Skip to main content

A Dramatic Race to the Top

A quick look at the Emmy Award contenders for top dramatic actor and actress, and then a look at contenders for top comedy actor and actress lets one in on a little secret: Drama is the far stronger genre right now. So strong, in fact, that three comedies that could also easily be considered dramas—Showtime’s Nurse Jackie and Shameless, and Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black—are all fielding potential nominees.

That’s making the drama field so competitive that narrowing it down to just six or seven actors, particularly among the men, is going to be very difficult.

“The drama category is deeper than it’s ever been by a mile,” says John Landgraf, CEO of FX Networks. “There are probably 20 to 25 dramas you could make a case for.”

For the actors, that means a nom last year doesn’t count for much this time around. “It’s a situation in which any number of people who came into nomination last year in these drama series categories are in a certain amount of jeopardy this year,” says John Leverence, senior VP of awards at the TV Academy.

Cranston vs. McConaughey

Still, the critical consensus remains that Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston is the man to beat for the show’s fifth and final season. It’s hard to argue the point when so many consider Breaking Bad to be among television’s best shows ever, with this being Cranston’s finale performance. Moreover, although he has won the Emmy three times previously for the part, he did not win it for the show’s fourth season, arguably its best.

Likely giving Cranston a run for his money, as well as creating a very interesting race for Emmy watchers, is this year’s Oscar best actor winner, Matthew McConaughey, for his performance in HBO’s True Detective. McConaughey likely will be joined in the category by his literal partner in crime, Woody Harrelson, a two-time Oscar nominee himself, as well as a seven-time Emmy nominee (he won once). Should they both be nominated, McConaughey and Harrelson could split the vote; however, over the past four years the entire cast of Modern Family has been nominated in the supporting comedy actor categories and one of them has come away with the trophy all four years.

While it seems like outstanding actor in a drama will be a horse race between Cranston and McConaughey, the category is stacked with other worthy contenders, including last year’s winner, The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels; House of Cards’ Kevin Spacey; Homeland’s Damian Lewis, who won two years ago; Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville; and 11-time nominee Jon Hamm, now finishing up the first half of Mad Men’s final season.

“After nominating Hamm so many times, maybe they’ll just give him one for the body of work when Mad Men wraps up,” says Brad Adgate, research director, Horizon Media.

Newcomers who could crash the party include The Blacklist’s James Spader (who has won this award three times before for The Practice and Boston Legal), The Bridge’s Demian Bichir, Masters of Sex’s Michael Sheen and The Americans’ chameleon, Matthew Rhys.

Wright on the Rise

The race for outstanding actress in a drama is more wide open than it is for the men, although House of Cards’ Robin Wright is considered the lead contender after winning a Golden Globe. Wright more than held her own opposite Spacey in the complex political drama, frequently letting him and the audience know exactly who was boss.

Many critics and observers think Claire Danes, who won this prize in 2012 and 2013, again has a shot, although Homeland’s third season was widely considered weak. Last year’s other nominees include Nashville’s Connie Britton, Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, Bates Motel’s Vera Farmiga, Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and Scandal’s Kerry Washington.

Newcomers waiting to make their entrances include Masters of Sex’s Lizzy Caplan, Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey, Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany, The Americans’ Keri Russell and The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies, who won this award in 2011.

Parsons, Louis-Dreyfus Expected to Repeat

Both comedy actor and actress awards are likely to be repeats, with The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons and Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus both in dominant positions.

Among the men, Louis C.K. is back and likely to be nominated in many categories for Louie’s fourth season on FX. From there, the field is wide open, with possibilities including House of Lies’ Don Cheadle, Episodes’ Matt LeBlanc, Shameless’ William H. Macy, The Crazy Ones’ Robin Williams, Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Andy Samberg and Parsons’ Big Bang roomie, Johnny Galecki.

Among the women, Louis-Dreyfus’ principal competition is her fellow HBO-er, Lena Dunham, and fellow SNL alum Amy Poehler, on Girls and Parks & Recreation, respectively. Edie Falco, who won this category in 2010 for Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, also is expected to be back among the nominees, along with Mike & Molly’s Melissa McCarthy, who won in 2011.

Newcomers could be Mom’s Anna Faris, Shameless’ Emmy Rossum and Orange Is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling.