be arguably considered leads. If you’re looking for advice on how to select the winners, then look at the performances which are more prominent throughout the entire series. Sure, the actors select examples of their own work that best represents their overall performance, but it never hurts to show up in other category submissions or give something of an iconic, can’t miss performance. There’s also another secret… Be Jonathan Banks in what feels like his can’t-miss year.


Performer: Jonathan Banks as Michael “Mike” Ehrmantraut in Better Call Saul

Episode: “Five-0” (Season One, Episode Six)

Highlights: The entire episode is dedicated to a crucial backstory involving the death of his son and the restitution Mike pays to Stacey, his daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.

Why he could win: This episode is widely seen as the highlight of Saul‘s first season, and it is nearly a one-man Mike show with Bob Odenkirk only briefly appearing. The character of Mike was a Breaking Bad fan favorite, but Banks never won this award during that show’s award-winning run. There is probably an overall sense that it’s finally Banks’s turn after being dominated by Aaron Paul so frequently and given Banks’s long career in television and film (He was previously nominated twice in this category for Wiseguy and Breaking Bad). Plus, he’s just never been better than he is in this hour as he expertly moves Mike from his trademark stoicism to his tearful confession as he admits he broke his own son’s spirit. The scene (and the episode itself really) is dream material for actors, and Banks excels in this Critics Choice-award winning performance.

Why he could loseBreaking Bad fatigue? Saul comes fast on the heels of last year’s big Emmy winner, so voters may want to spread the wealth a bit. Although, since Banks never won during Bad‘s run, I don’t think he’ll be impacted by any sense of awards gluttony attributed to the Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul family. Who am I kidding? This award is truly Banks’s to lose.


Performer: Jim Carter as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey

Episode: “Episode 5.09” (Season Five, Episode Nine)

Highlights: Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes go house hunting despite Mrs. Hughes’s financial woes. Mr. Carson later proposes to Mrs. Hughes, and she accepts, bringing to fruition something viewers have wanted since Day One of the series.

Why he could win: Carter has always been one of the silent strengths of the series, perfecting his withering glances and witty retorts to nearly match the power of Maggie Smith but in a less flashy way. Even though he specifically selected Episode Nine (this year’s annual Christmas episode), he’s prominently featured in every episode, which can only help make his case. But in Episode Nine, he spends a lot of personal time with Mrs. Hughes and lets loose his stiff upper lip, giving us a side of Mr. Carson we don’t often see – tenderness. The expressions on Carter’s face as he hears the sad story of Mrs. Hughes’s sister are expertly rendered proving the man can do more with a single glance than most actors can with pages of dialogue. The money shot (as Downton Abbey money shots go) comes in the closing moments as Mr. Carson proposes to Mrs. Hughes. The moment is sweet and tender, melting geriatric hearts on multiple continents. This moment is the moment that won Carter the nomination.

Why he could lose: It’s Mr. Carson. He’s often wallpaper on Downton Abbey. He’s the cilantro, never the main course. He feels like an obligatory perennial nominee, and, despite the enhanced emotion of this particular performance, it doesn’t feel particularly exception or vital enough to warrant a win. Plus, he’s not Jonathan Banks.


Performer: Alan Cumming as Eli Gold in The Good Wife 

Episode: “Undisclosed Recipients” (Season Six, Episode Seventeen)

Highlights: After Alicia wins the State’s Attorney race, Eli guides her through post-election drama, specifically in avoiding alienating her financial supporters when they come to her with political demands. Eli also helps Alicia with damage control after Florrick, Agos and Lockhart’s email system was hacked, which could lead to scandalous emails being released about the newly elected SA.

Why he could win: Cumming is not messing around in this episode. He brings an intensity to his performance which triggers the funniest comedy The Good Wife saw this past season. (He’s probably funnier than the majority of the Comedy Supporting Actor nominees.) “Undisclosed Recipients” functions well as an Emmy submission especially because it’s the most overt and hammy performance in the category. Anytime he’s on screen, Cumming makes every facial expression and every line count. He definitely will leave an impression on voters, not only because he’s playing anger and frustration for most of the episode, but Eli constructs a phrase (“All options are open to me and I plan to decide in the next 48 hours.”) that Alicia repeats several times throughout the episode. Most importantly, the Emmy voters love the acting style on The Good Wife; it reflects in the fact that an actress from the show has won every year since it began. Cumming also has a respected name in the industry and was especially present this past year: he was on The Good Wife, starred in the Cabaret revival on Broadway, and published a book, Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir.

Why he could lose: Cumming’s performance mostly relies on his comedic skills, and while he’s brilliantly funny, voters may look to the darker work of Ben Mendelsohn and Jonathan Banks. Eli plays a critical part of the episode, but doesn’t have the massive screentime the other nominees do, like Banks who has an entire episode dedicated to his side character. He’s back in race this year, but Cumming’s most recent nomination for playing Eli Gold on The Good Wife was in 2011, when the show was more novel to voters. Many argue Cumming is a big-named star who acts mostly as a filler nominee. Plus, he’s not Jonathan Banks.


Performer: Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones

Episode: “Hardhome” (Season Five, Episode Eight)

Highlights: While the episode is most widely appreciated for the epic battle that closes it, it is also the most significant on-screen pairing between fan-favorites Daenerys and Tyrion. During their many conversations over the course of the episode, Tyrion convinces Daenerys to engage his services as her primary advisor.

Why he could win: Dinklage, the only previous winner of the category, is never better than when he’s selling Tyrion. Than when he’s using his gift of oration to save his life. Here, he and fellow nominee Emilia Clarke serve up a master class of acting by feeding off each other’s energy. It’s fitting that they’re both nominated because neither would be as a good without the other. Plus, the writers seem to love feeding Dinklage with crisp dialogue, and Dinklage loves to deliver it. It doesn’t hurt that he’s playing tipsy, also something at which Dinklage excels. When the two seal the deal, the effect on the series is weighty and feels like it will have ramifications for years to come.

Why he could lose: Basically, he’s won before. Perhaps in a weaker year would he repeat, but the competition is way too stiff to warrant a repeat. Also, voters are probably holding out for greater things to come as the series comes to its eventual conclusion. Nothing in this performance, as fine as it is, warrants another award halfway through the marathon event. Plus, he’s not Jonathan Banks.


Performer: Michael Kelly as Doug Stamper in House of Cards

Episode: “Chapter 27” (Season Three, Episode One)

Highlights: Doug Stamper awakens from his Season Two finale clobbering by Rachel. Much of the episode is dedicated to Stamper’s painful rehab and almost equally painful humiliation as he attempts to regain favor with now-President Frank Underwood.

Why he could win: Kelly, like Jim Carter, has been the quiet strength of House of Cards as Kevin Spacey chews every last bit of scenery in Washington, D.C. His intense, focused performance takes a new turn over Season Three as he receives some of his meatiest material to date. If voters watch the entire season, then they’ll likely be extremely impressed with his dramatic range, particularly in the third season finale where he makes the toughest choice of his career. In Chapter 27, though, his performance is the most outwardly physical performance he’s given to date – a nice turn from the more subtle work he’s turned in to date. Most specifically, the scene in which Stamper breaks his arm in the shower and sets it with a wooden kitchen spoon is some of the most brilliantly shattering and painful acting the category offers. Tell me you didn’t cringe when that happened and then cringe again when Underwood flat-out rejects him. The episode is structured around Kelly, and he gives a career-best performance here.

Why he could lose: Despite broader acting support from the Television Academy for Cards, Season Three missed out on key nominations, potentially serving as an indication of weakness. Kelly surprised many with his rather left-field nomination, so clearly he’s well regarded. Yet, many may consider the nomination reward enough. Plus, he’s not Jonathan Banks.


Performer: Ben Mendelsohn as Danny Rayburn in Bloodline

Episode: “Part 12” (Season One, Episode Twelve)

Highlights: Danny and John Rayburn’s brotherly showdown comes to its inevitable and brutal conclusion.

Why he could win: As great as Banks is in Better Call Saul, Mendelsohn is a revelation in Bloodline. Yes, Kyle Chandler received a nomination, but everyone who watched the Netflix family drama came away talking about Mendelsohn, previously known for his work in the film Animal Kingdom. His overall performance deftly blends the charisma of the character with a creepy undercurrent of his suspect motives. But here in “Part 12,” Mendelsohn taps his inner Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear and confronts some of his family members with deadly threats glossed over with faux friendliness. He then has three great scenes that will wow voters. In the first, he is sequestered in a hotel room, on the run from local drug runners and his family, and discusses his situation on the phone with his brother John. Yet, the levity of the situation and a sudden realization of impeding doom is written all over Mendelsohn’s face. It’s a brilliant and tricky transition that he carries off wonderfully. Later, after Danny is assumed dead, Mendelsohn finally erupts at his mother (Sissy Spacek) in the kind of volcanic Tennessee Williams moment that Bloodline always seems to want but seldom delivers. Finally, Danny’s final confrontation with John is the epic payoff everyone’s been looking for, and this is the pinnacle of Mendelsohn’s DeNiro-influenced performance. Voters weary with Bloodline‘s leisurely pacing need only watch this single episode to appreciate Ben Mendelsohn’s fantastic work.

Why he could lose: Despite acclaim in film and television, Mendelsohn is the least known actor in the group. He’s certainly made a name for himself with Bloodline, but he doesn’t have the name recognition it sometimes takes to win these things. Voters who started Bloodline from the beginning on their own may be turned off by the imperfect pacing and decide not to watch the episode, assuming they’ve seen the performance already. Still, he’s a dark horse candidate if ever there was one. But, all together now, he’s not Jonathan Banks.

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  1. Avatar
    Robin Write 7 years ago

    Another great write-up. Well played.

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