Wednesday, July 8, 2015

If I Had an Emmy Ballot 2015: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama

Can Kit Harington turn his breakout season into an Emmy nomination?

It’s Emmy time again, with the nominations announcement just ten days away.  As I’ve done each of the last two years, I’ll take a look at the past year in performances and give my thoughts on the actors, actresses, and shows I thought were best.

Two notes before we begin.  First, I'm working from the actual Emmy performer ballot, so I won't make any changes like putting Keegan Michael-Key or Jordan Peele in lead actor categories or move Orange Is the New Black into the comedy category, where it was last year.  Second, I'm only going to nominate people and shows that I've seen a good chunk of this past year.  For the purposes of this category, that means no Sons of Anarchy or Boardwalk Empire actors, among a few others.

We’ll start with the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama.  Perennially, this is the deepest and most difficult category and part of me wanted to just throw up my hands, slot in the three Justified actors and three Game of Thrones actors, and call it a day.  But this year feels like a chance for some new blood.  Three of my choices for last year are no longer eligible (thanks to the end of Breaking Bad and Charles Dance leaving Game of Thrones) while a fourth, Jeffrey Wright, is on Boardwalk Empire, whose final season I have not yet gotten to.  In terms of the actual nominations, last year’s winner Aaron Paul is no longer eligible, nor is Josh Charles.  And it feels long overdue that Jim Carter, Mandy Patinkin, and Jon Voight should stop being nominated.

It feels like there are a lot of new openings and a lot of new actors to fill them.  Then again, knowing the Academy, we’ll probably get the four returning nominees, another nomination for Jonathan Banks, playing the same role for which he was nominated in 2013, just in a new show, and a swan song nomination for either Walton Goggins or John Slattery.  Still, this is a fun category to discuss simply because of the sheer volume of talent.

It’s not unheard for an actor to be nominated for – or even win – multiple Emmys for playing the same character on different shows.  James Spader has a pair of Emmys for his work as Alan Shore on The Practice and Boston Legal.  Kelsey Grammer was nominated for playing Frasier Crane on Cheers before winning four Emmys on Frasier.  But it’s certainly not common, so it’ll be interesting to see whether Jonathan Banks can accomplish the feat after his first season on the Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul.  Banks’s work on Breaking Bad was largely understated until the first half of the fifth season and here, too, he spends the first several episodes of Saul as the lowly parking lot attendant whose only role is to hassle and frustrate leading man Jimmy McGill.  But “Five-O” unleashes the Mike Ehrmantraut we knew from Breaking Bad and allows Banks to break out.  His tour de force performance in that episode may not be enough to earn him a nomination alone, but it certainly stands out as the single best submission episode of the season.

Game of Thrones can be a tricky call to make when it comes to choosing actors, given how the prominence of any given character can wax and wane from season to season.  In the last two years, I’ve nominated three different actors in this category but only Peter Dinklage more than once.  This year, he returns joined, to my pleasant surprise, by Kit Harington.  Game of Thrones spent four seasons as a sprawling epic, telling the tales of kings and nobles born and killed.  But the series’ endgame finally began to fall into place in season five, and it did so around Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister and Harington’s Jon Snow. 

Snow was largely a non-entity for the show’s first four years, mostly just hanging out in the north and getting into trouble.  But the enormity of the White Walkers and the difficulties in making people understand their threat thrust Jon into a leading role in season five and Harington handled it with aplomb.  This is pretty clearly a case of an actor only being able to live up or down to the material he’s given and Harington was given some great material this year.  He handled it perfectly.

On the other side of the narrow sea was Tyrion Lannister, finally bringing the two halves of Game of Thrones together.  He didn’t have quite as many showy scenes this year as perhaps he has had in the alst two seasons, but Dinklage is still one of the best pairings of actor and part in recent television history.

I was very hesitant to accept Netflix’s Daredevil, largely because I wasn’t sure of how much they would try to fit it into the overall Marvel Universe.  To my pleasant surprise, it became clear fairly early on that the show had no interest in dealing with aliens or robots or much else outside of Hell’s Kitchen.  It is a dirty, gritty show that doesn’t get much dirtier or grittier than Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin.  The (usually) restrained rage that D’Onofrio brought to nearly every scene was a delight to watch.  One of my favorite stock villain types is the person who knows that what he’s doing is wrong, but who does it anyway because he believes that the ends justify the means – the Utilitarian, if you will.  Not only was Daredevil’s Kingpin tremendously written in this vein, but D’Onofrio balanced the conflict, arrogance, and anger perfectly.

I easily could have placed any Justified actor on this list, but Sam Elliott gets the nod for his portrayal of villain Avery Markham in the show’s final season.  Garret Dillahunt, Jere Burns, and Walton Goggins may have gotten the flashier parts, but it was Elliott who was allowed to twirl his mustache (for once only metaphorically speaking) and play the long game.  His natural charm and vague sense of constant threat made for a great behind-the-scenes manipulator.

I went back and forth on this last spot a lot, originally writing several sentences about Halt and Catch Fire’s Toby Huss, but unable to really explain what I had liked about him before realizing that it his was performance this season, in next year’s Emmy eligibility period, that was really drawing me in.  So I came back to John Slattery, whose performance as Roger Sterling, like all Mad Men performances, is shamefully likely to end its run without an Emmy.  Slattery was so good for so long on this show that it’s easy to forget just how effortlessly he slid into that role.  But watching him work with Elisabeth Moss in “Lost Horizon,” as both Roger and Peggy mourn and celebrate what they created at SCP was just delightful.  Slattery hasn’t been nominated since 2011, but if he were to make his way back on the ballot, it would be much deserved.

Also considered: David Anders (iZombie), David Bradley (The Strain), Jere Burns (Justified), Tom Cavanagh (The Flash), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones), Garret Dillahunt (Justified), Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers), Noah Emmerich – The Americans, Walton Goggins (Justified), David Harbour (Manhattan), Toby Huss (Halt and Catch Fire), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men), Frank Langella (The Americans), Scoot McNairy (Halt and Catch Fire), Tobias Menzies (Outlander), Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), Ashley Zukerman (Manhattan)

Those are my Emmy choices.  As you can see by the extensive “also considered list,” this was another big year for drama supporting actors, even without guys like Jeffrey Wright or Michael Kenneth Williams, whose show I haven’t yet gotten to.  Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments or on Twitter @TyTalksTV.  Next time we’ll look at the drama supporting actresses. 

Tyler Williams is a professional librarian and an amateur television critic.  You can reach him at TyTalksTV AT gmail DOT com or on Twitter @TyTalksTV. 

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