Emmys: The Neck-and-Neck Race for Supporting Supremacy

As awards night approaches, these four supporting actor categories — with nominations for Tituss Burgess, Adam Driver, Emilia Clarke and more — have no clear winner.
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Tituss Burgess, Adam Driver, Emilia Clarke

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.


Jonathan Banks (Better Call Saul)

Pro: For reprising the same role that he played on Breaking Bad en route to a 2013 nom — Mike Ehrmantraut, a cop-turned-PI with a complicated past — and subtly filling in many of the blanks about him, this grizzled vet already won a Critics’ Choice Award.

Con: It’s been a decade since someone as old as or older than Banks (68) won this category. And rare is the actor who won an Emmy for a character previously played on another show for which a win didn’t occur.

Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Pro: Though many would struggle to pick this veteran British character actor out of a lineup if he weren’t dressed as Mr. Carson, Downton’s uptight butler, he has managed to score noms in four consecutive years, and was part of this year’s best ensemble SAG winner.

Con: Downton isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and in light of the fact that he hasn’t won for it yet, it’s hard to imagine him winning now.

Alan Cumming (The Good Wife)

Pro: This category’s only nominee for a broadcast show was previously nominated for playing slick lawyer Eli Gold in 2010 (as a guest actor) and 2011 (in this same category). This year, he also was a Golden Globe nominee (albeit for the season before this one) and raised his profile by co-hosting the Tonys.

Con: Voters seem to have fallen out of love with The Good Wife and The Good Wife, denying the show and Julianna Margulies noms that many assumed were assured. That’s not a good sign for others associated with them.

Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) PROJECTED WINNER

Pro: For the revered actor who brings to life “half-man” Tyrion, the Lannister whose Olympic-level verbal gymnastics landed him on an rollercoaster of a season that led to Daenerys, this is a fifth nomination (all in a row), just one behind the record for this category (which he won in 2011).

Con: When it comes to this category, some have won one year, lost the next and then won the next (Aaron Paul did that twice) — but no one ever has had gaps of multiple between wins for the same show.

Michael Kelly (House of Cards)

Pro: The brilliant character actor behind political strategist/all-around creep Doug Stamper easily was the best thing about his show’s otherwise iffy third season, and the episode he submitted — its first — showcases the physical commitment his part required as he clawed back to life and plotted his return to power.

Con: Some have argued Stamper’s third season arc was awfully similar to Corey Stoll’s season one addict, which was Emmy-snubbed. Regardless, Kelly could be held back by his show’s decline.

Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline)

Pro: This Aussie vet’s interpretation of a part that could’ve been two-dimensional — Danny Rayburn, the bad egg in a complicated family — instead has been hailed as one of the most striking TV performances (specifically, TV “bad guys”) in recent memory. Accordingly, he received a Critics’ Choice nom.

Con: The show suggested from the start that Danny dies in the end, and he does — but recent reports indicating he’ll somehow be returning for season two may undermine the urgency of recognizing him now.


Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black) PROJECTED WINNER

Pro: This inventive, vanity-free character actress, who won last year’s guest actress in a comedy Emmy (before rule changes rendered her a regular in a drama) and this year’s SAG Award (over supporting and lead actresses), possesses the face — and specifically, the “crazy eyes” — that launched a thousand GIFs.

Con: Like all things, her mugging and wisecracks lose some of their novelty with the passage of time.

Christine Baranski (The Good Wife)

Pro: This is the revered vet’s sixth consecutive nom for this show (and 14th overall), thanks to her vivid portrait of Diane Lockhart, the ultimate power lawyer. Nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award earlier this year (this category’s only nominee represented), she’s broadcast TV’s last woman standing in this Emmy category.

Con: She is this category’s only nominee whose show isn’t also nominated for best drama series. And she hasn’t taken home an Emmy since 1995, when she won as a comedic supporting actress for Cybill.

Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones)

Pro: On season five of the most nominated show on TV, this delicate-looking beauty proved once again that she’s tough as nails, portraying Daenerys Targaryen as she struggles to out-maneuver those who would take the Iron Throne from her. This is her second nomination in the last three years.

Con: This time, unlike last, she’s competing against a costar, Lena Headey. No female member of this show’s remarkable ensemble ever has taken home a prize.

Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey)

Pro: This likable Brit, who won a Golden Globe this year, landed her third nom in four years for her sweet housemaid Anna who, against all odds, has wound up right where her beloved Bates once sat: in jail. The other times she was in contention, so, too, was her formidable costar Maggie Smith — but not this go-around!

Con: No member of the show’s massive ensemble not named Maggie Smith ever has taken home a prize.

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)

Pro: For a season in which Cersei Lannister is forced to admit and, in the season’s final episode (the one she submitted for voter consideration), humiliatingly and unforgettably punished for her carnal sins, the English actress landed her second consecutive nom.

Con: This time, unlike last time, she’s competing against a costar, Emilia Clarke. No female member of this show’s remarkable ensemble ever has taken home a prize.

Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)

Pro: This is the sixth consecutive nom for the actress who plays Joan, the sexy sixties secretary-turned-career woman. Hendricks never more effectively conveyed Joan’s desire — and struggle — to be taken seriously than she did during the show’s final episodes. It’s not too late for TV Academy members to prove they can see beyond her looks.

Con: Inexplicably, not a single member of Mad Men’s acclaimed ensemble ever has won an acting prize.


Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)

Pro: The popular veteran’s second consecutive nom for this show (and ninth overall — he’s won twice) comes for a season in which his Capt. Holt says a very dramatic goodbye to his family at the Nine-Nine — but not before hilariously trying to find the mole in his department, which happens in the ep he submitted.

Con: The fact that Braugher didn’t win for the show’s first season, when it had much more buzz (coming off of a Golden Globe series win), probably doesn’t bode well for him winning for its second. This time around, he represents its only major nomination.

Tituss Burgess (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Pro:The Broadway baby made the jump to the small screen and has been warmly embraced for his portrayal of Kimmy Schmidt’s mischievous roommate whose ambitions outweigh his talent — a role some have said he was born to play (he even shares his character’s first name, give or take an ‘s’) and for which he was a Critics’ Choice nominee. Thanks to him, you’ll never think of pinot noir the same way again.

Con: Burgess’ portrayal was a bit too over the top for some — and he’s still largely unknown in Hollywood.

Ty Burrell (Modern Family) PROJECTED WINNER

Pro: This sixth consecutive nom for the likable star who plays TV’s everydad (he won in 2011 and 2014) comes for a season in which he acted in more episodes than anyone else represented in this category (24), and for a funny ep in which his character forces his daughter to skip school. Boding well for the actor: this is the first time he doesn’t have to compete against a costar.

Con: Perhaps the reason for his costars’ absence is a general fatigue with the show and its premise — after all, people often come to take for granted even the things they love!

Adam Driver (Girls)

Pro: This is the third consecutive nom for the rising star — this category’s youngest nominee — and comes in a year in which he also received his first Critics’ Choice nom. The episode he submitted is poignant: his character, long insensitive to the feelings of his romantic partners, gets the tables turned on him.

Con: He’s the last regular cast member still receiving Emmy attention for a show that has, in the minds of many, gone from must-see TV to an afterthought. It’s hard to imagine him winning for the first time at this point.

Tony Hale (Veep)

Pro: This poker-faced character actor received his second straight Critics’ Choice nom and third straight Emmy nom (he won in 2013) for his work as Selina Meyer’s sycophantic “bag man” Gary on season four, in which the teacher’s pet commits faux-pas after faux-pas (such as overspending on a presidential dinner, as featured in the episode he’s submitted).

Con: His whole shtick has grown wearisome for some, as it’s more or less the same as it ever was.

Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele)

Pro: The very fact that he’s nominated is rather remarkable, since performers from sketch shows have rarely registered in the acting categories. (He submitted the “Sex Detective” episode, but his “anger translator” Luther scored him praise from Pres. Obama.) And you know voters really like him based on the fact that he has four other noms this year, too!

Con: Since Carl Reiner won in this category in the 1950s for Caesar’s Hour, no other actor has been recognized in this category for a performance on a sketch show — not Eddie Murphy, not Bill Hader, not nobody!


Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory)

Pro:This is the Blossom star’s fourth consecutive nom for her work as nerdette Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler on the Tiffany network’s ratings bonanza, and it comes for a season in which she also received a Critics’ Choice nom (as did only one other nominee from this category, Allison Janney).

Con:For whatever reason, TV Academy members really turned against the show this season, denying it — and its star Jim Parsons, last year’s comedy actor winner — nominations. It’s hard to imagine her winning for the first time in such a year.

Julie Bowen (Modern Family)

Pro: The deft comedienne bagged her sixth straight nom for her portrayal of harried homemaker Claire Dunphy. (She won in 2011 and 2012 — only four women have won three or four times.) In a year in which she submitted an episode in which she plays a person playing someone else, and in which the TV Academy opened up voting to a larger group of voters, she could well wind up back in the winner’s circle.

Con: Again?

Anna Chlumsky (Veep)

Pro: Many feel it’s long overdue for the TV Academy to recognize this former child star for her career-defining portrayal of a sharp-tongued, Machiavellian political strategist that her candidate can’t live with or without. As she proved again in season four, the third in a row for which she’s been nominated, nobody on television can deliver a crushing one-liner more effectively.

Con: It’s been a long time since a person won in this category for playing an “unlikable” character. And this year, unlike last, she is nominated alongside another actress from her own network.

Gaby Hoffman (Transparent)

Pro: The quirky darling of indie creators and consumers landed her first Emmy noms this year, one for a guest turn on Girls and the other for her ne’er-do-well Ali. Many of the show’s biggest laughs come thanks to her odd character, who has a failed threesome and drugged-out Uber ride in the episode she submitted.

Con: Her self-sabotaging, no-filter character turns off some. Plus voters may prefer to recognize her in the guest acting category.

Allison Janney (Mom) PROJECTED WINNER

Pro: Nobody has more range than this respected thesp, who’s been nominated for eight Emmys, winning six. Two of her wins came last year (she’s a double nominee this year too), one for this show on which she plays a recovering addict trying to win back the love of her daughter. For this season she’s already won a Critics’ Choice Award.

Con: With eight nominees in this category, voters have plenty of options to spread around their love a bit.

Jane Krakowski (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt)

Pro: This fearless comedienne has been nominated in five of the last seven years, four times for her work as Jenna Maroney on Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s 30 Rock and now for playing a vapid, ditzy wife and mother who employs Kimmy Schmidt on another Fey-Carlock joint. (In flashbacks, she even plays herself at 14!)

Con: It’s a very broad and silly part (although some might argue her work on 30 Rock was too) and her scenes sometimes feel forced.

Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)

Pro: This is the second consecutive acting nom for SNL’s reigning queen, who this year submitted the Taraji P. Henson-hosted episode, in which she displays her range of comedy: impersonating Hillary Clinton in the cold open, parodying A League of Their Own and sending up Hollywood Game Night and QVC.

Con: SNL-ers often get noms in supporting acting categories, but none ever has scored gold. It’s hard to imagine that changing this year.

Niecy Nash (Getting On)

Pro: The Reno 911! alum plays DiDi, an empathetic nurse at a hospital’s geriatric ward, in this under-the-radar dramedy inspired by a British series. Few people are able to perform such a wide array of comedy, while also capably handling dramatic scenes. Also of note: she’s the only person of color in this category.

Con: She arguably was the biggest “Who?!” of nominations morning. Moreover, the seasons of her show — one of HBO’s lowest-rated — are comprised of just six 30-minute episodes, and it already has been announced that the next season will be its last.