Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.
Get ready for the Michael Douglas awards parade. First up: The Primetime Emmys. To be sure, he’s the overwhelming favorite for this year’s movie/miniseries lead actor for his universally acclaimed performance as Liberace in Behind The Candelabra. He was so good that it overshadowed even the work of a superstar like Matt Damon in the same film (where he played the pianist’s young lover Scott Thorson). Al Pacino also is nominated for his portrayal of convicted murderer Phil Spector in the biopic of the same name, along with Benedict Cumberbatch for the mini Parade’s End and Toby Jones for the Alfred Hitchcock drama The Girl. Notably, all five nominees are honored for HBO projects. On the actress side, Jessica Lange is up for lead (instead of last year’s supporting) in FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum, which puts her in the unusual position of having the opportunity to win Emmys in back-to-back years for the same series in different categories. However, Lange’s foes for movie/mini lead actress have a combined 25 nominations and 7 wins to their credit. Two of them are chasing their first victories: Elisabeth Moss for Sundance Channel’s Top Of The Lake and Sigourney Weaver for the since-canceled USA Network mini Political Animals. Then there’s Laura Linney, also switching categories for Showtime’s The Big C: Hereafter; and Helen Mirren as lawyer Linda Kenney-Baden in Phil Spector.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS, Behind The Candelabra (HBO)
Emmy History: 5 noms, 0 wins
The real question is: How can Douglas not win? His performance as the flamboyant Liberace in Candelabra was widely hailed as one of the best of his sterling career. His having recently overcome cancer also doesn’t hurt. There is a very remote possibility that Douglas going up against costar Damon will split the vote and keep the trophy out of his hands. And there is also a chance that the sun will rise tomorrow in the west.
Related: EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview
Damon’s work as Liberace’s lover Scott Thorson wasn’t as showy as his costar’s, but it was pretty terrific all the same. In case anyone forgot, he’s also Matt Damon—no Douglas, but certainly no slouch. We probably don’t need to mention that Liberace’s young lover isn’t quite as charismatic as Liberace, which works against any upset possibility for Damon. It simply looks like Douglas’ year.
AL PACINO, Phil Spector (HBO)
Emmy History: 3 noms, 2 wins
He’s been nominated in the category twice before—for Angels In America and You Don’t Know Jack—and won both times. When you’re Al Pacino, winning is part of the deal. In any other year, and in any other film, Pacino would be the favorite. But while he was terrific in Spector, the movie itself was widely panned. He’s also due for a loss after a pair of wins.
Related: EMMYS: Drama Series Overview
Cumberbatch is British, and Emmy voters tend to have a soft spot for those Brits (though not quite as soft a spot as the Hollywood Foreign Press). Critics were fairly unanimous in their praise for him. Honestly, how many TV Academy members can even spell Cumberbatch? Also, Parade’s End lacked the buzz and pizazz of most other HBO longform projects. It’s not going to be his year.
In this original film, the British-born Jones was disarmingly creepy as Alfred Hitchcock, whose obsession with his leading lady during filming The Birds becomes disturbing. All you need to do is look at him to know he nailed this role. A lot of people were offended by the way The Girl trashed such an industry icon as a sexist, abusive bastard. It isn’t the kind of role that’s likely to be rewarded, particularly in a year when Liberace is king.
Related: EMMYS: Drama Lead Acting Handicap
JESSICA LANGE, American Horror Story: Asylum (FX)
Emmy History: 5 noms, 2 wins
Nobody plays nut cases like Lange, and her Sister Jude was one for the ages. So was Constance, whom she played on the FX anthology series the year before. This time, she’s so good it’s almost not a fair fight. There might be a backlash against the entrance of Horror Story in the longform category again, which permits Lange to compete here annually against less formidable competition.
Moss received huge plaudits for her stellar work on Lake, a slow-build thriller that she was able to carry impressively. It was a role that certainly showed off her range as an actress. Despite being favored a few times, she has never managed to win for her role as Peggy Olson on Mad Men—for which Moss is also nominated again this year.
Linney has a genuine shot at the gold for what everyone agrees was a spectacular turn as a woman dying of cancer in hereAfter. And she’s already won in this category twice (in 2002 and ’08). Her having switched categories from comedy series to movie/mini stands to confuse a lot of voters. Too, Linney’s portrayal of a cancer victim could be a tad too depressing to honor.
A lot of folks saw Hillary Clinton in Weaver’s portrayal of a former First Lady and current Secretary of State, which was probably no accident and might fuel an upset. Her reputation as a top-notch actress gives her a real shot. Her name isn’t Tony Shalhoub, greatly lessening her chances as a USA Network player. Political Animals is also canceled and largely forgotten, considering it aired close to a year ago. Voters have short memories.
Well, she’s Helen Mirren, and all four of her previous triumphs have come in this very category dating back to 1996. Oh, and by the way, she’s also won an Oscar. But mainly she’s Helen Mirren, which is typically more than enough. This is generally seen as Mirren’s least effective television work ever, finding her badly cast in a movie that never quite clicked—in a role originally tailored to Bette Midler. This just isn’t Mirren’s year.