When Co-Stars Are Competitors: Breaking Down This Year's Unprecedented Emmys Race

8:30 AM 8/6/2020

by Rebecca Ford

If TV's biggest night were in person this year, there might have been some awkward moments, with more talent from the same shows facing each other than ever before. The Hollywood Reporter examines the tight battles in these acting races.

Watchmen - Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jovan ?Adepo, Louis Gossett Jr.- Split-H 2020
Courtesy of HBO

  • 'Killing Eve'

    For the second year in a row, these killer lead actresses will face off thanks to their respective performances as the quirky, fashion-loving assassin Villanelle and the neurotic intelligence investigator Eve Polastri. Last year, Comer, then 26, became the youngest winner ever in the category. Oh, who has been nominated for all three seasons, has yet to win, though she did take the Golden Globe in 2019.

  • 'The Morning Show'

    Crudup and Duplass earned their first Emmy acting nominations for their work on the Apple TV+ series, with the former playing network exec Cory Ellison and the latter portraying morning news show producer Chip Black. Crudup's role is the showier of the two, but with the supporting actor in a drama category packed with eight nominees (including three for Succession), it's likely a tough climb for either.

  • 'Dead to Me'

    Cardellini, who was not nominated after the first season of Netflix's dark comedy, joins her co-star Applegate in the lead actress in a comedy category this year. Playing friends who met in a grief support group, they're in competition against several staples of this race, including Mrs. Maisel's Rachel Brosnahan and Schitt's Creek's Catherine O'Hara.

  • 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel'

    Borstein has won the supporting actress in a comedy award for the past two years for playing talent manager Susie Myerson, beating co-star Hinkle (who plays Midge Maisel's mother, Rose Weissman) last year. While a three-peat is rare, it's not unheard of. Plus, voters might want to be treated to another entertaining acceptance speech. In 2018, she said, "Ladies, when you use a public restroom, sit down. If you sit, we can all sit. Stop peeing on the seat."

    It's Shalhoub's third straight nomination (he won in 2019) for playing Midge's dad, the obsessive Abe Weissman. But this time he's joined in the supporting actor comedy race by Sterling K. Brown, who dropped into season three as music manager Reggie. Brown is loved by the TV Academy — he's been nominated five years in a row, winning in 2016 for The People v. O.J. Simpson and in 2017 for This Is Us. He's nominated again for the latter this year.


  • 'Big Little Lies'

    Dern won the Emmy for supporting actress in a limited series for this HBO project in 2017, but for 2020, it's been re-categorized as a drama series, which pits her against a whole different group of actresses, including Streep, who joined the show for its second season. Streep's intensely coiled performance, and the fact that she's "three-time Oscar and Emmy winner Meryl Streep," give her the upper hand.

  • 'Succession'

    All the actors on this HBO dramedy were snubbed in the nominations after its first season, but the TV Academy has made up for that this time around, honoring nine members of the stellar cast. The lead actor in a drama category pits the veteran Cox against one of his onscreen sons, played by Strong. Cox, who won an Emmy in 2001, may be the better-known name, but Strong had a breakout season as Kendall Roy, whose desperate need for his father's approval had him rapping for love and publicly shaming the family empire.

    Just like brunch at the Roy estate, it's an embarrassment of riches in the supporting actor drama race, with Succession stars making up more than a third of the contenders. All three are first-time Emmy nominees, and each had his memorable moments in the second season: Braun's awkward cousin Greg fell deeper into the Roy circle of corruption; Culkin's Roman Roy embarked on a twisted tryst with Gerri; and Macfadyen's hapless Tom Wambsgans struggled in his open marriage and with finding his place within the Roy empire.

    Jones won the Emmy in the same category, guest actress in a drama series, in 2019 for The Handmaid's Tale. This year, she's nominated for portraying Nan Pierce, the matriarch of another mega-wealthy family empire that faces off against the Roys. Walter joined the HBO hit during its first season, playing Lady Caroline Collingwood, the birth mother of Shiv, Kendall and Roman. In the second season, she gets to show off some of the emotional manipulation the Roys are famous for when her kids visit her in London.


  • 'Mrs. America'

    These stars of FX on Hulu's '70s feminist drama make up half the contenders in the supporting actress in a limited series/TV movie category. And all three have had plenty of success at the Emmys: Ullman has a whopping 25 noms under her belt (and six trophies), Martindale is a three-time winner, and Aduba won two years in a row for Orange Is the New Black.

  • 'Hollywood'

    Of the six nominees in the supporting actor in a limited series/TV movie category, five come from just two shows. The two Hollywood stars could not be more different. It's been 21 years since McDermott last earned an Emmy nomination, while Parsons has been a regular on the awards circuit, winning four times for The Big Bang Theory, among his nine noms.

  • 'Watchmen'

    It's not often that two actors are nominated for playing the same character. But both Adepo and Gossett star on the HBO series as Will Reeves (aka Hooded Justice), with Adepo playing Reeves in black-and-white flashbacks during the 1920 Tulsa race riot. Abdul-Mateen's memorable arc took him from doting husband to powerful blue superhero. Watchmen has the most noms of any show, with 26.

  • 'Saturday Night Live'

    Strong, who joined the NBC sketch show in 2012, is a first-time nominee. Meanwhile, McKinnon has been nominated in the supporting actress in a comedy category for her work on Saturday Night Live every year since 2014, winning in 2016 and 2017. She's beaten other co-stars before (three years ago, she was up against Leslie Jones and Vanessa Bayer), but they'll both have to contend with back-to-back winner Alex Borstein, who's in the running once again.

    It's a movie star-palooza in the guest actor in a comedy category. Driver hosted Saturday Night Live for the third time in January, but Murphy's December appearance brought him back to the program after a 35-year break and was his first appearance since he exited as a regular castmember in 1984. And what did Brad Pitt do to get his nom? A three-minute cold open as Dr. Anthony Fauci, which he concluded by breaking character to thank the immunologist directly for his "clarity in this unnerving time" in the second stay-at-home episode in April.

    Rudolph, who dropped by Saturday Night Live in December to play Sen. Kamala Harris, is not only competing against herself in the guest actress in a comedy series category (she's nominated for playing The Judge on the final season of The Good Place), she's also facing fellow SNL guest Waller-Bridge, who hosted the Oct. 5 episode. So while Rudolph's double nomination might split her votes, SNL contenders have a strong record for winning in this category, taking the trophy in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

    This story first appeared in the Aug. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.