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Hollywood isn’t always kind to the elder statesmen of the acting world. Certainly, there are supporting roles as grandfathers or wise, consoling sages and sometimes even the crotchety old coot, but writers sometimes seem challenged by the notion of crafting characters over the half-century mark that have depth and personality.
Not so when it comes to made-for-TV movies and miniseries. Longform fiction isn’t just kind to older actors — it’s virtually a requirement that they have some years of experience if they intend to land any kind of Emmy nomination. The same age liability that seems to trip up well-lined, if venerable, faces in series scripted television proves a major asset come Primetime Emmy time. Look no further than this year’s nominees for lead actor in a miniseries or made-for-TV movie: They have a total of 26 nominations among them — and only one, Matthew Perry, is below the age of 50 (he just turned 38). And over in the supporting actor movie/mini category, there is just one “young” nominee: 47-year-old Thomas Haden Church.
Nor are they playing the expected roles; there’s barely a grandpa among the lot. Here’s a look at how the longform actor Emmy races appear to be shaping up.
Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Jim Broadbent, “Longford” (HBO)
Robert Duvall, “Broken Trail” (AMC)
William H. Macy, “Nightmares & Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King” (TNT)
Matthew Perry, “The Ron Clark Story” (TNT)
Tom Selleck, “Jesse Stone: Sea Change” (CBS)
It turns out that the guy with the fewest Emmy nominations in the category is poised as the favorite — that would be Broadbent. He’s widely respected as an actor’s actor and has been roundly praised for his work as a lord who tirelessly supports a notorious British murderess in “Longford.” This is only his second nod, with Broadbent looking for his first win. (He already has an Oscar from his one and only nomination — for “Iris” in 2002.)
His chief competition comes from the legendary Duvall, a six-time Oscar nominee (winning in 1984 for “Tender Mercies”) and four-time Emmy nominee seeking his first Emmy win. That’s right: The man who was nominated for “Lonesome Dove” in 1989 and “Stalin” in 1993 hasn’t yet walked away victorious. Not that it particularly bothers him. “I don’t think you can ever really figure how these awards things are gonna go,” Duvall says. “Getting nominated is a huge honor in itself, really it is. I’m just so proud of the work and the project, and that’s what counts. I mean, I so love to do Westerns, and you just don’t get much of a chance anymore.”
Of the five contenders, only seven-time nominee Selleck and nine-timer Macy have won before — Selleck in 1984 for “Magnum, P.I.” and Macy for both acting and writing in 2003 for TNT’s “Door to Door.” Selleck could be a dark horse here in that he continues to engender a wealth of affection from the Hollywood community, having carved out a rare telefilm franchise niche with his Jesse Stone character.
As for Perry, it’s significant that he has escaped the shadow of his “Friends” alter ego, Chandler Bing, to earn an honor for such a serious role, portraying a small-town teacher who embraces the challenge of working in an inner-city school. “Matthew had read a lot of scripts by the time he’d gotten around to ours,” says “Ron Clark Story” executive producer Brenda Friend. “He wanted to distance himself from Chandler and that association and was looking at a bunch of things to take his career to the next level. We were fortunate that he chose us. He turns in phenomenal work that very much would justify an Emmy.”
Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie
Edward Asner, “The Christmas Card” (Hallmark Channel)
Thomas Haden Church, “Broken Trail” (AMC)
Joe Mantegna, “The Starter Wife” (USA Network)
Aidan Quinn, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (HBO)
August Schellenberg, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” (HBO)
Two of the contenders — Church and Schellenberg (who portrayed Sitting Bull in “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”) — are first-time Emmy nominees. Mantegna is still looking for his first win for this, his third nomination. Quinn’s nom is his second; he was previously nominated for the NBC made-for-TV movie “An Early Frost” in 1986.
Then there is Asner, one of the most-honored performers in Emmy history with 16 nominations and seven wins to date. (Only Carl Reiner, with a total of nine statuettes, has more Emmys.) However, the last time Asner got a nomination was in 1992 for “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill.” His last win? That would be 1980 for “Lou Grant.” He is surely a long shot this time, but this race could go anywhere.
Quinn would have to be seen as a modest favorite if for no other reason than he had a key role in a high-profile project, though one also could say the same for Schellenberg. And Church could well still be riding the wave of respect generated by his 2005 Oscar nomination for “Sideways.”
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