If I Had An Emmy Ballot 2014: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Senior Television Writer
06.18.14 42 Comments


The Television Academy of Arts & Sciences released this year’s Emmy ballots last week. Now that the ballots are out, it’s time for our annual two-pronged experiment, in which Dan tries to predict the likeliest nominees in each major category, while I pretend that I’m an actually TV Academy member and pick the six nominees that would make me the happiest.

We are, as always, playing by the Emmy rules, which means we can’t argue for someone who didn’t submit themselves (say, Alan Cumming for “The Good Wife”), can’t move someone from lead to supporting or vice versa, and can’t declare that “True Detective” is a miniseries and therefore clear more room in the drama categories. I’m also obviously limited by what I watched and what I haven’t. I think I saw maybe three episodes of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” this season, for instance, and while I like the show a lot, the sample size wasn’t enough.

We enter the home stretch with our first lead actor category, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Dan’s analysis is here, and mine is coming right up.

Though this category isn’t as deep as its supporting actor counterpart, it’s more top-heavy. Even after winnowing out the likes of Joel Kinnaman, Tom Mison and Timothy Olyphant, I still had a list of eight that I had to stare at for a very long time, over a period of many days, before I could finally winnow it down to eight, by very reluctantly cutting out both the “Hannibal” leads. (I agree with Mads Mikkelsen’s decision to submit as a lead this year, given Hannibal’s increased prominence in season 2; I just liked these other six a fraction more than him or Hugh Dancy.)

Let’s start with the headline showdown: Bryan Cranston vs. Matthew McConaughey. I’ve been convinced that McConaughey is a lock to win this since around the third or fourth week that “True Detective” was on the air, and we can talk more about the reasons why when we get closer to the ceremony in August. For now, though, I’ll just say that it’s a performance that lives up to the hype, and to the narrative of the McConaissance, and all those jokes about time being a flat circle are as much tribute to the magnetism of his work as Rust Cohle as they are having some fun with that show’s philosophizing. Then again, Cranston has “Ozymandias,” which features a trio of unforgettable Walter White sequences (his response to what happens in the desert, the fight with Skyler, and the phone call), featuring some of his very best work in one of the all-time great TV roles and performances. So maybe I shouldn’t have my various Wooderson/Cohle GIFs ready to go for Emmy night quite yet. Either way, these two men were amazing, and belong here.

Let’s continue with McConaughey’s “True Detective” co-star, Woody Harrelson. Rust Cohle was probably the better, and certainly the flashier, of the two lead roles on that show, but Harrelson was every bit as good as his longtime pal McConaughey, and I can see a scenario where they both wind up submitting the fifth episode, which has both the “flat circle” monologue for McConaughey and Marty Hart’s response to what he finds in Reggie LaDoux’s house for Harrelson. Glad to see him submitted as a lead, which he absolutely was, rather than having HBO try to suck up more awards by submitting him in supporting.

And another Matthew: Matthew Rhys from “The Americans,” who raised his game right along with the show itself in season 2, shining even as Philip Jennings was falling apart due to a very violent stretch of work, plus multiple complications at home, and at work. If the Academy suddenly becomes aware that this show exists and Rhys gets the nomination he deserves, I can see “Martial Eagle” at least giving voters pause before they make their pre-ordained pick. He’s that good.

I’ve made my peace with the unlikelihood of Jon Hamm ever winning one of these things – it’s one thing when “The Suitcase” isn’t enough for him to beat Kyle Chandler, but when the Hershey speech isn’t enough to beat Jeff freaking Daniels on “The Newsroom,” then this particular audience isn’t interested in what he’s selling – but he once again had a season full of wonderful moments: Don’s overwhelmed reaction to Sally’s simple “I love you, Daddy,” or his slow-burn at realizing Peggy was now treating him as a junior copywriter, or the sequence with Peggy in Lou’s office in “The Strategy,” up through his response to the musical performance that closed this half-season. Great work that probably will one day wind up on a list with Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, Jason Alexander as George Costanza and Martin Sheen as Josiah Bartlet on the “How in the world did the Emmy voters completely miss the boat on that performance as that character?”

Finally, we have Michael Sheen from “Masters of Sex,” delivering a performance as buttoned down as so many of the others on this list are explosive. Sheen had his big moments to emote, particularly around the pregnancy arc and at the end of season 1, but so much of what made his portrayal of William Masters fascinating was the icy, controlled mystery of it, and how hard it was for even a gregarious, seductive type like Virginia Johnson to crack that shell.

What does everybody else think? What would be your ideal six in the category?

Previously: Outstanding Drama Series Outstanding Comedy Series Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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