Emmys: Weighing the Odds in the Races for Lead Actor and Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie

11:30 AM 8/15/2019

by Scott Feinberg

The Hollywood Reporter's awards analyst takes stock of this year's nominees, many of whom are either new to TV or making high-profile returns to the small screen.

'True Detective,' 'The Act,' 'When They See Us,' 'Fosse/Verdon'
'True Detective,' 'The Act,' 'When They See Us,' 'Fosse/Verdon'
Courtesy of Networks

  • Mahershala Ali

    'True Detective' (HBO)

    Warrick Page

    Emmy-nominated three years ago for House of Cards (he has since picked up two Oscars), this actor's actor plays a detective — a part originally slated to be portrayed by a white performer — in the third installment of the franchise. The eight-parter was better reviewed than installment No. 2, though ratings were way down. (Still, 8.1 million cumulative viewers is far from bad.)

    On the other hand... Have TV Academy members, like many TV viewers, simply moved on from the franchise?

  • Benicio Del Toro

    'Escape at Dannemora' (Showtime)

    Wilson Webb/Showtime

    The Oscar winner returns to American TV for the first time in some 30 years playing Richard Matt, a man behind bars for life who teams up with a fellow inmate (Paul Dano) to plot their escape. His performance has already brought him a Critics' Choice nom.

    On the other hand... Some may struggle to separate the actor from his character — a very bad guy — and others might feel it is category fraud that Dano is nominated as a supporting actor instead of here.

  • Hugh Grant

    'A Very English Scandal' (Amazon)

    Kieron McCarron/BBC pictures

    The former king of movie rom-coms finally made his first foray on the small screen, to great effect, garnering some of the best reviews of his career — and Golden Globe, SAG, Critics' Choice and BAFTA noms — for his portrayal of a closeted British politician blackmailed by a former lover back in the '60s.

    On the other hand... No nominee's show finished rolling out longer ago (June 3, 2018). His is also the briefest (three parts) and least nominated (four noms).

  • Jared Harris

    'Chernobyl' (HBO)

    Courtesy of HBO

    In Craig Mazin's five-parter, the most nominated limited series of the year (19 noms), this British actor best known for Mad Men and The Crown plays a nuclear scientist during the response to the eponymous Soviet nuclear plant disaster of 1986. No nominee's show finished its rollout more recently than this one (June 3), it drew 8 million cumulative viewers, and it's IMDb's highest-rated TV show ever.

    On the other hand... Its subject matter is awfully bleak.

  • Jharrel Jerome

    'When They See Us' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    At 21 the youngest actor in this category, he earned the strongest reviews of his career for his portrayal of Korey Wise, a young man who becomes one of the "Central Park Five" and serves more than 12 years in prison. The only actor to portray his real-life character as both a child and an adult on the limited series, his performance has been hailed by Oprah as "incredible."

    On the other hand... He appeared in the best picture Oscar winner Moonlight but remains an unfamiliar name to many.

  • Sam Rockwell

    'Fosse/Verdon' (FX)

    Michael Parmelee/FX

    The recent Oscar winner had never played a multiple-episode role on TV before this eight-parter, which has brought him noms for acting — as choreographer/director Bob Fosse — and producing. He has earned raves for his quiet but powerful performance, over the course of which his character ages more than three decades.

    On the other hand... Fosse, who is shown during the show pressuring underlings for sex, is a tough character for some to embrace in the #MeToo era.

  • Amy Adams

    'Sharp Objects' (HBO)

    Courtesy of HBO

    The six-time Oscar nominee goes to a dark place to play an alcoholic reporter with psychiatric problems in this adaptation of Gillian Flynn's best-seller. She was also a producer of the series, which attracted an impressive 7.3 million cumulative viewers, plus Golden Globe and SAG Award noms and a Critics' Choice co-win for its star.

    On the other hand... No other nominee's show stopped rolling out longer ago (Aug. 26), and she has yet to beat Arquette when they've gone head-to-head.

  • Patricia Arquette

    'Escape at Dannemora' (Showtime)

    Wilson Webb/Showtime

    The Oscar winner, who has two prior Emmy noms for Medium (winning in 2005), is unrecognizable, but terrific, as a prison guard who gets too close to two inmates in the Ben Stiller-helmed series. Her performance has brought her Globe and SAG awards and a Critics' Choice co-win. She also has a supporting nomination for her work on The Act.

    On the other hand... The real person she portrayed has alleged the show is full of lies. And Arquette has not yet faced Michelle Williams.

  • Aunjanue Ellis

    'When They See Us' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    A veteran character actress who has appeared in films like RayThe Help and If Beale Street Could Talk, she plays Sharonne Salaam, who never stops fighting for her falsely accused son, Yusef, in Ava DuVernay's four-parter, butting heads with another mom (Niecy Nash) and reacting to the bigoted views of one Donald Trump. Her show is the most recent to roll out (it dropped May 31).

    On the other hand... The least known of the nominees, she is also nominated alongside a co-star.

  • Joey King

    'The Act' (Hulu)

    Brownie Harris/Hulu

    This category's youngest nominee, at 20, plays Gypsy Rose Blanchard, a victim of Munchausen syndrome by proxy who retaliated against her mother (played by Arquette). She shaved her head, wore false teeth, changed her voice and navigated a wheelchair to tell this disturbing, years-spanning story.

    On the other hand... Her show has just two noms, the fewest of any of these nominees. And, oddly enough, there is another nominee (Adams) who portrays a Munchausen victim.

  • Niecy Nash

    'When They See Us' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Few actresses have the range of this Reno 911 and Getting On alum (the latter brought her Emmy noms in 2015 and 2016), who, in DuVernay's series, plays Delores Wise, the stunned mother of the oldest of the wrongly imprisoned "Central Park Five." Her performance has been applauded as spot-on by the real Korey, and she has become an ambassador for The Innocence Project.

    On the other hand... She is nominated alongside a co-star, and she doesn't have very much screen time.

  • Michelle Williams

    'Fosse/Verdon' (FX)

    Craig Blankenhorn/FX

    The four-time Oscar nominee earned her first Emmy noms — acting and producing — by playing Gwen Verdon, the dancer who was also Bob Fosse's wife, over a period of 32 years, singing, dancing and aging along the way. Showbiz people love productions about showbiz, its 17 noms are a category-high, and she won the TCA Award for individual achievement in drama.

    On the other hand... The show wrapped May 28. With so much TV out there, have people had time to catch up?

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