Best Actor In A Drama
It’s always difficult to the handicap this category, particularly when the awards have not exactly been great precursors. Kevin Spacey and Kyle Chandler are coming up for their last shots, but I’m not a hundred percent certain they had enough time for voters to see the relevant episodes. Billy Bob Thornton had enough cache to get a Golden Globe Award, but did enough people see Goliath? And there are a lot of good actors who would’ve been better suited to the Movie/Miniseries category until they got shunted to this category? This could take a lot of pruning. So, here are my best guesses.
Paul Giamatti, Billions
Currently the most undervalued series on Showtime, in a striking reversal from last season, Chuck Rhoades was put on the defensive for pretty much half the year. Whereas last year, his aggressive self-righteousness was far more irritating than entertaining, this season he managed to play to our sympathies in some of the more fascinating ways. And in the final episodes, where he revealed just how far he was willing to go to get his nemesis, were some of the most shocking moments of the entire year. I’m hoping that Showtime makes more progress with the series this year than last.
Rami Malek, Mr. Robot
If some of the things we learned about Eliot were stunning to watch last year, it was nothing compared to watching him deal with the repercussion of the hack he realized he was the mastermind of last season. And in a season that was full of twists and turns, the revelation that he spent most of the year in prison was a shock that couldn’t have been pulled off without watching the ultimate in unreliable narrators. I’m not one for setting up a situation for a repeat, but if he were to be recognized yet again, I wouldn’t object.
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Jimmy McGill has become even more mesmerizing this year, with his back against the wall in the war against his brother. We did witness him take on the persona Saul Goodman for the first time, though not in the way we expected. More shockingly, in the final three episodes we saw him embrace his darker impulses far more stridently in a way that even Walter White might have been shocked by. And yet, there is still enough of a soul present, even though it is more and more buried, that makes us care for him, and wonder (even though we know better) that he might still be redeemed. He’s won two Actor prizes from the Broadcast Critics. He deserves similar recognition from the Emmys.
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
One of the great pleasures of last year was finally seeing this tremendous actor recognized for his brilliant work as the conflicted Philip Jennings. More and more worn down as each successive assignment is given to him, he finally may have reached the end of the road when he realized there was last assignment that he can’t walk away from. Its very daring in the age of antiheroes that in this series the male lead is the more empathetic character. The odds are high he’ll get another nomination this season. I would really like to see him up there.
Justin Theroux, The Leftovers
If we have to have an HBO nominee in this category, lets at least have one who has really done his part to earn it. Its a difficult job to play a local sheriff who can’t die, and who has to be the new Messiah in order to prevent the world from ending. But in The Leftovers brilliant swan song, Theroux reached levels of brilliance I wasn’t sure he was capable of it, as the story in the final two episode had him have been two hypothetical versions of himself — the President of the United States and his international assassin twin brother, one of whom has to die to end the world — and in the final episode, an older version finally proclaiming his love for the woman he spent the last fifteen years searching for. I can’t imagine any other actor making this seem plausible. Please God recognize him.
Billy Bob Thornton, Goliath
It’s a dark series to be sure. And its hard to know whether it’ll have the staying power of every other drama Amazon has. But its a David E. Kelley legal drama (he had a good year, as we’ll discuss later), and one thing these series have done historically well at is giving its leads Emmy nominations. Thornton’s Golden Globe may have been a fluke, but my guess is there are enough voters thinking he was robbed for Fargo to give him an edge.
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex
There are a lot of good contenders who may drop in — James Spader, Kiefer Sutherland for Designated Survivor, Aden Young for Rectify — but I’m going to stick with an old favorite, mainly because his series has run its course. Sheen’s work as Bill Masters was always a joy to watch as he tried to deny almost all his impulses, and it was just as fascinating in the final season to see Bill finally come to accept some of his greater problems. I really wish the series had gotten a final year, not the least of which because it would allow me to see resolution with his character. Acknowledgement from the Emmys would be the least they could do.