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Emmys: The Very Best of This Year's Guest Stars Sound Off About Crashing TV's Biggest Shows

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's August Emmy stand-alone issue.

Dan Bucatinsky
James Novak, Scandal (ABC)

When we haven't seen each other for a few episodes, we talk a lot about the last time James and Cyrus [Jeff Perry] saw each other. We talk to the writers and fill in the blanks that have gone on offscreen; we try to play it as a real relationship and talk through the holes. Even if you're not seeing everything, that main character [Cyrus] comes home every night to see his husband and baby. Jeff and I talk about what has happened in the meantime -- the history and likely conversations they would have had. For the midseason finale, I rehearsed with Jeff and director Tom Verica for an hour the day before to set up that scene that came during the middle of the episode. Kerry Washington and the art department conspired to make fliers around set advertising a "Bare Naked Brawl" [for the scene where Perry and Bucatinsky have a nude confrontation] -- it was treated with respect and humor.

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Linda Cardellini
Sylvia Rosen, Mad Men (AMC)

I was divided [on guest starring], because from an actress' point of view, it's just a fantastic role, but on the other hand I'm a big fan of the show, and all of the shocking moments that I get to play as Sylvia really add up to a downward spiral for Don Draper, so as a fan you're watching Don's life unraveling. The secrecy is extended to the audience, but it's also extended to the actors as you join the show. I did not know how my part would evolve throughout the season, or if it would even be there for the majority of the season. It was exciting, and if you're going to put your fate into anyone's hands, it might as well be [showrunner] Matt Weiner's. The scenes I have are mainly with Jon [Hamm], and those are pretty intimate, so I wasn't exposed to the larger group as much as other people who come in and, say, work in the office. I had just had a baby, so they made special allowances for me to do what I needed to do in order to keep breastfeeding and pump on set, and I'm in period costume and someone was there to help me get in and out of my outfits.

Jane Fonda
Leona Lansing, The Newsroom (HBO)

You come on and everyone else knows each other, everybody knows the names of all the crew, and there's a rhythm and it's their home. And we're sort of invited interlopers that come in every now and then and don't know everyone's name. It's challenging to get into the rhythm, but on the other hand, it's fitting because the newsroom is just a tiny part of Leona's empire. It represents less than 3 percent of the bottom line, so it would be strange if Leona were there all the time. Objectively it makes sense; subjectively it's not the easiest thing to fit in as a guest star. I talk about Leona as being "a Rupert Murdoch marinated in Ted Turner." The fact that I spent 10 years with Ted at Turner Broadcasting, at CNN, watching the machinations and sitting in on things, and even spending time with Rupert, helped me feel comfortable in the role. It helps a lot that I experienced those kinds of things, in terms of my ability to feel that I can be her. I don't think that Leona is that different from me. I couldn't do what she does, but she is idealistic in some ways. She's not an activist, but I feel very close to her.

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Will Forte
Paul, 30 Rock (NBC)

There was a lot of SNL crossover, so it was a comfortable environment, like a second family. I had to wear G-string underwear once -- I don't know why, because it wasn't like I was only in a G-string. I think that was one of my first episodes, and they were trying to get me into character. That was … uncomfortable, to say the least. I couldn't see any piece of me under the makeup, so it did help me get immersed in the character. I'd have to shave my chest and arms and legs, and I have a bushy-chest situation, so it was kinda nice to take it down once in a while, but the hair-growing-back-in process was weird. The other pleasant thing was that every once in a while, when I would do the role and then take all the makeup off, a little bit of eyeliner would stay on there, so I would walk around and my eyes would really pop after I did the show, kinda like a rock-and-roll star. But I would never admit to deriving any sort of pleasure from that.

Rupert Friend
Peter Quinn, Homeland (Showtime)

I didn't read it on paper, and there was nothing saying, "CIA black ops." The whole process was as shrouded in mystery as the finished product. I was sent a single scene with no background, no character description, no character arc, no idea of where he was going and no job description. So I went on my own digging mission to find out, because they're a pretty cagey bunch, the Homeland lot, and they like to drip-feed the secrets, but if you go digging in the right places you can find things out. I was doing a play in London, so I sent them a tape of this single scene, and two weeks later I was standing on the set with Mandy Patinkin and Claire Danes. I didn't know I was a guest star until I was nominated -- that's the honest to God truth. I got a call from my agent and he said, "You've been nominated for an Emmy!" And I thought, "Oh, that's amazing!" So I got the champagne out of the fridge, and then he called back and said, "Sorry, man, I read it wrong. You haven't been nominated, the cast has." And so I sort of went, "That's sort of not quite as good, but still amazing and fantastic. Put the champagne back in the fridge, maybe." Five minutes later, he called back saying, "Sorry, man, it's really early in L.A. You have been nominated for best guest actor." I didn't realize that's what I was -- I guess I was a guest that stayed quite a bit of a long time. One of the [interrogation scene] takes we did, I ended up on the table sort of wrapped around Damian [Lewis], and Damian, without missing a beat, turns to the camera and goes, "Well, Peter Quinn has had an espresso!" He's also British, and the way we kind of make friends in Britain is to mock each other. And Mandy [Patinkin] is always pulling his pants down and singing. You can't do a day on set without seeing Mandy's bum and hearing a show tune, so it's not a serious set.

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Harry Hamlin
Jim Cutler, Mad Men (AMC)

When I go in as a guest star, particularly with a show with the track record of Mad Men, I try to have as low a profile as possible, because it's their show and I have great respect for that, so I basically try to be as professional as possible and not bump into the furniture. I didn't have any clue about who [Jim Cutler] was going in. The only tip I had was in the first scene, when Peggy describes me as "Roger with bad breath." I had actually read months before for another part, simply called "Swinger Boss" -- I think he appeared in an episode with his wife trying to get Don to go back to his apartment to do some swinging. My first read-through, Matt Weiner came up to me and said, "We normally don't hire anybody without reading the part, and we normally don't hire anybody with a profile." I took that as him saying, "You better live up to the task." I said to him, "I hope I can do it. I hope I can live up to your expectations." He looked at me and said, "Please don't say that." He assumed that I would have confidence going in, and his assumption that I would have confidence gave me confidence.

Nathan Lane
Pepper Saltzman, Modern Family (ABC); Clarke Hayden, The Good Wife (CBS)

My job is to become different people, and certainly there couldn't be anything more polar opposite from Pepper Saltzman than Clarke Hayden. That these two things happened around the same time, I really lucked out, and then the icing on the cake is being nominated for both. I'm not there often enough to create that intricate a backstory for dear old Pepper. Obviously he's very wealthy, and we don't quite know where his money comes from. When they give me a less flashy outfit, I'll go deeper. (Laughs.) There's such momentum, and those actors have a real rhythm going; they're all working at their peak. You don't want to screw up and you want to know your lines and do something interesting and fun, but certainly getting to work with all of them helps that. [The Good Wife's] Christine Baranski is a good friend of mine, and I'd met Julianna [Margulies] a few times socially, and it turned out to be another great working atmosphere. Michael Zinberg, who directed my first [Good Wife] episode, was extremely helpful about developing who [my character] was. They leave you these breadcrumbs in the script, and then the rest is you filling in the blanks. It's not only what he says, but also what he doesn't say. Ambiguity keeps people coming back for more, because you don't know which way it's going to go.

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Melissa Leo
Laurie, Louie (FX)

I knew that I was going to step out of my element. I had asked to see a handful of shows when Louis asked if I would join him, but I hadn't really been "Louie-fied." His autonomy that he has set up with that cast and crew allows for the script to never even go to network, so we just went and did it. All I could do was follow his lead, memorize his words, and have so much fun playing opposite him who was feeling just as shy and awkward as I was about the ridiculous things that he had written for us to do. So Louis is in charge, and he's running it like it's a little student film, and it's really well-oiled, so even though he's wearing many hats, while the DP was setting up we ran the words at brunch -- he and I just batted them back and forth. That was a great actor exercise that doesn't usually happen on a set, because by the time we got to filming we had done all of our giggling. I never thought the head-smash would work [Leo breaks her truck window with her head], and it has to happen! The gesture that was written on the page, something about her hand and it being something sexual, I wasn't sure what it was, so I sought the help of a good buddy of mine, an actor, and asked him what on earth was being asked in this gesture. It was hard, but I felt so very safe with [Louis], to walk with both feet on the ground, and this was just who I was for Tuesday.

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Dot-Marie Jones
Shannon Beiste, Glee (ABC)

People thought at first I was going to be really mean and tough because I went toe-to-toe with Jane [Lynch]'s character in my first episode, but by the end of that episode I was crying. To be tough and strong and yet still have all those vulnerabilities really surprised people, because it shows that it doesn't matter your size or what you look like, you don't know what somebody's going through in their private life. Matthew [Morrison] and I, I love our relationship on the show, and I like that they had me say that I was falling in love with him. In fact, that's the episode I'm nominated for this year. We just let our emotions come. [The new castmembers] are great kids. I'm a veteran of the show, of course, but those kids are there all the time. I wish I was there all the time.

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Margo Martindale
Claudia, The Americans (FX)

John Landgraf [FX president] and Graham [Yost, Justified and The Americans EP] wanted me to do this. I love FX, so it was a real joy and treat for me. Showrunners Joe [Weisberg] and Joel [Fields] are the nicest men in the world. Because I wasn't in the pilot, I don't know how Matthew [Rhys] and Keri [Russell] approached their roles. I asked Joe and Joel what my [character's] background was, and they explained these KGB agents were handpicked because of their incredible perception about people. And then I asked, "What should we sound like?" And they explained that we were drilled in American accents in Russia. It wasn't an easy part for me. It was a very buttoned-up, formal part. That's a different thing than I've ever done. I was trying very hard to talk as if the way I sounded wasn't exactly innate to me, so I was trying to overpronounce things. [Working with Russell] was like working with somebody I've known all my life. She's extremely down to earth, but we both knew how to play sinister.

Robert Morse
Bertram Cooper, Mad Men (AMC)

My phone rang at 6 in the morning, and I thought, "My house is on fire and my neighbors are calling me!" It was several people actually, calling to tell me I got nominated. I've been doing this for a while, so I don't feel like the new kid at school. I can't figure out why I'm being nominated for being a guest star, because I guess I've been a guest star for almost six years. Running around in the first season with just argyle socks and no shoes, and of course the wonderful makeup man, Ron Pipes, gives me the goatee and mustache, and the clothes that Janie [Bryant] gives me, so by the time you get through all of that, you develop an idea of how this chairman of the board walks and how he feels. At first you wonder why you're running around in argyle socks, and then you later see that you have a fetish for the Japanese way of life, and your office is completely decorated in Japanese artifacts. Everyone wants to know if I wear them when I'm not working on the show, and my answer is that the last time I wore argyle socks was when I played golf in the '50s.

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Bob Newhart
Arthur Jeffries (aka Professor Proton), The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

Chuck Lorre and I belong to the same country club and have been running into each other for some time. Chuck was a writer on Roseanne, and that was a few stages from ours and he'd come to our set at lunch and just sit there. He'd been after me for a while to do one of his shows, so this year he asked me what it would take. I had three requests: It has to be The Big Bang Theory, because that's the best written of all his shows; it has to be a recurring role -- three times rather than in once and out; and my scenes have to be shot in front of an audience because that's the only way I know how to do a show. I've done shows without an audience and it was so sterile; the writers don't write and actors don't act as well unless you have an audience. I don't know about the one-camera comedy shows -- I know they exist, but I don't know how you do it. There will be two more episodes next year. I have no interest in doing more than that. It's a young person's business; I had my run and it was great. I'm 84 and I still do stand-up, I'm up for the Emmy and I'm married 50 years. It doesn't get better than that.

Molly Shannon
Eileen, Enlightened (HBO)

Mike White [the series creator] and I went out for dinner one night, and he told me, "I'm writing this part for you, and you're going to play kind of a prim secretary," and I thought, "That sounds perfect!" When I read it I was just so excited, I love the way he writes. It's one thing to have him as a friend, but when he's your friend and he says that he's writing something for you, you feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Other than just being a fan of the show, I was like, "Oh my God! I can't believe that I work at Abaddon [the fictional company where Laura Dern's character works]! This is so crazy!" I felt comfortable immediately, probably because I knew so many people on the show, and they were so welcoming and so nice, I never felt like the "new kid." I love the scene with Mike [White] when we go back to his house and he asks me if I want to spend the night, and I say, "Look, I just don't want to get hurt, I don't want to deal with a jerk, or a dick." She's saying, "I like you, but I don't want this." It's my all-time favorite scene, ever, ever in my whole acting career! I just thought it was groundbreaking for me -- I love the fact that it's so real. So frequently you see the slick version in TV or movies, where people are hooking up and getting close, but this shows that intimacy can truly be scary, and that there is a time for her to get close to a few good people but she's petrified, and he's kind of scared, and it was beautiful.

Nominees not included: Bobby Cannavale, Joan Cusack, Michael J. Fox, Melissa McCarthy, Carrie Preston, Diana Rigg, Elaine Stritch, Justin Timberlake and Kristen Wiig.

Reported by Reagan Alexander, Lesley Goldberg and Rebecca Sun.