The stars of several dramas, limited series and comedies tackled corrupt hedge fund managers, mythic gods, heart-of-gold dads, Russian spies and conflicted lawyers, to name a few.
This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Season two starts with Ansari's Dev finding himself in Italy after a bad breakup. He meets a new love interest, Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), but returns to the U.S. with things open-ended.
FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "It's hard to pick one episode you really like, but a lot of people have said nice things about the scene at the end of episode five [when Dev drops Francesca off at her hotel but doesn't share his feelings for her]. I'm sitting in the car. I've experienced that moment before, and it's a very private moment that you have alone. When you put it in something like a show and have everyone respond to it, it feels really good to know that, 'Oh, everyone's been there.' That's the whole point of storytelling and comedy — to make us all feel a little less alone in the world."
Hutton plays Nicholas, a North Carolina furniture businessman who has a festering resentment toward his wife (Lili Taylor) over her decision to have a child and step down from helping run their company.
FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "There was a moment where I'm with our son at the courthouse in the final episode. If I remember right, there's just a realization. The character has to kind of look at the kid and just in the smallest gestures hopefully let the kid know, 'Hey, I'm going to take care of you. Things are going to be OK.' It's a small scene, but it's important that Nicholas is able to communicate that to his kid."
Lewis portrays hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod, whose questionable — and likely illegal — methods are at odds with a U.S. district attorney (Paul Giamatti) hell-bent on taking him down.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "Ax is a guy who treads a thin line between right and wrong, between ethical and unethical. There's something heroic in his endeavors that I like about him. I'd love to spend an evening with him. I think there's a great heart and soul in there, but he's a badass, too. I like his quick-wittedness. I like his thinking. I like his ruthlessness. There's a gangster in there, but also there's a guy who has subscribed fully to the idea of the American dream — a blue-collar guy who believes that life is an opportunity and he's going to take it."
Malek's Elliot Alderson, an unstable computer hacktivist, ended season two with more questions than answers amid the fallout from E Corp.'s demise and a gunshot wound to his chest from an adversary he thought was dead.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "What I find the most captivating is that within this human being — who is having trouble just doing the mundane social activities that we all take for granted — is this tortured soul who is grieving some major loss in his life, dealing with a debilitating mental illness and a catastrophic collapse of a global economy that he is responsible for. There is a human being in there who genuinely wants justice and peace for himself and everyone like him, or not like him. That's what makes him so special: His goals — as lofty as they are — are universal and for a greater good."
As Mr. Wednesday, McShane plays a mysterious and powerful "old god" in this series about the battle between mythological deities and today's "new gods" (the media, technology, drugs, etc.). In the first episode, Mr. Wednesday hires former convict Shadow (Ricky Whittle) as his bodyguard.
FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "The opening scene, which was the first thing we ever shot, was the scene when [my character] overwhelms Shadow with knowledge and charm. It set the basis for me and Ricky to understand what the show is about. It's nearly a monologue, and it's all laid out. Whether it was a coincidence in the production schedule or done deliberately, I think we found ourselves [while shooting that first scene] and I found the character, rather than starting on an easy scene and building. It was much easier from then on to just go in every day and have it out."
No longer part of the tech startup he founded, Middleditch's Richard reaches out to a former adversary to find the right platform for his groundbreaking algorithm.
FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "One thing I always liked doing is the physical comedy stuff, so my favorite scene is when I'm smashing the door [in episode three]. In terms of something to really sink your teeth into, in terms of the character, there's some stuff that challenges Richard's moral compass. For the first time you start to see that crack. He is truly a man with his back against the wall. What other metaphor can I use?"
Minnette plays Clay, a classmate to Hannah (Katherine Langford), who commits suicide and leaves him cassette tapes she recorded with clues as to why she did it. In listening to the tapes, Clay revisits events in his and Hannah's past.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "I'm not a confident actor. I never have been and I probably never will be. I will say that this was the first time I had fun in the challenge of that. I was playing two different versions of this character, one in the past and one in the present. Both grow so much for completely opposite reasons. It was fun to be able to dive into that. I learned so much. I definitely feel like I'm a different actor now. I have different methods. That's why I don't think — especially at my age — roles will come along like this a lot, if at all. The fact that I was 19 and doing this — I felt really lucky."
In the third season, the relationship between Odenkirk's character and his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) continues to deteriorate, bringing Jimmy closer to becoming the Saul that Breaking Bad fans already have grown to love.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "I like Jimmy McGill, but I'm not a fan of Saul, although I find him humorous to watch from a distance. But as a character, described and drawn out, he's an empty shell. I think Jimmy is basically shutting down, and that's what turns him into Saul — when he loses his idealism and hope. Saul is a very mercenary character. He's willfully choosing to pursue cold self-interest at all times because he feels wronged by or misled by his hopes and dreams and his faith in other people. It's a sad, sad journey, and yet, I guess there's still hope, because Gene [a future incarnation of the character viewers have seen after the events in Breaking Bad] is still alive. I guess there's still hope he could reconstitute a more humane version of himself."
As an undercover Russian spy in Reagan-era America, Rhys' Philip Jennings had a pivotal moment this season when he killed a man — whom he later discovered was innocent — during an intelligence operation.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "[This season] we tried, in a funny way, to make him more sensitive, a character who's slightly falling apart even though he has been a successful intelligence officer for a long time. He may have these quivering-bottom-lip moments, but he still has the switch where he can turn and kill someone. That's what I most enjoy — when you write him off as too soft and he comes back and kneecaps someone."
The Oscar winner brings Albert Einstein's final years to life in National Geographic's first narrative series, about the early and then later parts of the physicist's life.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "I suppose toward the end, as Einstein moves into his late 60s and 70s — he died at 76 — I felt we captured the frustration of somebody who wished his life was going to go on longer, but the wear and tear of his body [wouldn't allow it]. The madness became very important. Like the universe, there's a sense of decay, a sense of change happening in his life. He lost that energy toward the end. I found those things very satisfying."
Smith plays Zeke, a musically talented teenager trying to make his hip-hop dreams a reality in the Bronx in the late 1970s.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "When I originally auditioned, I was like, 'I don't have anything in common with this guy.' A main aspect of his personality is that he's a poet. I did poetry before, but I wasn't really into hip-hop music — I didn't listen to it that often or know anything about it. I didn't know how to rap. I didn't grow up in the same area he did, or in the same time period, obviously. There are a lot of differences, but that's why I was so attracted to the part. I was like, 'I want to see if I'm able to embody this person.' "
David (Stevens) is a powerful mutant in this X-Men spinoff, who is battling an otherworldly entity in his psyche that wants to control him and wreak havoc on the world.
FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "There's actually an extraordinary sequence that takes place over the last two or three episodes, of a bullet traveling through the air [while time has slowed down]. It was one of those scenes that involved the entire company, and it seemed to never die. Like whatever else was going on, we would end up back in that room, frozen in these positions with this bullet just not really going anywhere. It was really weird, because it's an extraordinary sort of scene, and there's lots of visual effects required for it, and lots going on. And that really is the dramatic crescendo of the season. How are they going to stop this bullet? How are they going to change the course of time? Practically, we had to keep coming back to those exact positions, and I would clutch [co-star] Rachel [Keller] for a couple of hours and then we'd go home."
In the third season, Maura (Tambor) discovers she has a heart condition that will prevent her from having the surgery she wants in order to fully transition.
FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "There were many approaches to that scene [when Maura visits a doctor about gender confirmation surgery], but I was very happy with what we got to. The thing about that set, that director, that set of writers and that whole production is that it's the safest set anywhere. I remember, in doing the scene, I kept thinking about how good the actor [Matt McCoy] was who played the doctor. He's so wonderful, and he was so conversational. How great was the scene in its deliverance. That's what I liked about it — that it was so factual. There was hope and dreams before that and then there was this fact [of Maura not being able to have the surgery because of her heart condition]."
In the final season of this dystopian drama, everyone around Theroux's former cop Kevin believes they might be some sort of savior or messiah.
FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "There are scenes that I adore, but they only work if Ann Dowd is in it, or if Carrie Coon is in it — and if we have these lines in our heads that were written by Damon [Lindelof] and Tom [Perrotta]. In that sense, I'm very proud of the overall body of work we were able to make. I'm not one of those people who thinks, 'Oh, yeah, season one was a drag, and then it got really good.' I'm very proud of all the seasons of our show. It's this interesting triptych, this trilogy that I just think is really exceptional territory that Tom and Damon were nice enough to let us come act in."
In this breakout family saga, Ventimiglia plays patriarch Jack, who with his wife, Rebecca (Mandy Moore), struggles to raise their mixed-race triplets through multiple time periods.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT HIS CHARACTER: "There was just something about Jack's approach to life. There was a lot that was happening in the pilot but not necessarily a whole lot that was said. He seemed like the closest version to myself to anything that I've played in my 20 years. To bring something back to a character that felt relatable [was attractive]. It was strange at first, but then it became a huge boost of confidence. 'I know how to do this guy; I know how to be this guy.' I love Jack's heart. He leads with it. He's nearly always approaching every aspect of his life with that hopeful heart. He loves so fully and thinks in such uncomplicated terms that even his most misguided action is forgivable." — Amber Dowling