Emmys: Ricky Gervais, Don Cheadle and Other Lead Actor Contenders on Dream Roles and Proud Moments
In their own words, this season's male contenders reveal their on-set priorities, the power of a "sweet" call from dad and why you're never too old for "the role of a lifetime."
This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Anthony Anderson, Black-ish (ABC)
Proudest moment: After screening our pilot across the country, the most common response was, "When I watch your show, I see my family on the screen." It moved me that this feedback came from a mixed group of viewers.
Playing this role, I've learned: That if I'm honest with myself, I will be honest with others.
Couldn't get into character without: Sleep and a thumping groove and bass.
Funniest on-set moment: Me walking around the set all day — in character — in nothing but a dance belt and flip-flops.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Watching the Food Network, ESPN and the Golf Channel.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Moved out of my mother's house.
Dream TV role: Huck [Guillermo Diaz's character] on Scandal.
Career plan B: Attorney. They are the biggest actors out there.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: [American Crime acting nominee] Regina King.
Must-watch TV: [Netflix's] House of Cards.
Coolest fans: America's First Family [the Obamas].
Adrien Brody, Houdini (History)
Proudest moment: Houdini was a childhood hero of mine. I grew up fascinated by him, and my love for magic eventually propelled me into acting, which ultimately led me to portraying him in the film.
Couldn't get into character without: Research. Understanding the mechanical aspects of certain illusions, being proficient with techniques to manipulate locks, learning breath control and strength training were all necessary to portraying Houdini with integrity.
Surprising on-set moments: He was an escape artist. His ability to perform those tricks took him a lifetime. I had to play a lot of catch-up in a short period of time.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Bought my parents and myself new cars. It was really special. I grew up loving cars and my dad did, too, yet we never had the means to own a new one. My mom fought tooth and nail to not give up her old, beat-up Volvo.
Dream TV roles: I watched a lot of Taxi and MASH growing up. There was honesty and integrity to the work that resonated even as a kid.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Honestly, I'd probably waste it, but I would love to get in more time to do yoga and write.
Must-watch TV: Breaking Bad, True Detective and The Sopranos.
Three things always in my trailer: Green tea, my script and my girlfriend.
Kyle Chandler, Bloodline (Netflix)
Proudest moment: The cast and crew viewing the first two episodes together. Collective pride!
Playing this role, I've learned: A singular question arises with every role, as it does in life: "Who are you?"
Couldn't get into character without: Incredible actors I get to call family.
Funniest on-set moment: [Co-star] Ben Mendelsohn doesn't care much for open water. I would have very much enjoyed the look on his face when told the night-swimming scenes were safe due to the shark-proof netting. You see, Ben taught us a tremendous variety of "Down Under" expletives — and we are all the better for it!
Favorite way to kill time on set: Go f— with the other actors. I dislike sitting in the "Tin Can" [trailer].
Coolest fans: The critics, of course.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Bought myself a good steak dinner and socked the rest away. As advised by my grandfather, the greatest guy who ever lived.
Dream TV role: Generally, it would be comedy. Nobody knows how funny I am! I laugh at all my jokes.
Career plan B: Pray!
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Get a new watch.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Everyone, including seat fillers!
Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime)
Proudest moment: When I was finally able to enforce the "Avert your gaze, peons" clause in my contract.
Playing this role, I've learned: There are no small parts, just small, petty actors who continue to get in my way and thwart my every intention. They will be fruitless. They should be grateful to have a professional like me willing to lower myself to their pedestrian level to … Sorry, what was the question again?
Can't get into character without: Mescaline.
Funniest on-set moment: We all thought [co-star] Kristen Bell was fat, but it turned out that she was just pregnant … and then fat.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Mescaline.
Coolest fan: Donald Trump. Very exciting.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Made it rain at the financial aid office, paying off my school loans.
Dream TV role: Any character in [HBO's] The Wire, except they'd all smoke me. Badass cast.
Career plan B: Hahahahahaha.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Only white people. It'll make me a shoo-in for next year. Boom!
Must-watch TV: The Wire. Is that still on?
Three things always in my trailer: Nah, you are not going to catch me slipping. I'm not answering until the statute of limitations runs out.
Jeff Daniels, Newsroom (HBO)
Proudest moment: Turning to look at [co-star] Jane Fonda and realizing I was in something where I got to turn and look at Jane Fonda.
Playing this role, I've learned: I can remember far more than I ever thought was humanly possible.
Couldn't get into character without: The match to light the gas I'd poured on my ego.
Funniest on-set moment: I attempted to do a no-look lighting of my character Will's cigarette and lit the filter.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Memorizing next week because that meant I had this week down.
Coolest fan: Late [journalist] Bob Simon.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Spent it on a 1932 Martin OM-28 from Mandolin Brothers Guitars in Staten Island.
Dream TV role: Carl Reiner as Alan Brady in The Dick Van Dyke Show. Never seen, only heard.
Career plan B: To ride my acoustic guitar as far as it would take me.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Anyone over 60.
Will Forte, The Last Man on Earth (Fox)
Proudest moment: For our premiere, we had a fun viewing party at the Sportsmen's Lodge in the Valley. It was special to watch it with the wonderful people who worked their buns off to make it.
Playing this role, I've learned: I can grow a real rat's nest of a beard.
Couldn't get into character without: The wardrobe department got me a bunch of super-comfy Hanes boxer briefs. I regularly steal them for my home collection. And yes, I am hoping Hanes sees this and sends me a bunch of boxer briefs for mentioning them. Fingers crossed!
Funniest on-set moment: We got to work a bunch of times with the cow from the Chick-fil-A commercials — and she would drop several surprises on us every day. It really kept us on our toes, literally.
Favorite way to kill time on set: I play iPhone backgammon with my dad and regularly get my ass handed to me. I'll get you one of these days, Reb Forte!
Coolest fan: I got a really nice email from Henry Winkler, which was incredibly exciting. He is a hero, professionally and personally.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Went out and bought a bunch of expensive basketball cards, which have since quartered in value.
Career plan B: I always wanted to be a college history professor. I love jackets with elbow pads.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Hit the snooze button six and a half more times.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Everyone! Including [host] Andy Samberg, who will be amazing.
Must-watch TV: I have a problematic addiction to The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. I'm not proud of it. But being able to admit it is an important first step.
Three things always in my trailer: Cayenne pepper for my coffee, baking soda toothpaste for my coffee breath, and coffee.
Ricky Gervais, Derek (Netflix)
Proudest moment: The honest answer is I'm proudest when I get through a take without ruining it by laughing. And when I get into the edit room and I forget it's me onscreen and say "him," I know I must've done an OK job.
Playing this role, I've learned: It's nice to be nice. It feels good. Even if you're role-playing doing something good and kind, you get the same emotions as if you really were doing something kind. It's really odd.
Couldn't get into character without: A frivolous answer would be a cardigan or combing my hair forward. But that's not true. I don't need anything to be Derek. I don't even need an audience. I'm quite happy to shuffle around as Derek by myself. Playing him is freeing and liberating and cathartic and fun. It's like an antidote to the world of cynicism, which I've been a part of.
Funniest on-set moment: For the first time ever, there were scenes we couldn't get through because we were laughing. They weren't even deleted scenes. We couldn't actually finish them. That's never happened before. On The Office, I did things that took 70 takes, but we always got it in the end. There were bits in Derek that we couldn't actually do.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Have a little tea break. Every lunchtime, it became a ritual that me, [co-stars] Kerry Godliman, David Earl and Brett Goldstein would spend the hour talking about comedy. Those three are still on the circuit and still do gigs, and I sort of miss that, so I'd pick their brains.
Coolest fan: [Co-star] Aaron Paul. I came to Breaking Bad late and then suddenly watched it all in one go and was blown. Right after that, Aaron tweeted, "I just watched a show called Derek. Great show." I think I retweeted that three times.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Felt a bit guilty, to be honest. It was more than my dad's salary. But I got over it, don't worry.
Dream TV role: They're all roles I'd be no good at. Just think of me as Tony Soprano. Who would take me seriously?
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: [Bloodline's] Ben Mendelsohn. His was the acting performance of the year. I also love Louis C.K. He's probably my favorite stand-up in the world at the moment. And The Jinx should win best documentary ever. There should be a whole new category made just for it.
Must-watch TV: Bloodline and Game of Thrones. It has taught me that if you have a problem with someone, just murder them.
Three things always in my trailer: I'm never in there! But you'd probably find Diet Coke in the fridge, and bananas and nuts because I try to be healthy. And my clothes strewn on the floor like a toddler's.
Timothy Hutton, American Crime (ABC)
Proudest moment: First table read. I looked around the room and felt great to be there.
Playing this role, I've learned: Brussels sprouts are worth a second look.
Funniest on-set moment: The interpretive dance that happened between me and [co-star] Felicity Huffman toward the end.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Throwing a football around.
Coolest fan: Stephen King.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Went to Paris and Rome — and ran out of money.
Dream TV role: Anything on Game of Thrones.
Career plan B: Be the drummer for Earth, Wind & Fire.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Take drum lessons.
Must-watch TV: Black Mirror, House of Cards, Rectify, Silicon Valley and Veep.
Three things always in my trailer: A football, a wireless speaker and Felicity Huffman's Odor Eaters.
Richard Jenkins, Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
Proudest moment: The day I saw the final product. A beautiful collaboration.
Playing this role, I've learned: That I'm a lot like my mother.
Couldn't get into character without: Knowing my mother.
Funniest on-set moment: Seeing that it took Gerry Quist, one of our brilliant makeup artists, over an hour to make me look 50 and about five minutes to make me look 75.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Read, or stand guard at the craft service table. Somebody has to protect the peanut butter.
Coolest fan: [Actor] Mark Rylance.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Got to keep half of it.
Career plan B: Public assistance.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Hopefully live an extra 22 weeks.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: The whole Kitteridge crew and my friend David Oyelowo.
Must-watch TV: Happy Valley.
Three things always in my trailer: Dr. Pepper, iPad and me.
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes (Showtime)
Playing this role, I've learned: If you play drunk for too long, you get an actual hangover.
Couldn't get into character without: Matt LeBlanc.
Favorite way to kill time on set: We usually all huddle around the monitors with [co-creators] David [Crane] and Jeffrey [Klarik] and try to make each other laugh.
Coolest fan: I don't have an answer for that. But I had a kid come up the other day and ask me if I was Joey's [from Friends] dad. Can you believe that? I was like, "Get the f— out of here, kid! Scram!"
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Like how big? Back in New York, I was really hurting for money when I got a residual check from a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial for $14,000.
Dream TV role: Big Bird. Why not?
Career plan B: I would've been a carpenter for sure.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Probably Louis C.K. We were in the same high school graduating class.
Must-watch TV: Ray Donovan and Ancient Aliens, this crazy show on History where theorists draw parallels between hieroglyphics and visitors from outer space.
Three things always in my trailer: Car and motorcycle magazines and candles. Trailers smell like dirty socks, so my assistant puts candles in there, making it smell like a spa, which is actually kind of nice.
William H. Macy, Shameless (Showtime)
Proudest moment: I directed an episode this season and was astounded at the level of competence the cast and crew bring to an episode. An actor is inside the beast and our purview is rather small, as it must be. So I was amazed and humbled watching some of the brightest filmmakers in Hollywood who make the seemingly impossible feel like another day at the office. I was proud that I was a vital part of this incredible machine. I thought, "If I can run with this crowd, I must have learned something in the last 35 years."
Couldn't get into character without: The line between Frank and me became blurred beyond distinction a while ago. I don't need anything to get into character — although perhaps a glass of beer helps a bit.
Funniest on-set moment: When I read the episode where Frank's daughter Debbie says she's pregnant, I got upset and wanted to call [executive producer] John Wells to complain. It took me a while to realize I wasn't upset — Frank was upset.
Favorite way to kill time on set: My trailer is one of my favorite places on earth. I make a cup of tea and bang away on my ukulele.
Most surprising fan: I was on my motorcycle, stopped at a light, and a woman panhandling the line of cars somehow recognized me.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Bought a Mustang.
Career plan B: If you have one, you'll use it.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Make better to-do lists.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: [Wife] Ms. Felicity Huffman!
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul (AMC)
Proudest moment: Sharing the news of our Emmy nomination and celebrating with the cast and crew on set. They're the reason for the excellence of this show, and enough of it rubbed off on me to get me into this category. I also liked it when my mother told me she heard about it from her friends — made me look pretty damn cool.
Playing this role, I've learned: How much I relate to my character Jimmy McGill, especially his struggle to find where he belongs, and all the dead ends he slams into along the way. As a younger person, I had some very strong drives and felt pretty sure of where I belonged. Some of that has turned out, and there have been no lack of dead ends and surprises.
Couldn't get into character without: The hair! Easy question.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Talking to [co-star] Michael McKean about music or comedy. Pick either subject and it will be fascinating.
Coolest fan: My son! He's liked many of my comedy projects, but that's to be expected as I tend to do offbeat stuff. But I'm glad he's enjoying his dad doing some drama.
Dream TV role: The father in an American remake of the BBC show The Royle Family, originally played by Ricky Tomlinson. A great part — a difficult curmudgeon who is also a softie and who loves his family. And I would not have to diet or work out.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Stare at Skype and watch my dog back in L.A. sleeping on the couch.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Will Forte! Jon Hamm! Drunk History!
Must-watch TV: Last Man on Earth, Girls and Mom.
Three things always in my trailer: The book Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, a DVD of The Last Detail and another of Chinatown.
David Oyelowo, Nightingale (HBO)
Proudest moment: When HBO picked up the film after we'd shot it.
Playing this role, I've learned: I'm more of a method actor than I'd like to admit.
Couldn't get into character without: Tony Rooney, a clinical psychologist who helped navigate my character's mental state.
Funniest on-set moment: I stayed in character for the entire shoot, so when we wrapped, the crew wondered why I started to pretend to have an English accent.
Coolest fan: [Director] Kathryn Bigelow.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Cried.
Dream TV role: The Fonz.
Career plan B: Lawyer. It was my dad's plan A for me.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Play with my kids.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Don Cheadle.
Three things always in my trailer: Research books, granola bars and a Thermos flask.
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan (Showtime)
Proudest moment: Episode seven, which was the one I directed last season. The feeling of ensemble that I got from the cast and crew really lifted my spirits and made me feel like we jelled as a company.
Playing this role, I've learned: Start and finish the day, but don't bring it home. Ray's such a troubled guy that some of that stuff can get habitual. You gotta keep an eye on it. Fortunately, I have a very fun family at home and that helps.
Couldn't get into character without: A jacket. Ray is like Tavern on the Green — you have to have a jacket.
Funniest on-set moment: Naked night swimming was a bit of a shock to the system! What else do I have to say? I was naked, it was night and it was the Pacific Ocean. It would shock anybody's system — not to mention their unmentionables.
Favorite way to kill time on set: I like a good crossword puzzle and hanging with the cast. It's a pretty close company. We yak at each other, and the shenanigans that go on off-camera are the best.
Coolest fan: I once got a message from [producer] David Geffen. That was a real thrill. And this season my father called and said some sweet things that blew me away. I'm always self-conscious about anything I do, particularly around friends and family, so it was a big deal for me to hear from my father.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Put a down payment on a house for my mother.
Dream TV role: I was always envious of John Ritter on Three's Company. That seemed like a good gig. I'd take Mr. Roper though, too.
Career plan B: I briefly wanted to be an elevator operator and a dentist, but fortunately, I'm crap at both.
At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Jon Hamm. He's such a lovely guy and brought grace, dignity and loads of talent to Mad Men. So I'm secretly rooting for Jon. Or not so secretly anymore.
Three things always in my trailer: Coffee, nuts and a bottle of vodka in the freezer.
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent (Amazon)
Proudest moment: There was a scene in our pilot where we're all sitting around eating barbecue. We were very early into making the show and didn't know where it was going. But I remember saying, "This is really something." We've since had a number of moments like that. We call them "this is big" moments. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't say I'm the luckiest actor in the room. I'm 71 and have the role of a lifetime.
Playing this role, I've learned: That there's more of Jeffrey that I can bring to a role. Maura seems to me like a good friend, and like a good friend, she's beckoning more of me.
Couldn't get into character without: [Creator] Jill Soloway because Maura comes from her soul and her genius. Marie Larkin, my wig person, and Emma Burton, who does makeup. And the transgender consultants/producers — Rhys Ernst, Zachary Drucker and Jenny Boylan — who have led me and helped me on this wonderful path.
Favorite way to kill time on set: Sometimes I listen to music. I love to play the card game Hearts and I have an app for that. And sometimes I love just sitting and talking. This is the funniest group I've ever been with. Not only is the skill level high, but the humor level is through the roof.
Coolest fan: Norman Lear. He's the greatest — he invented the wheel! I got to meet him at an event, and I thanked him because praise from Caesar is high praise indeed.
When I got my first big check from acting, I: Every Friday in New York, check or no check, I'd go to a bookstore on Fifth Avenue and buy a hardbound book.
If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Adore it. I'm grateful for the ordinary. I love going shopping, and driving and picking up my kids. I just adore ordinary interactions with my family.
Three things always in my trailer: Ingredients for an Arnold Palmer, Werther's Originals and Advil Liqui-Gels for my arthritic knee.