Bill Hader, Kit Harington, Jharrel Jerome and 15 Other Emmy-Nominated Actors Reveal Favorite Scenes and On-Set Rituals

1:15 PM 8/16/2019

by Kirsten Chuba, Emma Dibdin, Sharareh Drury, Daniel Fienberg, Pete Keeley, Hilary Lewis , Lexy Perez, Rick Porter, Lacey Rose, and Josh Wigler

Don Cheadle, Ted Danson, Benicio Del Toro, Eugene Levy, Bob Odenkirk, Milo Ventimiglia and more leading men share how they came to understand their character and what they've learned along the way.

From left: Kit Harington, Don Cheadle, Bob Odenkirk and Sterling K. Brown
From left: Kit Harington, Don Cheadle, Bob Odenkirk and Sterling K. Brown
Courtesy of Networks

  • Mahershala Ali

    'True Detective' (HBO)

    Warrick Page

    Mahershala Ali gives not one, not two, but three riveting performances on season three of HBO's True Detective as Arkansas state police officer Wayne Hays. Set against an Ozarks backdrop, Hays' story begins in 1980 as the detective looks into the disappearance of two children. Audiences follow Hays for more than three decades (the '80s, the '90s and finally in 2015), witnessing a romance blossom but then a marriage crumble as a career with high hopes also deteriorates. 

    Ali had been a fan of the HBO drama since season one, but never thought he'd star on it. "When this show came out, I was in a very different place in my career. I literally said, 'Man, I would love to be on True Detective,' " he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I've been working for 19 years now, so for this to be my first lead for a show, with a writer like Nic Pizzolatto, was a dream come true." The Emmy nominee (and two-time Oscar winner) spoke to THR about how he crafted his character with help from prosthetic makeup designer Michael Marino.

    Read the full interview here.

  • Anthony Anderson

    'Black-ish' (ABC)

    ABC/Kelsey McNeal

    When you've been playing the same character for a number of years, how do you still keep finding new notes to work with?

    Life and experience give us that. In everyday life, nothing is ever the same — even though you may have a routine, that routine changes every day. That's how we're able to find these nuances and these new beats as these characters. Every day is a different day.

    Do you have any rituals or music to help you get into the mind-set of your character?

    It's music. That's how I get motivated. I'll start out leaving my house with something inspirational, and after I've had my inspirational moment, it becomes really ratchet. Then I'm hyped to get my day started, and I carry that into the hair and makeup trailer and then onto the set. It's a big party once I get there.

    Have you earmarked any props or clothes to take home whenever the show ends?

    All of the fly stuff that you see on the show, I try to get my hands on at the end of the season. [Dre's] sneaker collection is kind of based on my life, so the sneakers we leave here — with the exception of a couple of exclusives that get sent to the show that I may not have. The clothes, at the end of every season, I go through the wardrobe department and pick out a few things to bring home with me.

    Was there anyone from your show who wasn't recognized that you think should have been?

    Tracee Ellis Ross. It's because of her that I get nominated every year. She pushes me and forces me to work my ass off as an actor. 

  • Jason Bateman

    'Ozark' (Netflix)

    Jessica Miglio/Netflix

    How did working on season two compare to the first season?

    It's a full year more in the groove, and understanding the kind of show that everybody wants to be making. Everyone was really excited about the kind of response we got, because sometimes you do jobs and you're not sure whether it's going to connect to an audience and kind of just stay in a bubble.

    How have you seen your character Marty evolve over the two seasons?

    He seems to be getting a little more aware of what his limitations are and what his strengths are. And fortunately for him, the areas where he's lacking there are people around him — namely his wife — who are helping keep everything afloat. In the second year we saw that there are two oars in the water to get this boat to safety but they ended up traveling into some choppy waters, and in this third year the escalations keep coming.

    My favorite scene or line of dialogue from this season was …

    I think my favorite moment from season two was when all of the departments came together with the final sequence of the season; where the writers brought all of the storylines together and the camera department and the music and the actors and production design kind of coalesced and landed the plane, for me, just as a viewer of the show, in a really satisfying way. I was really excited when I read the script, and ultimately when I saw it all put together, I was really happy with the way it all turned out and got fairly close to what I had planned. You never really know — you can think and hope for something, but you're really reliant on everyone bringing their best stuff. I'm just very lucky that everyone knows how to deliver and chooses to deliver on this show.

    Ozark landed nine Emmy noms, including acting and directing for you. What was your reaction to hearing that?

    It’s really exciting to get recognition for all of the work that goes into it, and while both of those are individual awards, I think everyone understands that this isn’t a one-man stand-up comedy special where you’re up there all by yourself and writing your own lines and dictating your own performance. As a director you’re completely beholden to the crew you pull together and the cast, so it was great to get recognition for everybody and it was nice to be on set when the nominations came in. I think last year I was in Los Angeles, but this year we were all together so it was a fun team thing.

    Was there anyone from your show who wasn't recognized that you think should have been?

    That's a question that's completely impossible for me to answer. In my opinion, there's not anyone on the show who's not worthy of recognition, because everybody is working absolutely as hard as they can. There's a great work ethic on the show and I just couldn't be prouder of everybody.

  • Sterling K. Brown

    'This Is Us' (NBC)

    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    How has the show changed since you started?

    All of the children are older, and I'm reminded of Lost when Walt had to be kicked off the island because he just didn't look the same age as he was supposed to. I look around at all of the young versions of Randall and Kevin and Kate and watch them grow up in front of my eyes, and I look at Déjà and Tess and Annie — the actors that play them — and I'm like, my goodness, these ladies just keep growing day in and day out, it's kind of amazing.

    How have you seen Randall evolve over the course of the show?

    I love Randall, man. What I loved about season three was for the first couple of seasons, people had this idea that he was perfect, besides his social anxiety that he battles with and trying to make peace with always wanting to be perfect. But [this season], some people would consider some of his actions to be selfish in regards to placing his own job and what he thought was important above what was important for his wife. In my mind, I thought he was trying to do what was best for his family — but what I loved overall was people were upset, and I have no problem with people being upset.

    My favorite scene or line of dialogue from this season was …

    When Tess comes out to her parents. I remember going into the writers room and telling [creator] Dan Fogelman, "Man, I think we just did one of the most important scenes our show has ever done," because it was a pleasure and privilege to portray that level of grace with your child coming out to you. And then I’ll say, Susan [Kelechi Watson] and I talked about this when we were shooting it — when we went back in time on the episode arc to shoot Randall and Beth’s wedding, with my baggy tuxedo on and her very beautiful but simple wedding dress — when we shot it, Sue and I were both like, “Sue, I think we just got married.” And I really had to go home and tell my wife, “Ryan, don’t be mad, but I think I’m married to two people now.” She’s like, “I got you bro, whatever you gotta say.” But it was so meaningful and felt so real, and the extra who played the minister was a minister in real life, and we jumped the broom the same way my wife and I jumped the broom 12 years ago. I did this thing where I said, “I’m not going to look at you until we shoot the scene,” so I did crazy stuff like avert my eyes, close my eyes and not look her in the face as we would run lines with each other, and then I opened my eyes and saw her in this wedding dress, and I was like, “Oh my God, look at my beautiful wife.”

    Was there anyone from your show who wasn't recognized that you think should have been?

    I would’ve loved to see Susan get a nomination. I thought she was extraordinary and so much of last year was about the relationship between Randall and Beth. I’m so appreciative of the honor of being recognized, but it would’ve been doubly sweet if we got a chance to share in that night together. Not to take anything away from Mandy and Milo and for Sully [Chris Sullivan], it’s such a huge thing. I called him on the phone and he was like, “What the fuck?” But it was dope. We got seven acting nominations and we’re on network television and to be recognized, it’s cool for us to be continuously in this conversation, but if Sue had been in there that would’ve been great.

  • Don Cheadle

    'Black Monday' (Showtime)

    Erin Simkin/SHOWTIME

    What's next for Mo, after losing everything in the finale?

    Well, he has a duffel bag full of money, but something tells me that's going to go pretty quick. I always say Mo's like a gambler, and guys like that get more fulfillment from taking risks than they do from knowing they have a hammer lock on the hand. You ask them about their big wins, they don't remember them, but they remember all the times that they lost a ton of money, and how that fueled them. It's the clawing back that's the fun part.

    How did being betrayed by Dawn (Regina Hall) and Blair (Andrew Rannells) affect him?

    I think he's actually proud of the little monsters he's created. They've learned well! There's pride, beneath obviously feeling betrayed and gutted. It's also not completely unexpected — when you play games like Mo does, it's going to come back to bite you in the ass at some point.

    The show features some incredibly un-PC humor. How did you figure out where to draw the line?

    There were so many jokes that we threw away where I was like, "Yeah, I'm not going to say that." So much of it was just trying to out-shock each other and the writers were throwing in a ton of Jewish jokes, and I was like, "Nope, not doing those!" It was always a balancing act.

    My favorite scene or line of dialogue from this season was …

    In the pilot, where Mo is going on about his Lamborghini limo and Blair says, "So you get neither the comfort of the limousine or the speed of a sports car?" And Mo says, "Yeah, but it costs twice as much as both." That kind of logic is my favorite stuff in the whole show.

    Was there anyone from your show who wasn't recognized that you think should have been?

    Our writers, our pilot directors Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg], Regina, Andrew, Paul [Scheer], Casey [Wilson] … Even though the show was only nominated in this one category, we all know that it's only possible for certain things to be singled out when everything is at a certain level. If the show was trash, if it wasn't strong across the board, then I wouldn't be here. 

  • Ted Danson

    'The Good Place' (NBC)

    Colleen Hayes/NBC

    Do you prefer playing Good or Bad Michael?

    I prefer the playing of seasons two, three and four. The first season was wonderfully bright, brilliant storytelling, but I was very one-dimensional because you could not learn something about me other than what's related to some scene that I popped into, or else it would have given everything away.

    What has The Good Place taught you about ethics and morals?

    I love the example of: With a barista, you make sure she or he is looking at you when you put your $20 bill in the jar. So it's not this anonymous, selfless tip. It's full of ego. I'm noticing — it could be the show, it could be my age, it could be whatever lessons in life — that I've always been good at talking the talk and I am finding it much more satisfying to try to walk the walk more in life.

    Do you have any rituals or music to help you get into the mind-set of your character?

    It's quite simple: I tie my bow tie and I am there.

    What's one prop you wish you could take from the show?

    Probably would have to take the peacock bow tie that I wore on the first day. 

  • Benicio Del Toro

    'Escape at Dannemora' (Showtime)

    Wilson Webb/Showtime

    Do you have any rituals or music to help you get into the mind-set of your character?

    Not necessarily to get into his mind-set because I don't know what kind of music he would have been listening to or would make him who he was, but I'd listen to music for myself. We were on the set when the news came out that Tom Petty had passed away, so we started listening to Tom Petty.

    What does that do for you — clear your head so you can focus?

    Yeah, it kind of relaxes me. Music can also pump you up for the next day of work. It gives you guts.

    What was one of your most challenging scenes?

    The challenge was with what the writers and [director] Ben [Stiller] were trying to do. Usually with a bad criminal, when they look at themselves in the mirror, they don't really see the truth of who they are. Episode six was kind of like a mirror of truth for the audience, where the artist will show the truth about the character. The scripts, up to that point, were kind of showing the human side of my character. For the most part he’s a manipulator, and there are some lies here and there. It just becomes evil in episode six, and I thought the challenge was to play the human side with an edge, so that in episode six, when that truth comes out, it doesn't come out of nowhere.

    My favorite scene or line of dialogue from the show was …

    Perhaps that scene when we get out of the manhole. That scene I thought was hard to shoot, but I think it worked within the episode. I was surprised, let me put it that way, that it worked and that people reacted to that scene. [The characters are] free, and they're basically trapped within themselves.

    This is your first TV project in a long time. Do you think you'll do more TV work after this?

    When I first started, most of the TV movies were kind of B-movie versions. The support, creativity and budget were not at a high level. That has changed completely. When I got involved with this, Showtime was 100 percent committed to something very much like a movie, and the budget was like a movie budget and the support was completely like what I have experienced when it comes to movies, so basically it was like doing a long movie, and that's exciting for the actors and filmmakers. Showtime got really behind Ben's vision and the script that was, in many ways, very subtle. Times have changed, and, for me, there was no difference between shooting a movie and shooting Escape at Dannemora. My approach to it was not any different than when I work on a movie.

  • Bill Hader

    'Barry' (HBO)

    Aron Epstein/HBO

    All five of your main castmembers were nominated for Emmys. That's a unique conversation on nomination morning.

    Oh yeah, I was really happy. With so much television on right now and so many great performances, to get singled out is a massive honor. But in my head I'm more just thinking, what happens next on the show?

    Any underappreciated actors that you want to make regulars in season three so they can get a nomination?

    (Laughs.) You don't want to say that because then it's not about their performance. Everyone we hired, read. Stephen, Henry, they all had to audition, and they were all the best people for the job. The nice thing about season two is that [now] they all kind of understand their characters better than we do, so they're telling us where the stuff needs to go, or saying "I'm not sure NoHo Hank would do that" or "Sally would do this," and we'd make it a discussion. And also, I am fans of all of them, and as a fan you want to see new [dimensions], you know? I want to see NoHo Hank not be funny in a scene and just be hard-core like he was in the first episode in season two when he goes after Barry and says, "I'm going to kill everybody if you don't do what I say." (Laughs.)

    Any particular reason you submitted the sixth episode, "The Truth Has a Ring to It," for consideration?

    I don't really go back and watch them. I asked Alec and Alec said, "I really like you in six." "Oh, OK." I think Alec really liked the scene when Henry is talking to me and he is saying, "[Sally's] husband was a violent person, you're not." I'm terrible at this stuff; I just leave it up to other people to decide about me.

    As a good actor is it hard to play a bad actor?

    People ask me this a lot and I don't know the answer. We all have to do it on this show; you are just kind of projecting bad acting on each scene. And usually for Barry it is just being timid. It's hard to pinpoint. But I do remember Alec being very happy with my reaction to when Cousineau says, "Good job" [after Barry plays a scene with Sally]. I remember Alec going, "Oh my God, that's so dark!" He goes, "because you are happy but you are also conflicted in a weird way because you had to use when you murdered his girlfriend to get that reaction."

    Do you know how many people Barry shot in the finale?

    No. [Alec and I] had dinner the week after the last episode aired, and I said, "I got to be honest: I don't know what happens next," and Alec went, "Yeah, me neither." We said the same thing at the end of season one, too, so I don't know. So, when people call and they go, "Hey, the Emmys!" and everything, it's so nice and so gratifying and I am so happy that Anthony and Sarah and Stephen got nominated. That was the best part of our morning, you know. Usually the next thought after that subsides is, "Jesus, I don't know what season three is!" When you say Barry to me there is always lingering anxiety there. 

    If the show goes on for eight seasons at least Jessie will get her own Kill Bill episode.

    A lot of people have pitched ways on how the little girl comes back, and I think it makes Alec and me a little like, "Well now we can't do that because people have thought of it!" You might never see her or she might come back. I will probably put that on the whiteboard: "Lily. What happened with her?" What do you think? Where is she? Does she come back? Do we need her to come back? And it might not be until way down the road in another season when you go, "If Lily were here that would be interesting."

    Did you have a favorite line of dialogue from this season that comes to mind?

    I liked when our actor Troy [Caylak], he plays this character Akhmal, said to Hank, "If I suck balls then you're the king of suck-balls mountain!" It was supposed to be, "If I'm shit then you're the king of shit mountain," and Anthony Carrigan improvised "suck balls," so Troy but had no choice but to substitute it. 

    Who would you nominate from Barry that isn't nominated already?

    I would say Paula Huidobro our DP, she didn't get nominated and I thought she should have. She did an amazing job.

  • Kit Harington

    'Game of Thrones' (HBO)

    Helen Sloan/HBO

    What were your initial thoughts when you learned the scope of Jon Snow's ending?

    I hadn't read the scripts for the final season until the table read. I wanted to hear them around the table, without having read anything first. I sat on a plane next to Emilia on the way to the read-through in Belfast, and she had read them already, and se was like, "Shit, Kit. You are in for some surprises." That piqued my interest. (Laughs.) I didn't realize what was going to happen the whole way through until maybe half a page before Jon kills Dany. I remember my mouth dropping open and looking across Emilia at the table, who was slowly nodding as I went, "No, no, no!" It was a "holy fuck" moment, pardon my language. Jaw dropping. I was completely surprised by it, even though you can kind of see the path through the season of how it was getting there — and even the previous couple of seasons before that, once you can look back. But it was still a big shock to me.

    What do you remember about filming the final scene between Jon and Daenerys?

    We felt a sense of responsibility over it. We shot the hell out of it. It was essentially a page and a half of dialogue, and we spent three weeks filming it. They wanted to shoot every conceivable angle, every way, to make sure they got it the way they wanted it. When you're shooting the same scene for two weeks and it's a page and a half, it becomes a long exercise in concentration. You have to remember the energy you're bringing in, every day, and making sure it's consistent. With a highly emotionally charged scene like that, it's quite a lot, for everyone — the crew, me and Emilia. It was tiring. It's one of the hardest things we filmed.

    How did you come to terms with Jon's decision to assassinate Daenerys, and allowing yourself the ability to accept the choice?

    It's that horrible conflict in a relationship: "Do I stay or do I go?" We've all been through it at some point … except this one involves a knife. (Laughs.) So, the stakes are even higher. But that's the way I looked at it: "Do I leave my lover?" It was the same kind of thing between Jon and Ygritte [Rose Leslie] earlier in the series, betraying someone he loves for the greater good. But what it really comes down to, the real crux of it, is the decision is made when she puts it between her and his family. Jon essentially sees it as Daenerys or Sansa and Arya, and that makes his mind up for him. He choose blood over, well, his other blood. But he chooses the people he has grown up with, the people his roots are with, the North. That's where his loyalties lie in the end. That's when he puts the knife in.

    From the start, at its heart, Game of Thrones is an exploration of family — what you're born into, what you can leave and what you can't help but keep. Jon Snow was a key avatar of those questions, given his origin as a "bastard," and his role as both Stark and Targaryen. What do you think Jon's choice — killing Daenerys to protect the Starks — tells us about the series' key theme of family?

    It was said a long time ago, and I agree with it, that Thrones really is about dysfunctional families. It's about mothers, brothers and sisters, but it's also about how far your blood will stretch in your decision making. That's the ultimate choice Jon is left with. He's faced with someone he loves as his lover — who he is related to — but his loyalty is with the people and the part of the world where his roots are, the people who raised him. As much as he was an outcast from that group as a bastard, and even though Jon became the legitimate heir to the throne, he will always be of the North. He'll always be a bastard of the North. He's always done the honorable thing, and Tyrion [Peter Dinklage] appeals to that: "Do the honorable thing. Do the right thing. Do the hard thing, but do the right thing." At the end of it, it's beyond honor for Jon. It's his family.

    Your final scene doubles as the final scene of the series: Jon Snow leading the Free Folk back into the true North. How did you read that final moment?

    I loved it. When I read it, that bit really made me cry. What really made me cry was on the paper: "End of Game of Thrones." But as far as an ending for Jon Snow, this character that I loved for so many years and had grown so close to, and had meant so much to me … seeing him go beyond the Wall back to something true, something honest, something pure with these people he was always told he belongs with — the Free Folk — it felt to me like he was finally free. Instead of being chained and sent to the Wall, it felt like he was set free. It was a really sweet ending. As much as he had done a horrible thing [in killing Daenerys], as much as he had felt that pain, the actual ending for him was finally being released.

    In the spirit of pain, how painful was it to film the dragon-riding scenes this season, and how much of a different experience was it to film the sprawling battles of "The Long Night" as opposed to something like "Battle of the Bastards" in season six? Completely different animals?

    Completely. I was on the back of that buck [the rig used for filming the dragon-riding scenes] for longer than we filmed the entire "Battle of the Bastards." Emilia had been moaning about it for seasons, and I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. You have not been through the mud in Northern Ireland. A buck in a nice warm room? Boo hoo." But she was absolutely right. It was horrific. It's not acting at all. It is not acting, it never will be acting, and it is not what I'd signed up for. (Laughs.) But it looked great, right? It just felt horrible! It is very uncomfortable as a man.

    Not recommended?

    Not recommended, no. I don't think I can have children now. (Laughs.) I loved "The Long Night." I loved working with [Miguel Sapochnik], one of my favorite directors I have ever worked with. As tough as it was, it was Thrones, man. It was Thrones! It was everything Thrones should have been. It's a full set built, hundreds of extras throwing everything they had into it, all of us as a big ensemble cast — I loved it. I hated it at the time, but I love it, looking back on it. I have some really fond memories of that whole experience.

    Many fans were shocked when Arya (Maisie Williams) killed the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) instead of Jon Snow. What was your reaction when you saw how it would play out?

    I was a bit pissed off, only because I wanted to kill the Night King! I think I felt like everyone else did, in that it had been set up for a long time, and then I didn't get to do it. But I was so happy for Maisie and Arya. I was secretly like, "I wanted to do that!" Especially because I love fighting with Vlad, who also played the White Walker I fought at Hardhome. I've never seen a better swordsman. But it was a really great twist, and it tied up Maisie's journey in a really beautiful way. Over the seasons, we've seen her build up these skills to become this hardened assassin, and she uses it all to kill our main antagonist. 

    Any thoughts on the fan theory that Jon shouted Arya on and encouraged her to kill the Night King, or is it just flatly ridiculous?

    Yeah, come on. What, the big man goes and tells the little girl to go and [do it]? No thanks. That's crap. She did it all on her own. It had nothing to do with Jon.

    Favorite line of dialogue of the season?

    It's not mine, but it's when Jon and Sansa are talking about Daenerys. I say, "She's not her father." Sansa responds: "No, she's far prettier."

    Did you have any rituals to get into the mindset of Jon Snow while you were shooting — any music you would play before getting on set?

    No, I think I used to back in seasons one and two. I would hype myself up into it. But in reality, like so much in Thrones, the art department does it for you. I'm not taking away from how I got into the character, but every day, I have these layers and layers of leather and costume on, and the weight of it would give me that feeling of the character. It's a serious answer to what's supposed to be a lighthearted question, I'm sure, but did I listen to any music? Yes: "We Are Family" by Chic.

    Is there a prop or costume from Thrones you wish you could have kept?

    I'm still hoping for my sword! But they don't seem to be sending it to me. I'm still waiting, let's put it that way way. I'm still waiting for my sword, HBO! When is it going to arrive?

  • Jared Harris

    'Chernobyl' (HBO)

    Liam Daniel/HBO

    You've been asked a couple times about your memories of being in England in 1986 when the disaster happened, and how you recalled it being a fairly big story when Russia had to admit what had occurred, but that it also faded from the news pretty quickly despite the ongoing danger.

    I don't remember it being in the news a long time. I remember the cloud [of radiation], and I remember being very concerned about that but once the cloud had passed over it sort of faded from people's consciousness. What we weren't aware of is that it was continuing to spew toxic material up into the atmosphere. Depending on which way the wind was blowing, it was coming down on you. There were sporadic stories about the different attempts they were having to try and put it out. And then of course all of the alarmist theories. Because that movie The China Syndrome had come out there was this sort of theory that theoretically a runaway nuclear reactor could burn its way through its containment shield and burn its way into the Earth's core. In the absence of any information, people will make a lot of stuff up. I don't remember there being a lot of it on the news, but people were starting to spread around misinformation. There was a lot of talk about Nostradamus as well at the time, that he predicted this event, and suddenly there was a whole resurgence and interest in Nostradamus. People were buying their Nostradamus and reading it and coming up with all sorts of theories.

    You've portrayed several real-life people — a few kings, a president — but is there anything different about portraying a real-life person who is not well-known? Like going forward, in many people's minds, Jared Harris' Valery Legasov will be inseparable from the real Valery Legasov.

    Not really. I suppose what you're asking is, do I feel an extra sense of responsibility since if you're playing John Lennon or Henry VIII — several versions of them have already been put out. Actually, interestingly enough, I felt the most responsibility when I was playing Ulysses S. Grant because the research I did on him, I realized how completely bastardized, misunderstood, mischaracterized, slandered he's been by historians through the ages. His reputation has been slaughtered, absolutely slaughtered largely, over the post-Civil War period, Reconstruction. You have to do the same work, you have to do the same research whenever you're playing a historical character. At the end of the day, you always come back to the script and the version of the character that you're telling is the version in the script that the writers and directors have decided upon telling. In this particular case, the Valery Legasov in the story we tell is accurate, it's authentic to his story. But in terms of his personality, I suspect it was different. Craig [Mazin, the creator] needed a different relationship. I needed to operate in contrast to Stellan [Skarsgard]'s character. I needed to occupy a different space to Stellan. Stellan represented a more traditional Soviet male, that sort of alpha, confident Russian character.

    Were you surprised at all how big the series got? It seemed to be appointment viewing for pretty much everyone.

    You can't plan for that. You don't know that's going to happen. You don't know what the zeitgeist is going to be 18 months or two years from now when you're planning on making something or starting to shoot something. I think everyone was confident about the show, the material, the quality of it, the success of it, but in the way that it broke out and became this global phenomenon and global sensation that impacted so many people and became something that really doesn't happen that often anymore, which is a water cooler show. It took a long time for Game of Thrones for impact people in that way. It was several seasons into it before it had that kind of appeal across the board and impact and was part of the cultural conversation, in many many countries. So in that sense, it was a real surprise that it took off that way. That certainly wasn't an expectation of anybody when we started. When we put it out there, we knew it was good, but when saw that the numbers came in for the second weekend and they were bigger in the third weekend and suddenly it was being picked up in conversations and Twitter feeds in several countries and it had kind of become an international conversation.

    There was that story about a Russian network announcing their own series on Chernobyl to "counter the narrative" or whatever.

    That's the tail end of that conversation. The beginning part of that is that [our show] was incredibly well received in Russian media, by the Russian audience, by the Russian reviewers and critics. In fact, there was criticism of their own domestic filmmaking. The question was, why is it an American company, an American program showing so successfully what life was like under the old Soviet regime. I think that's the criticism that stung and that's where the state media stepped into the conversation and tried to roll back that narrative. 

    I also recall a debate over whether it made the Soviet people look bad, which I didn't think it did at all.

    I never thought that it made them look bad. It made the Soviet state look bad, which of course is a completely different state than the Russian state as it currently exists — or supposedly. It happened in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians and Belarusians, they come out very well. They are rightfully lauded as making heroic sacrifices.

    What was your favorite line of dialogue?

    "Why worry about something that's not going to happen?" "That's perfect, we should put that on our money."

    Is there a prop or costume you wish you could have kept from the set?

    Did you see the show?! One of the things you can definitely say about this show is Vanity Fair isn't going to do a Chernobyl fashion shoot. I quite often keep glasses from shows that I've done but I didn't keep any. I had the most uncomfortable pair of shoes, so not those. The suits, I look like an unmade bed. I kept a copy of the report, Shcherbina's report, in Russian, that had the section where in episode two, he realizes that something is much more seriously wrong with the accident than they realize. Before he goes into the Kremlin to meet Gorbachev for the first time. I kept that prop.

    I'm always fascinated by projects where everyone smokes because all the actors smoke differently, in the way that they use the cigarettes in their performances. How do you approach smoking as an actor?

    You can't smoke real cigarettes on set, they don't allow you to do that. You have to smoke cloves, herbal cigarettes that taste disgusting. You struggle to keep them lit. If you're not puffing on them fairly regularly they go out in the middle of the scene and then you have to cut and do it again. That's why a lot of the time you see that people who are smoking seem like they're completely addicted because they're sucking on that cigarette as if their life depended on it, but it's actually just to keep the bloody thing lit throughout the take! If you know that you're smoking, sometimes directors really like that and DPs love it because it gives them an excuse to put the smoke in so you can see their lighting. Directors like if you light it as well because it's atmospheric and it gives them options. I became aware in my scenes with Emily [Watson] that because of the way our relationship is structured, which is that there's a sort of undercurrent of these are the two smartest people in the room, so there's a slight edge of competition between them, he initially feels a competitive edge about her presence and about her involvement and about her knowledge, so one of the things you do in those situations is you deflect. And you can deflect, you can disconnect with what somebody's saying by lighting a cigarette. But then of course I was becoming aware of that, so I tried not to do that too often because it's also distracting and it means that you can't be standing there watching somebody talk and then cut back to yourself and suddenly you've got a lit cigarette. You're imposing a certain condition upon the editor: They have to show you lighting that cigarette, otherwise where the hell did that cigarette come from? That also means you can be aware of it because it can be an ungenerous thing to do to suddenly lighting a cigarette during the important part of what the other person is doing or saying. You have to be conscious of things like that.

    Huh.

    You didn't think of that! (Laughs.) You didn't think you were gonna get that answer when you asked that question!

  • Hugh Grant

    'A Very English Scandal' (Amazon)

    Kieron McCarron/BBC pictures

    Why did now feel like the right time for this story?

    I think it is quite timely, but it's always a good time to remind people how venal and shallow politicians are.

    How was it for you to take on a TV show after doing movies for so long?

    I had been a bit snobby about TV for the best part of 25 years, I always clung to the glamour of cinema. But seeing as there isn't much glamour anymore in cinema, I might as well forget that. And as we all well know, the best writing is in television, so my mind is really open to TV now.

    What's one prop you wish you could take from the show?

    In a way, Thorpe's trousers. I miss them because he wore extremely old-fashioned trousers, the way my father still wears them to this day, which is the waistband somewhere up near the nipples, and then what you'd call suspenders and we'd call braces. It feels very strange when you first put them on, but you soon get to love it.

    Was there anyone from your show who wasn't recognized that you think should have been?

    Lots of people but especially Alex Jennings, who plays [Liberal MP Peter] Bessell, who is just one of the great actors we’ve ever had in Britain, I think. He was brilliant in The Crown and brilliant in our thing, I think, as well.

  • Jharrel Jerome

    'When They See Us' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    What is one key thing you learned from working with director Ava DuVernay?

    Ava taught me so many things. It's almost impossible to pick one key thing. But she really taught me how to respect the role I'm playing and how to really embody a character rather than trying to just play them. Parts of it is playing. But her one directorial note for me as Korey Wise was, "You're not going to be Korey Wise, because no one can ever be Korey Wise. But it's about embodying him and it's about finding those things that help you embody him."

    You're the only one who played your character from childhood into adulthood. How has portraying Korey changed how you work as an actor?

    It's definitely the most intense acting experience I've ever had to do. Korey took a lot of physical work and vocal work to kind of get into his body. Doing When They See Us was a big master class for me and my craft and my passion. It fuels me to try to do it even better next time and try to make sure that no matter what I do, every role I play means the world to me and I will do whatever I can to bring it justice.

    Who are you looking forward to seeing or meeting at the Emmys?

    I'm excited to see Mahershala Ali [who co-starred with Jerome in Moonlight] and kind of speak to him on a level that is similar to his in a way. I'm so inspired by him. I'm so moved by him. So, I'm going to feel very proud to be able to come up to him and say, "Hey, we're in the same category, dude." That's going to be pretty dope.

  • Bob Odenkirk

    'Better Call Saul' (AMC)

    Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

    Do you ever look back on how you played Saul on Breaking Bad and ponder how you might have played him differently if you knew about him then what you know now?

    Well, the one or two moments where Saul showed some humanity in him, which is to say he showed some Jimmy McGill, I think I played him right. It would have been nice if I'd known, because I think I would have sunk into them a little deeper, because I would know that that's really who he is too, as well inside, and instead of just seeing it as I did at the time, as "Well, even shitty guys are human beings sometimes," he really is to me, he's more Jimmy than he is Saul. Saul is a persona and it's one that he's defiantly wearing, as an angry response to disappointment and feeling judged by the world. And I don't think it's a satisfying enough person to be, for the character who we know of as Jimmy McGill.

    You're currently about halfway through production on the fifth season. How would you characterize it tonally, compared to where we've been?

    It's out of control, it's out of control. The Death Star has blown up, and it's shattering in every direction. And it's fucking awesome. I can't wait for people to see season five. I am so thankful that we've gotten this attention for season four, especially for Michael McKean and Giancarlo [Esposito], and Jonathan Banks and for our crew. And I've got to tell you right now season five will knock your remaining socks off.

    Was there anyone from your show who wasn't recognized that you think should have been?

    Well, that couldn't be easier. Rhea Seehorn. Rhea Seehorn. She had an amazing season as Kim, season four was Kim season, I thought. Her character was more a crux of the plot than almost anyone else. 

  • Eugene Levy

    'Schitt's Creek' (Pop TV)

    Ian Watson/POP

    Did you let yourself get your expectations up about the nominations?

    To be honest, I still thought our chances were slim, just because I wasn't sure entirely how much our show was being watched by people in the industry. I knew the perception of the show was getting out there over the past couple of years in a nice, big way, but I was somewhat shell-shocked.

    You and Catherine O'Hara have a long history together. Did you write the character of Moira for her?

    She was the first choice for us. The funny thing is, she initially didn't want to do it when we were putting a pilot presentation together. She didn't want to commit to multiple years doing a show. I couldn't talk her into it. … So I said, "What if you just do the pilot? And if it gets picked up or whatever, you're free as a bird." And we got picked up of course, and we got her.

    Were there some emotional moments as you finished production on the final season?

    Every time we closed down a set, it was emotional. The last time we wrapped on the motel set, which had been there all six years, it was very, very emotional. It's been great because the vibe on this show has been so lovely. It's an amazing cast, and a lot of the crewmembers have been on the show from the very beginning. We try to keep everything civilized, we try to finish on time so people get a chance to go home and be with their families, which doesn't happen on every show. You find the thing you'll miss the most is the people you've worked with all these years. 

  • Billy Porter

    'Pose' (FX)

    Sarah Shatz/FX

    What has been the most unexpected response to your performance?

    Older white men stop me on the street to tell me they appreciate the work. When we're on location, they'll hang around and wait to approach me. I didn't know that I would reach anybody in that demographic.

    Where does Pray Tell fit into the legacy you've built as an entertainer?

    Pray Tell is the moment in my life where preparation met opportunity. I've been preparing for this moment my whole life. It's the moment that I went mainstream. I'm no longer the "best-kept secret of Broadway." Everyone is getting to experience my work on a very large scale, which is new for me.

    Do you have any rituals or music to help you get into the mind-set of your character?

    On the harder days when we're filming the really emotional episodes, I might isolate myself more in between takes. I'll listen to different music to get me into a particular mood on those darker days. I'm a musician and a musical person, so I have more than 25,000 songs in my library.

    What part of Pray Tell's story has resonated with you the most?

    All of it, but I will say that having lived through the AIDS crisis, that stuff was the most profound for me. It gave me comfort and helped me understand why I lived through it. I survived it for a reason — I'm on the other side able to tell the story all these years later.

    How do you decompress after a heavy day of filming?

    I go home and smoke a bowl. It's legal in L.A. — so I think you can print this — but I just smoke a bowl, child. Maybe have a glass of scotch and hang out with my husband. He helps, too. 

    If you were handling the Emmy noms this year, who would you pick from your cast that wasn't recognized?

    Mj Rodriguez. People don't realize the magnitude of what it is that she's actually doing as Blanca. She carries this show on her back like Jesus on the road to Damascus, for real. And she's a kid, she's only 28 years old! That bitch is fierce — and she's a brilliant actress. 

  • Sam Rockwell

    'Fosse/Verdon' (FX)

    Michael Parmelee/FX

    One of the goals of a project like this was to make Gwen Verdon a bigger part of the story and not just be Bob Fosse's story. What do you remember from the conversations around that?

    We wanted to correct the record on how much Gwen Verdon was a part of that collaboration and that was a big part of our agenda. And also we thought it would be better as a love story and that would have a natural through-line.

    How much did the #MeToo and Time's Up movements influence the way this story was told?

    Well, I think we had to kind of address it. Otherwise we wouldn't be responsible. With this guy who was very complicated, we had to bring that into the conversation and — they were kind of like twins, the two of them. They really were co-dependent in this way. And so that was important.

    How did you dig into who Bob Fosse was?

    Bob Fosse was a complicated dude [he was married multiple times and engaged in extramarital affairs]. I took a deep bath in this, and it can mess with your head a little bit. But there were a lot of elements to playing him. Like the dance parts. Early on, the choreographer brought me together with this young lady who was a dancer, and I fancied myself a hoofer and I was cocky about it, but I realized quite quickly that I was not a dancer and I had a lot of work to do.

  • Milo Ventimiglia

    'This Is Us' (NBC)

    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    How do you feel about your nomination? 

    I feel proud of a group of people. I'm only one small part of the operation of Jack. The words that are written for Jack. The costumes and the hair and makeup, sets that are built that he has to occupy, and me just being the face guy of all of it, I'm very proud of the group of people that contribute to Jack. 

    The other good news is that your co-stars Mandy Moore and Chris Sullivan each received their first Emmy nominations. 

    It's really wonderful to see all of these talented artists getting recognized. Knowing Mandy was nominated and Michael Angarano was nominated, that is personally satisfying because I saw how beautiful their performances were last season, right there first-hand, I was in the front row for those performances. So, for me again, it's a proud moment. Those two performers, those two actors, but also the group of people that work on those characters. 

    This season, viewers got to see Jack's past in the Vietnam War and his complex relationship with his brother. How did you prepare for storyline? 

    My Dad's a Vietnam vet so I was never short of stories or experiences through my own dad, but I also spend a lot of time with veterans and for me, I'm always trying to honor the men that I play — like really be respectful of the actual lives that they live — so it was less about understanding the technicality of being in war and more about the emotional weight that’s left on those that wear the uniform and that was kind of the preparation. Beyond that, it's reading scripts, focus on the characters and being present in the moment. 

    From the Jack in the first season to the Jack shown in this recent season, has your perspective on him changed?

    Working backward is sometimes a difficult thing. We met Jack with his kids and his marriage, so to go back to a younger Jack, pre-Rebecca, pre-family, pre-any of that stuff, it was something that I was trying to put out of my mind. I had to go back to the formation of Jack and understanding only what he was raised with, not what he learned in regards to family life and Rebecca and the kids. I was out of sorts a little bit until I latched on to this fundamental quality about Jack, which is he's a protector. He has a lot under the surface. Jack never wants to burden anybody with any of his own shit. He never has, so that kind of constant thread that I'm able to hold on to of Jack through the decades is always something I can rely on. 

    You've played this character for three seasons now. What have you learned the most from portraying Jack?

    I don't know if he really taught me this but more reaffirmed it but slowing down life. Jack was only 54 when he died. I think he would've liked to have more time with his family. It's just appreciating when life will slow down and when it gets too fast trying to back off a little bit so that you can be present with those that you love. 

    What would you hope that viewers get to see from Jack in future seasons?

    We've seen him in war. We've seen him with his 10-year-olds. We've seen him with his teenagers. We've seen the man die. We've also seen him in new love. I still think there's a lot to see of Jack. 

    Did you have any rituals to get into the mind-set of your character while you were shooting? 

    Jack is pretty simple at this point. Four years in, for me, a lot of it comes down to the hair and makeup and the wardrobe. Like if I'm in a goatee with some wide cords, in kind of a business look, I'm Jack in his 50s. When I got the mustache, I'm more lighthearted Jack in his 40s. When I got the beard, I'm Jack with the babies. So for me, I feel the ritual is the putting on of the character, and it all comes down to hair and makeup and wardrobe. for me. 

    My favorite scene or line of dialogue was …

    My favorite line of dialogue of the season wasn't even my line. It might've been Mandy Moore's and it might've been the most simple line, but what she said in the meaning behind it meant the most. It was episode seven, they're sitting in a car and Rebecca had just been rejected by the music label and Jack had just gotten broken down and she's singing and she just says, "Let's go home." 

    If you were personally handling the Emmys nominations, who would you pick from your show that didn’t get recognized this year?

    Every single actor. Every single writer. Every single director. It still blows me away that our writing isn't recognized. Dan Fogelman is one of the best writers as is every writer that occupies that room. Ken Olin and his directing. I think because we don’t have dragons and we don't have big effects and a lot of that stuff we're looked past in directing. It's really a complex show. I think Ken Olin should always get recognized. Justin [Hartley], Chrissy [Metz], Susan [Kelechi Watson], everyone's delivering these amazing performances. Our hair and makeup departments. Our costumes. I wish we could give an award for grip and electric because we have a great crew. Our camera department. Our art department. At the same time, we all are recognized because the show itself got nominated. Everyone is a part of that and everyone can be proud.  

    A version of this story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.