The International Emmy Awards, which will be handed out in New York on Monday, Nov. 23, feature nominees from 20 countries and span the globe from Argentina to Australia, from Germany to South Korea.
What’s striking about this year’s nominees is how many break the mold of traditional TV genres.
The Hollywood Reporter has picked four nominees to watch that all smash convention to find compelling drama, and even humor, in dementia, regional politics, structural injustice, and writer’s block.
Best Actress Nominee: Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth Is Missing
Two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson, after a second career in British politics as a Labour Party member of parliament, made a triumphant return to acting in 2016, playing King Lear on stage. Elizabeth Is Missing, for which Jackson is nominated for an International Emmy in the best actress category, marks her first TV role in nearly 30 years. In the TV movie, a British murder mystery that doubles as a study of dementia, Jackson plays an 80-something woman in the throws of late-stage Alzheimer’s struggling to figure out what happened after her friend Elizabeth suddenly vanishes after a day of gardening together. Director Aisling Walsh spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about why she cast the acting legend in the role.
When did you first think of Glenda Jackson for Maud?
Aisling Walsh: Glenda came into my mind when I was about 20 pages into the script. I knew she had returned to acting in the theatre after her political career and I thought how amazing it would be to get her to come and make a film. To see her on screen again after a 27-year absence. I’ve been a fan of her work since I was a teenager. She’s one of the finest actors ever and to get the opportunity to work with her would be a dream come true.
What did you think she would bring to the role of Maud?
I wanted an actor who is strong and fearless and Glenda is both those things. Glenda brought such detail to the role. Such reality. Such beauty and such truth. She’s fearless as an actor.
This series a very unique combination: a murder mystery that’s also an exploration of dementia.
The script was an opportunity to bring this disease into the arena. To have people discuss it. To have people see what it’s like or live with. It is as Glenda has often said “one of the black holes in our society.” People don’t talk about it yet so many people are affected by it. Young and old. People are living longer and it is an illness that we are going to have to confront and do something about. I loved the novel [by Emma Healey] and how Andrea Gibb adapted it. How Maud’s memory took her back to a tragic moment in her life that has haunted her for 70 years and finally she finds the truth about what happened. I loved the detail. The tragedy of someone trying to cope with an illness that presents itself differently all the time. There’s anger, hope, loss, happiness, and so many more emotions all playing out in this one character’s story.
Best Comedy Series Nominee: Fifty
A comedy about a middle-aged widower trying to make it as a TV writer doesn’t seem like the most obvious source material for great TV, but Fifty, an International Emmy nominee for best comedy series, proves laughs can come from unexpected places. Series creator Yael Hedaya spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about drawing on her own life to create the comedy hit.
You’ve worked on many impressive Israeli series as a writer, including In Therapy and Valley of Tears. What makes Fifty different for you?
Yael Hedaya: It’s the first series I’ve created so that’s a huge difference: It’s not about tuning into someone else’s vision, it’s about getting people to tune into yours; it’s about getting people to get it. And get as excited about it as you are, even when you’re not so sure what it is. It was kind of a risky idea because, at the time, there were no other shows where the lead character was a 50-year-old woman; someone who’s real and edgy and funny and flawed, someone whose damage isn’t her age but who she is.
I thought I’d have a hard time convincing broadcasters that the show has TV sex appeal, but I didn’t have to work too hard because I found the perfect partner right away. I had a meeting with Dganit Atias Gigi, head of the Drama department at YES TV, which turned out to be the shortest, sweetest, most fun pitch session in history. I pitched the show to her as Girls – The old lady version, and I was kind of apologetic because at that point, that’s all I had, and she said: “OK. I get it. Go for it.”
How autobiographical is the series and what personal experiences did you put into your lead character?
It’s a very personal series and very much about me, though none of the stuff that happens to the lead character actually happened to me, though probably could have, and thank God didn’t. Like me, the lead character is a screenwriter struggling to raise three kids on her own, but unlike me, she’s a widow. I was afraid that if she were a single mother by choice, like me, that would be the show and I didn’t want her to be divorced because then I’d have to deal with another character.
Still, every scene in the show is charged by the particles of my life, my attitude, my dynamics with my kids, and the emotional chaos of menopause, which is basically a second adolescence with a dismal prognosis. Having three teens in the house makes the competition over who’s more hormonal, more insane, and more rebellious, pretty tough and I always lost because I had nobody to rebel against and when I tried rebelling against the kids, they made me feel like a pathetic, little old lady.
What has the change in the television landscape worldwide — with non-English-language series now traveling widely — meant for you as a TV writer?
I think In Treatment was the breakthrough which marked the beginning of a new era. It was a brilliant, original concept, which at the same time was also very simple and universal, one of those How come we never thought of this? concepts, made in Israel, which opened a lot of doors for Israeli talent. I’m bi-lingual, my mother was American, which gives me the advantage of writing both in Hebrew and in English, and when I’m writing or trying to come up with a concept for a series, part of me is here, in my messy house with my noisy kids and my crazy dogs and part of me is having brunch with studio executives in Hollywood. But you can’t work like that, and if you want to write a great show, which maybe, hopefully, might also travel across the Atlantic, you’re going to have to shut off that nagging voice in your mind: Think Netflix! Think Amazon! Think HBO!, forget about those bagels and stay close to home.
Best Actor Nominee: Billy Barratt for Responsible Child
Responsible Child, nominated for the International Emmy in the best actor category for breakout performer Billy Barratt, takes a new perspective on “true crime” drama with an intensely-told story of a 12-year-old boy put on trial for murder. Closely based on true events, the film exposes the structural injustices of a U.K. legal system that treats children as if they were legally responsible adults. The film’s screenwriter, Sean Buckley, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the real-world impact he hopes Responsible Child can have.
This is a fictional story but how closely did you base it on real-life criminal cases?
Sean Buckley: Responsible Child is primarily based on the true story and trial of a boy (known as Ray in the film) that director Nick Holt, whose background is documentary, attended and felt might work best as a drama, so with exec producers Karen Wilson and Mark Raphael met with me to discuss the story. The key to its translation into a drama was to approach everything from Ray’s point of view, so that the audience experience his journey, through his eyes – from hitting custody, being taken through the Crown Court system, then onto serving his sentence, while also threading through his life before – the events that led up to his standing trial for murder. It also absorbs elements of other children’s experiences who have gone through this system, drawn from further research. To create both an intimate and specific human drama, that also speaks to the wider picture of all the other children who have, and are still, taken through this adult penal system.
What responsibility did you feel to get the details right —particularly the details of the legal system in the U.K. in regards to how it deals with young offenders?
There was a huge responsibility for us to get all the details right so that the audience experience every aspect of Ray’s journey. From speaking with the boy’s legal team, shadowing the central Barrister that had represented him in court, working from trial transcripts, meeting with the associated services – the Youth Offending Team for example – that Ray would have encountered as he is taken through the system. Also meeting with Child Forensic Psychiatrists responsible for assessing such children and visiting the Secure Homes where they go on to serve their sentences.
The film highlights tremendous injustice and significant problems with the legal system as it currently exists. Do you hope/expect your film can provide real change?
The ambition was to shine a fresh light on the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility – where a child aged 10 can be tried as an adult for serious crime, which has been UK law since 1963 – given what we now know, nearly 60 years on, about the neurological differences between an adult and child brain. If a boy like Ray, age 12, has a mind that is literally still growing and forming, experiencing and reacting to the world very differently to an adult – is it right they be tried under the same conditions? I hope the audience will experience a life they may only have come across before as a newspaper headline, really live that journey, then see where they settle on it. And goes on to provoke real discussion regarding the current law.
Best Actor Nominee: Guido Caprino for 1994
Exploring the politics of 1990s Italy doesn’t seem, on its surface, to be the stuff of globe-trotting drama. But 1994, which earned an International Emmy best actor nomination for star Guido Caprino, finds a universal story within a very local history. Caprino plays Pietro Bosco, a real-life populist “man of the people” who played a key role in the rise of Silvio Berlusconi. Caprino and 1994 showrunners Ludovica Rampoldi, Stefano Sardo, and Alessandro Fabbri spoke to The Hollywood Reporter on why the political turmoil of 1990s Italy is particularly relevant for 2020s America.
The events in the series happened more than 25 years ago. What makes 1994 still relevant today?
Ludovica Rampoldi, Stefano Sardo, Alessandro Fabbri: A rich entrepreneur with a soft spot for women and orange-hued foundation [Silvio Berlusconi] chooses to enter politics – some say to protect his economic interests and avoid convictions – and obtains a broad consensus due to a populist and strongly divisive approach. Despite being a billionaire with a large economic empire, he’s able to make the voters believe he’s the exponent of the people against the intellectual and political elites, exploiting the general distrust towards traditional politicians and undermining the rules of democracy. Ring a bell? That’s why we think our show might be relevant for the present world: what happened in Italy twenty-six years ago with Berlusconi has happened lately, and is still happening, in many other countries.
You didn’t originally think of Guido Caprino for the lead role as Pietro Bosco, did you?
We couldn’t find an actor who had Bosco’s massive rugby physique, the right age, the harsh northern accent, and the acting qualities to make sure it didn’t turn out to be too grotesque. We hadn’t thought of Guido — even if he had turned in a great performance for the Italian adaptation of In Treatment written by us— just because he is Sicilian. But when our casting director Francesca Borromeo sent us his audition, we were electrified. Not only did Guido have the right physique, the animal energy, and the instinctive and empathetic charisma to play Bosco: his Lombard accent was formidable! We didn’t know that, at the time he was working as a model, he had lived in Milan for years. He was simply perfect for the role. Guido is strong but fragile, brutal but lovable, charismatic but with something broken inside.
What made the role special for you, as an Italian who lived through this politically turbulent period?
Caprino: I don’t think Pietro Bosco’s peculiar features have anything to do with politics, at least not intrinsically. He is a man of the people. He finds himself entangled against his will. In a nutshell, we could say he is an undesirable person, haunted by an unavoidable sense of guilt, comparable to the gods of Olympus in the Greek tragedy. The need to be accepted, forgiven, loved, in a society that seems to leave him out, fuels Pietro’s anger. Plagued by a constant feeling of being the victim of an injustice. When everything turns for the worst he is given the scepter of power. Being an MP, one who can decide or at least participate in decisions. And that’s where he becomes a “special character”. What would you do in his place? What are the chances that the fascination of power may transform your thirst for justice into personal redemption?
The winners of the 2020 International Emmy Awards will be announced live online at www.iemmys.tv at 11 a.m. Eastern Time on Monday, Nov. 23.