Sterling K. Brown, Antonio Banderas, More Leading Actors on Slipping Into Character, Unexpected Responses From Fans

7:00 AM 8/16/2018

by THR staff

Fifteen nominees for comedy, drama and limited series reveal how they slip into character ("I can roll out of bed and I'm ready") and who they hope to see on Emmy night ("anyone and everyone but Sean? Spicer").

Sterling K. Brown, Antonio Banderas, Actors on Slipping Into Character - Split-H 2018
NBC; National Geographic

Over the past year, top TV actors have created memorable characters from reluctant hitmen (Barry's Bill Hader) to more reluctant Russian spies (The Americans' Matthew Rhys), delivered tear-inducing performances (This Is Us' Milo Ventimiglia) and explored complicated real-life characters (Looming Tower's Jeff Daniels). Now, 15 nominated lead actors speak with THR about their proudest moments, favorite scenes and Emmy-night hopes.

Profiles written by Rebecca Ford, Lesley Goldberg, Hilary Lewis, Evan Real, Brian Porreca, Bryn Elise Sandberg, Jackie Strause and Josh Wigler.

  • Anthony Anderson

    What is next for ?Dre and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross)?

    Bow and Dre are ?back together! And after getting back together from their brief separation, I am happy to share with you that Andre Johnson may or ?may not be pregnant ?with another set of twins for the family.

    What's the most unexpected response you've gotten to this past season?

    It was in response to our four-episode arc with Bow and Dre separating. More people had come ?up to me saying, "Man, ?your show is supposed to be funny, not making me have conversations with my wife or husband about the state of ?our marriage and how not to end up like Bow and Dre." I was visiting a friend, and a gentleman walked over to me from loading his truck to say, "I love your show and how real it's gotten with divorce. I'm going through the same thing right now, tell me it ends well." As we shake hands and say goodbye, I notice that he was packing his personal things into a moving van. He was literally moving out of his home and was hoping Dre and Bow would end well, giving him and his wife hope.

    On red carpets, ?what do you wish ?you were asked ?about more often?

    "How has the journey been for the ?kid from Compton with a dream?"

    Which member of ?your cast is best suited to run for office?

    Yara Shahidi is ?best suited to not only run for office, but actually win. Because not only is she literally the smartest person in the room, but her compassion, conviction, honesty, integrity and worldviews make her the best person for the job. Plus, Oprah said Yara could be president if that's what she chooses, and I agree with Auntie O, hands down!

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Loudest actor in anything, then I'd finally win.

  • Antonio Banderas

    What's one thing you liked about Picasso ?the man?

    He never tried to justify anything that he did. He probably was conscious that he produced collateral damages, especially in his personal life. But he'd consider himself flying over all of the issues, almost untouchable, which is extraordinary. ?He never had that kind of regretful personality.

    How did you approach the physical transformation?

    At the beginning, I thought I didn't want to work too hard on the physical aspects of it. I didn't want to do a wax museum. So I tried to understand the character from the inside out. But then I had great collaborators to create the character [including the costume designers and makeup artists]. For whatever reason, the clothing made me walk in a completely different way. And ?when you start walking in a different way, you start talking in a different way. My voice went ?low, lower than normal. Every morning when I got to the set, when I got into those clothes, I had ?half an hour with myself in the trailer. When I got to the set, I felt like I listened to him.

    Is there another icon whose story you'd like to see told on TV?

    I love music. I would love to see a musician, Louis Armstrong, for example. The creation of ?jazz and that universe actually opened many other ways of thinking and the understanding of life through music.

  • Sterling K. Brown

    What is it about Randall that makes him stand out?

    Randall asks me to lean into the best parts of myself. For such a long time, the characters that were occupying these sorts of rarefied spaces were the antiheroes. I love me an antihero, but it's also nice to see a really good human being be recognized for his virtuousness. Randall is a fish-out-of-water story: He's a black man raised by a white family. He has his parents' and siblings' love, but he knows he doesn't fit perfectly. And even in the black community, he knows he doesn't fit perfectly because he's been raised by this white family. Most of us are just trying to answer that same question for ourselves: What is my place in the world where I fit like hand in glove?

    What's the most unexpected response you've? gotten to this past season?

    Because of the flash-forward from the Super Bowl episode, there was this fear on social media of Beth not surviving that was like, "If they killed Beth, I'm not watching this show anymore!" I love that the audience loves Susan Kelechi Watson as much as I do.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    I enjoy when folks ask my wife questions because we're there together most of the time and she is a wonderful support for me. It cements that we're going through this journey together.

    What's one question you never want to be asked again?

    Thankfully it's been put to bed: Jack's death was a long time coming.

  • Benedict Cumberbatch

    What's the best part of FYC season?

    It was being in an audience watching it and having a live experience and people really digging it. To see them get really enthused by it was wonderful.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    A good recipe for apple spritz.

    And what's the one thing you never want to be asked about again?

    I don't want to be ?asked who I'm wearing. I find it boring.

    Which of your ?co-stars is best suited to run for office?

    I would say Hugo Weaving because everyone fucking ?loves Hugo Weaving. And despite him ?playing the bad guy ?in this, he's a wonderful human being.

    Who would you ?most like to chat up ?at Emmy parties?

    All the actors in ?my category — and ?Toby Haynes, who directed the Black Mirror episode "USS Callister." He's an old friend.

    What's your favorite performance — TV, ?film or theater — that you've seen in the past six months?

    Olivia Colman in a series here called Flowers. It's an amazing drama directed ?by Will Sharpe. I ?also went to see Hamilton last week, ?and that was ?pretty damn cool.

  • Darren Criss

    What moment from the show do you feel is the best representation of Andrew Cunanan?

    Andrew didn’t really creep me out as much as he broke my heart. He had so much potential, but somehow went from being a bright, promising young man to a murderer. One line that sticks out is when he was stealing the suit of his friend’s husband and she goes, “Why didn’t you ask me for the suit?” And he looks at her and says, “I have nothing.” He felt like he was nothing and had nothing in the world. I think that moment in the show is very telling of the emptiness that he felt in life.

    How would you decompress after filming heavy scenes?

    I’m such a prankster on set. I take my job very seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. I thought it was important to keep the spirits up and lift everyone out of this really dark place we’re in for hours at a time. There is at least an hour’s worth of a gag reel. If there was a staircase to fall down, I definitely fell down. If there was a door to walk into, if there was a prop to drop — things that were just so silly, I’d do it all.

    Which member of your cast is best suited to run for office?

    Edgar Ramirez. He’s had the most fascinating life. He’s lived everywhere, he speaks about five languages and he’s incredibly cultured. He’s a very outspoken, moving, charming guy.

  • Jeff Daniels

    What's the most unexpected response you've gotten to the show?

    The most common response is also the most unexpected, which is: "I had no idea. I had no idea who John O'Neill was, what he did, what he tried to do, or what happened." You think you know what happened on 9/11, you think you know exclusively who to blame. And then you find out there were some other things involved leading up to it.

    Would you be interested in doing more limited-series work?

    I'll go wherever the writing is. It ?was the writing, whether it's limited or not. However, limited is terrific because it's a one-and-done. It's an exciting time to be ?an actor. It feels like the '70s. ?I remember when we were doing Newsroom, Jane Fonda was talking about the '70s and how the artists kind of ran what was going on: Coppola, Spielberg and Woody [Allen] and all those people were given money to do what they do. ?[A few years ago, it was], "We'll give you the money, but we want you ?to do what we want you to do with it." There's far less of that.

    Which member of your Looming Tower cast is best suited to run for office?

    I don't know whether he's the ?best choice, but he has no problem sharing his opinion, and ?that would be Alec Baldwin. I'd like to see Alec Baldwin in a debate. (Laughs.) 

    Click here to read Daniels' full Q&A.

  • Ted Danson

    Were you looking for a role that was both meaty and silly, as it is on The Good Place?

    I love that. I love that there's accountability, and that's a pretty heavy conversation. It's wrapped up in this kind of 9-year-old's farts sense of humor, and it's sprinkled with visual magic. It's visually ?just so exciting to watch. I mean, ?I have 12-year-olds coming up, ?saying how much they enjoy it, and parents and all groups of people are really enjoying it too.

    There's a big twist at the end of the first season. Were you told about it ahead of time?

    In this case I think I had to know. ?I don't always need to know, necessarily. I mean, you certainly don't know anything when you walk into a Curb Your Enthusiasm day of shooting, and sometimes that's for the best. But I think I had to know ?in this case because it was such a ?strange setup. The first year, my character never had a private moment — a moment where you saw Michael alone — because if you did, you would have seen him twirling his mustache.

    What's one of your favorite scenes?

    In the third episode of season two, where within the first 10 pages, ?I rebooted everybody and wiped their memories about 800 times. That was a lot of fun to play.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    When anyone asks me about my career, it's always a little bit of work to come up with something. If you ask me about oceans and all this stuff I'm working ?on with Oceana, I can babble forever and ever. Talk to me about the environment.

  • Bill Hader

    Why do you think the show is resonating so strongly with viewers?

    Some people come up to me and say, "That show is so funny," and others come up to me and say, "That show is so dark." I just say, "Yeah, you're both right." I don't know what's resonating, but it's nice that people enjoy it. [Co-creator] Alec [Berg] and I are just surprised that we were able to make it, and make it the way we wanted to make it.

    What's the most unexpected response you've gotten to your performance on the show?

    I had one person say to me, "Did you see that ?HBO show with Michael Shannon where he's a hitman and he becomes an actor?" I said, "That wasn't Michael Shannon — that was me." I guess it's a compliment.

    Who would you most like to see at Emmy parties?

    I'd go over and say hi to the Atlanta people because [director] Hiro [Murai] works on both our shows. I really love that show.

    Do you have any advice for this year's Emmy telecast hosts, Colin Jost and Michael Che?

    That's the toughest job in the world. I would just keep it movin', man.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Best performance in a true crime re-enactment. There's a lot of actors out there in true crime ?re-enactments, and they work their asses off. They should get recognition.

  • Ed Harris

    What was it about the Man in Black's journey in season two that resonated with you most?

    With the second season, I was given more information prior to the season starting than I had been in the first year, because the first year there were a lot of surprises that came up ?along the way. So I kind of knew what was going to happen, and I knew that he was on a particular mission to blow up the park. So the Man in Black's through line this season was pretty straight. There were a lot of twists and turns obviously, and I got the shit kicked out ?of me a number of times, but it was pretty fun.

    There's a stretch of episodes where the Man in Black is indeed in very rough shape, physically.

    He kind of asked for it, in terms of his behavior in the first season. He wanted the hosts to be free, to be able to do damage, and so he got his wish. Careful what you wish for. I think there's a part of him that was excited about it, but then again, after a bit of pain, you're ?probably going, "Wait a second, what's going on here?" And then by the end of the season, he's so confused, he doesn't know which way is up. He's not sure who's who, or what's what. He's really out there.

    How does it feel now that the show is moving beyond the scope of the park?

    It definitely feels like major changes are ?in store. I guess part of my curiosity is that I ?really like the Man in Black. I like wearing those clothes, and I like being that guy. If it goes out of the park, I'm not sure if he's going to be the same character.

    Which member of your Westworld cast is best suited to run for office?

    Thandie Newton. She speaks her mind.

  • John Legend

    Were you surprised by the nom? 

    I think one of my biggest surprises is that our show got this many nominations, particularly in the TV movie or [limited series] category, because there really isn't a category for what we did. So they kind of had to shoehorn us into another category. So it was a big surprise that we were lucky enough to be nominated in the category with all the TV movie and [limited series] actors. 

    What was one thing you learned from doing this live special?

    The last time I did musical theater was in high school – and I never had a part this big even when I was in high school, so the whole thing was a learning experience and it was so much fun for me, so much growth for me. It was one of my favorite experiences in this business, which I've been in for 15 years or so. 

    What advice would you give the next actor who chooses to star in one of these live TV productions?

    Clearly you can't half-do it, you have to, like, immerse yourself in the situation and make sure you're doing something you're excited to do. It's kind of an immersive experience, it's pretty time-consuming and requires a lot of collaboration with the director, with the other actors. But if you do it with good faith and with excitement and with passion, it can be a lot of fun. 

    Have you gotten any surprising responses to your performance?

    I was just happy that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice loved it because they've seen so many versions of their show, and they told us this was their favorite one they've ever seen and they're so proud. They said it's the best reviews they've ever gotten for the show, and to me that was the most special response that we've gotten. 

    Did this experience influence what you'll look for in future projects?

    I would definitely do more musical theater, and I think this experience made me more open to that possibility than I was before. 

  • William H. Macy

    After nine seasons playing family patriarch Frank Gallagher, what do you enjoy most about him?

    I don't have to worry about the way I look! I can look like a slob and even then, they'd try to slob me up even more when I get to the makeup chair. It's great not having to care about your looks. I've heard women say that and I've never understood it until I experienced ?it myself. I can roll out of bed and I'm ready to act.

    Which member of your cast is best suited to run for office?

    Clearly, Frank Gallagher. The rest of them wouldn't survive in that cesspool known as Washington. Frank would thrive. He'd own the town. Frank would be the dealmaker extraordinaire. And Shameless has proved that you don't have to know what's going on to be president.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    I don't know that there's a category that doesn't get an Emmy. There's an Emmy for best awards show, which just kills me! But there should be an Emmy for ?the most uncomfortable role: ?I have to hide in port-a-potties; I get things shoved up my ass; ?I get thrown down stairs; I get electrocuted; I get hung and thrown off of bridges into rivers. They do terrible things to me. And stunt guy, schmunt guy. I have to do some of that shit!

    Who would you most like to chat ?up at Emmy parties?

    I would like to get stuck in an elevator with Steve Carell. ?He's a genius. Tina Fey is just amazing. Allison Janney is ?never bad.

  • Jesse Plemons

    What drew you to the "USS Callister" episode of Black Mirror? Are you a Star Trek fan?

    Actually, the exact opposite. (Laughs.) I grew up watching Westerns. I hadn't seen Black Mirror. The first scene [in the script] really confused me, because it just seemed like a weird knockoff of Star Trek. So I put the script down and then I watched the first season in a couple days and picked the script back up, and by the time I ?got to the second scene, I immediately got it.

    Has starring in a Black Mirror changed your views about technology?

    I don't have Facebook or any social media. I've always been somewhat wary of it. I had Facebook when I was younger, and I found myself just wasting so much time. I'd snap out of it after an hour and ?a half and say, "What was I just doing?" And then this show really just preys on all of those concerns that are in our face anyway. (Laughs.)

    The producers have said the episode is about resistance and the abuse of power. How timely did it feel when you were making it?

    Extremely. We filmed it in January [2017], so it was the first thing that I did post-[presidential] election. It was definitely therapeutic in some ways — but ?I don't know if it fully helped!

  • Matthew Rhys

    You're nominated for the third time for the show, but does the fact that it's for the final season make it more special?

    To be recognized feels good because I think everyone strove at the end for a great finish. There was no shark-jumping or shootouts.

    What's the most unexpected response that you've gotten to The Americans this season?

    I watched the final episode with a big audience [at an event]. There was a big laugh at a particular moment that I didn't think was comedic at all, and it was a real shock. It was the moment between myself and Stan [Noah Emmerich] in the garage, where ?I say, "I wish you'd stayed with me at EST. You might know what to do here." And there was a huge laugh. It was weird because in your head when you build up these moments everything leading to ?that makes a lot of sense to you and lands in a very specific place.

    Which member of your cast is best suited ?to run for office?

    Oh, my God, Noah Emmerich, without question! I would happily have him as ?the president. He's extremely intelligent with this incredible old soul philosophy ?on the world and how it should be. And he has such a sense of justice and right ?and wrong.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Best genuine onscreen laugh or best drunk acting — someone who does drunk incredibly realistically. This is all the stuff that ?I find incredibly hard to do. There should be an award for that.

    Click here to read Rhys' full Q&A

  • Milo Ventimiglia

    What makes this character resonate so much with viewers that people were almost obsessed with finding out how he died? 

    It's seeing this flawed man who tries to do his best and has a heart of gold. He's a good man in spit of the mistakes that he made. That's how a lot of people are in life. 

    How do you think Jack compares to other beloved TV dads?

    I grew up on Mr. Cunningham [from Happy Days] and all of the great TV dads of that era. It's hard for me to believe that I am in that world. Jack is a guy who is representing someone that we need right now: He's flawed but doing his best. He has the best intentions – and he'll try and try and try. That effort is worth something. We want men that are like that. 

    Looking back, what was the most unexpected response you got during the season?

    "I can't believe Jack ran into that burning house!" But I also got, "I can believe you ran into that burning house!" Even after that, people wanted to know if the character was still going to be on the show. 

    Who would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    I'd be shy to walk up to someone. Although a couple of years ago, I walked up and thanked Will Smith at a Golden Globes party because he set me on the right path when I was 18. I said, "Forgive me for bothering you, Mr. Smith, my name is Milo Ventimiglia, my very first paying gig was on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I had one line and you made me feel welcomed and you talked to me. I saw the way you treated your crew and now I have my own crew and I try to honor the way that you treated us, so thank you very much for that. 

  • Jeffrey Wright

    How did you approach this past season?

    What was most exciting for me was the thing that some people absolutely adore about ?our show and some people are maybe overly challenged by: the complexity. I relish the challenge of proving all of the calculus, all of the equations that [my character] Bernard is asked to prove. It was among the most intricately tricky exercises that I have undertaken as an actor. The show is not for the faint of heart, and it's not short-attention-span theater. Come inside with us and stay a while, and you'll make it out the other side alive.

    What was the most unexpected response you've gotten to the season?

    I would say a minority of folks out there were resistant to the multifaceted nature of our storytelling. We're living at a time in which the national discourse on so many levels is being stomped down into the dirt of the lowest common denominator by the most cynical forces in our society, and we're being asked to buy the most banal and stupid ideas as meaningful. At the very least, I think we're a show that runs sideways from that phenomenon. For that reason alone, regardless of all of the other reasons, I celebrate our show.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Logistics, because that's the real magic behind Westworld. How the work of hundreds, whether they be actors, writers, directors, carpenters, lighting artists, drivers, can be coordinated over multiple locations and multiple states and multiple stages to be brought together into a single frame.

    Who would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    Anyone and everyone aside from Sean Spicer, whom I found myself bumping into with my son last year as we went to find Donald Glover. There was a moment there in which everyone was a bit nervous, and I thought security was going to be called at any minute to escort me away from him, and then we would have had a real big problem. Let's just leave it there.

    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.