Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
This mini-movie supporting lineup promises to be a particularly unpredictable one, with at least three of the contenders and maybe four having a legitimate claim on the golden girl. It begins with James Cromwell’s chilling portrayal of a Nazi scientist in FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum and continues with Zachary Quinto‘s performance in the same project as a psychiatrist who has a secret life as a serial killer. They will be competing with Peter Mullan for his work as the sadistic Matt in the Sundance Channel miniseries Top Of The Lake and John Benjamin Hickey, nommed for his portrayal of the dying Cathy’s brother Sean in Showtime’s The Big C: Hereafter. Finally, there is the longest shot on the board: Scott Bakula in the HBO biopic Behind The Candelabra. The five nominees for mini-movie supporting actress honor five pretty spectacular performances, as we would expect. Any of the five could go home with the trophy. Heading this impressive group is the veteran Alfre Woodard, whose 17th nomination (for her work in the Lifetime reboot of Steel Magnolias) ties her with Ed Asner and surpasses the 16 of Tyne Daly. That’s some pretty impressive company, particularly considering that the 17 come for 16 different roles. She’s also got four wins to her credit. Woodard goes up against Sarah Paulson for FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum (her second nom) and Ellen Burstyn for USA’s Political Animals (her sixth) as well as first-timers Imelda Staunton (HBO’s The Girl) and Charlotte Rampling (for the Sundance Channel mini Restless).
MINISERIES-MOVIE SUPPORTING ACTOR
Why He Could Win: Throughout his long and colorful career, Cromwell has remained something of a beloved figure. The irony is that he could well win here for playing against type as a sadistic Nazi scientist and torturer in Asylum.
Why He Could Lose: This is annually a profoundly unpredictable category, and any of three first-time nominees could knock Cromwell off. He’s also never won in three previous noms, which may or may not be an indicator.
Related: EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview
Why He Could Win: Without Mullan’s performance as Matt Mitcham, Top Of The Lake would have wilted on the vine. The Scots actor gives a spectacularly menacing performance that curdles the blood and soils one’s soul.
Why He Could Lose: Few people have really heard of Peter Mullan, and you need to watch the entire mini to fully appreciate the depth of his work. That’s asking a lot of Emmy voters.
ZACHARY QUINTO, American Horror Story: Asylum (FX)
Emmy History: 1 nom.
Why He Could Win: It’s hard to imagine a creepier and more disturbingly-played character than Quinto’s alter ego Dr. Oliver Thredson, a shrink and, in his spare time, serial killer. This is a wide-open category, with no clear favorite.
Why He Could Lose: He’s still largely an unknown, and if we’ve learned anything from Michael C. Hall’s shutout at the Emmys, this group has some trouble rewarding actors who portray sadistic repeat murderers.
JOHN BENJAMIN HICKEY, The Big C: Hereafter (Showtime)
Emmy History: 1 nom.
Why He Could Win: Hickey was heartbreakingly good as the loyal, supportive and unflinchingly honest Sean, who is there with his sister Cathy (Laura Linney) nearly until the end. It doesn’t hurt that he won a Tony in 2011.
Why He Could Lose: He’s is up against three guys (Cromwell, Mullan, Quinto) who portrayed high-octane evil bastards – the kind of parts that always seem to get noticed at the Emmys.
Why He Could Win: If Candelabra starts sweeping up awards in the mini-movie category, Bakula – for his work as Scott Thorson’s best friend Bob Black – may well get taken along for the ride.
Why He Could Lose: It was a curious nomination to begin with for a particularly vanilla role, as Bakula himself readily acknowledged. He’s also already a four-time Emmy loser. This doesn’t feel like the first win.
MINISERIES-MOVIE SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Why She Could Win: Paulson was surprising and superb as a lesbian journalist circa 1950s whose sexual orientation is used against her in torturous ways. It may well be time for these people to honor a gay scribe.
Why She Could Lose: American Horror Story: Asylum already boasted so many brilliant performances that Paulson’s may get lost. And she’s going up against something of a living legend in Burstyn.
Related: EMMYS: Drama Series Overview
ELLEN BURSTYN, Political Animals (USA Network)
Emmy History: 6 noms, 1 win.
Why She Could Win: Burstyn’s steals scenes and takes no prisoners as Sigourney Weaver’s hard-drinking, hard-cursing mother, the kind of performance that is rarely passed over by voters. The actress is already something of a living legend.
Why She Could Lose: This is something of a toss-up category, and Political Animals died such an early and inglorious death that it was repackaged from series to miniseries. That greatly impacts Burstyn’s chances.
Why She Could Win: Yes, this is really Woodard’s 17th nomination. She gets all of the Emmy action that her African American contemporaries don’t. Her work in Magnolias as the unfiltered Ouiser feels tailor-made for a fifth win.
Why She Could Lose: It’s tough to know how voters will respond to an actress in a Lifetime movie, which typically receives less respect than one on HBO or even FX.
IMELDA STAUNTON, The Girl (HBO)
Emmy History: 1 nom.
Why She Could Win: As the wild card in the deck that was The Girl, Staunton gave perhaps the strongest performance in the film as Alfred Hitchcock’s wife Alma. The fact it was an HBO original helps her chances immeasurably.
Why She Could Lose: A lot of folks found this film that portrays Hitchcock as an abusive head case as rather icky. And while that shouldn’t taint the work of players who appeared in it, it likely does.
Why She Could Win: Rampling is just exceptionally good as Sally, the paranoid Russian émigré mother with a very dark past in the underrated Restless. It’s probably the most effective work of any actress in this category.
Why She Could Lose: Both the project and Rampling are dark horses because they’re so little-known, giving them an outsider, indie sort of feel. That doesn’t often lend itself to victories, even upset ones.