Emmys: 5 Supporting Drama Actors Who Deserve Acclaim

Doug Hyun/TNT
Michael Cudlitz in TNT's "Southland"

Scott Bakula, Josh Charles, Michael Shannon, Michael Cudlitz and Donnie Wahlberg make ensemble acting its own art form, writes THR's Tim Appelo.

Among the throng of contenders for the drama supporting actor Emmy are five guys tough enough to stand out from the pack. But tough isn't enough for Emmy, which demands emotion, and they supply it in spades. On the surface, their characters might seem simple. Two of them play lawless lawmen with good intentions but nasty habits. Two play characters on the right side of the law (mostly). The fifth plays a middle-ager who can't resist the laws of attraction, especially when it involves a woman half his age.

But all five actors manage to handle their broad genre roles with subtlety and grace. And with last year's winner, Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, ineligible this year, these five have -- and deserve -- a shot at hearing their names when nominations are announced July 14.

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Scott Bakula
Men of a Certain Age (TNT)

Bakula (rhymes with "Dracula") plays an older version of Californication's womanizer hero but in a show with a heart as big as that of Friday Night Lights. Two decades ago, he earned a Golden Globe and four Emmy noms for Quantum Leap. "It used to kill me that I had to pick just one episode to submit," says Bakula. "Each one was so different. I always felt that the academy got it wrong. It should be about a body of work, not a single episode." It's even harder to pick Bakula's Emmy-entry episode for Men, in which he's a crony of lead Ray Romano and Andre Braugher. But Braugher got a supporting nom last year, and Bakula's sheepish, sometimes pathetic charm as Men's Terry Elliott could earn him a win this time around. 

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Josh Charles
The Good Wife (CBS)

Charles has been a winsome everyman in ensembles since his early showings as a teen actor in such films as John Waters' Hairspray and Peter Weir's Dead Poets Society. The underrated Aaron Sorkin dramedy Sports Night earned him a SAG nom; nowadays, as lawyer Will Gardner, the employer/would-be lover of Alicia (Julianna Margulies) on Good Wife, he throws off romantic sparks that could help her win a lead Emmy after last year's loss to Kyra Sedgwick. He's also the cynical flint to her steely morality. "Will's got so much success he's lost his way," says Charles. "He doesn't have time or the interest to do the right thing." Charles says he particularly loved Will's line: "Who do you know who's doing something for the right reason? After five minutes of questioning, we'll find the wrong reason." Emmy might find his sharp performance good reason for a nom.

Michael Cudlitz
Southland (TNT)

The show could be called Respect My Stripes or Get the F-- Out of My Car. That's a line of dialogue barked by Cudlitz's character, LAPD cop John Cooper, who is irritable partly because he's got a pill habit worse than Nurse Jackie. When a perp in his squad car asks sweaty Cooper if he's high, the cop gives him a "screen test" (slamming the brakes so the perp's face hits the screen between front and back seats). "John's become what disgusts him," says Cudlitz, who plans to submit episode 5 or 8, which both show Cooper at his rawest. That canny calculation could pass the Emmy screen test.

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Michael Shannon
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

As gangster Nucky Thompson's hulking, brooding Fed nemesis Nelson Van Alden, Shannon might get an Emmy nom to go with his Oscar nom for Revolutionary Road. "It's tricky because there's no episode where you're in the limelight -- that's the nature of being supporting. You're just looking for those moments that become kind of iconic," says Shannon. Fortunately, he's got them. So guiltily religious he whips himself, Van Alden also shoots and pummels witnesses. "He starts off as a goody two-shoes, and the audience is always waiting to see that fall apart." He plans to submit episode 11, where Van Alden drowns his partner while baptizing him, or episode 10, where he has his first drink at a speakeasy. "He really goes down the rabbit hole," says Shannon.

Donnie Wahlberg
Blue Bloods (CBS)

If anybody could follow in Tom Selleck's giant footsteps as a TV lawman of moral authority, it's 41-year-old New Kid on the Block Wahlberg. The clenched rectitude of his crumpled forehead rhymes with Selleck's, giving him a convincing family resemblance as Danny Reagan, the rebellious cop son of Selleck's police-commissioner character. Wahlberg plans to submit the episode "Silver Star," where his ex-Marine character hunts the rich, arrogant bastards who kill a homeless man in an alley. Just as 24's Jack Bauer was perfect for that era, Wahlberg nails the nation's post-crash resentments. Also, like his kid brother Mark, Wahlberg knows how to make family feelings feel real onscreen.