Emmys: Breaking Down the Odds for Best Actor in a Drama Series

11:30 AM 8/10/2020

by Scott Feinberg

Can the face of a streaming show break through and defeat cable's grip on this category?

Emmy's - Brian Cox, Billy Porter and Steve Carell -Split-H 2020
Courtesy of HBO; FX; AppleTV+

  • Jason Bateman

    Why he might win: The popular fixture of TV who won in 2019 for directing has now been nominated for all three seasons of this show, the most recent of which was its best reviewed (no fellow nominee's season outscored its 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and wrapped more recently than his competitors' (March 27). This category is a proxy for the larger Netflix-HBO battle, and Netflix is working hard to win. He's also nominated for The Outsider.

    Why he might not win: He has never won for acting.

  • Sterling K. Brown

    Why he might win: Season four of TV's highest-rated drama brings a fourth consecutive nom in this category for the actor (he won in 2017). His show demanded 18 episodes of him in its most recent season (every other nominee made only 10), which was still rolling out after the pandemic hit. He's also nominated for supporting actor for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

    Why he might not win: This Is Us' ratings declined 16 percent year-over-year, and no fellow nominee's show garnered fewer noms (five, and no series nom).

  • Steve Carell

    Why he might win: This 11-time nominee (all previous noms were for The Office) subverted his likable image to play a TV host involved in a #MeToo scandal. Based on how Apple TV+ promoted the show's rollout, we can expect a vigorous awards campaign, too.

    Why he might not win: His part is really supporting, and his show is the worst reviewed of this lot (60 percent on RT, while every other nominee's show is at least 90 percent) — and it didn't receive a series nom.

  • Brian Cox

    Why he might win: The senior nominee, at 74, won this year's corresponding Golden Globe for his performance as conniving media mogul Logan Roy on season two of HBO's hit drama, which landed at 97 percent on RT and tied Ozark for most noms among dramas. He already has an Emmy on his mantel for the 2001 limited series Nuremberg.

    Why he might not win: He wasn't nominated for season one and is pitted against Jeremy Strong for season two — potentially splitting votes — which wrapped last fall.

  • Billy Porter

    Why he might win: Last year's winner returns to contention for his portrayal of ballroom emcee Pray Tell on the groundbreaking show. At 97 percent on RT, the season was as well-reviewed as any. He garnered Critics' Choice and Golden Globe noms.

    Why he might not win: It's been a decade since someone won this category in back-to-back years. His season wrapped longer ago than any of his competitors' (Aug. 20), and it has as few noms as anyone in this category (five, and no series nom).

  • Jeremy Strong

    Why he might win: This first-time nominee, the youngest of the field, is the critics' choice — literally, having won the Critics' Choice Award — for his portrayal of Kendall Roy on season two of HBO's hit show, which has as many noms (18) and was as well-reviewed (97 percent on RT) as others in this category. He wisely chose the season finale as his episode submission.

    Why he might not win: It's not easy to compete against a co-star, especially one more experienced and better known, as Cox is.

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