A column chronicling conversations and events during the Emmy awards season.

With House of Cards completely out of the picture in terms of this year’s Emmy Awards, the Television Academy dodged a bullet in terms of dealing with any problem arising from having to answer questions about Kevin Spacey, who was dropped from the show by Netflix after explosive allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced from several people. He was also dropped by just about everyone else he was in business with too, including his already filmed role in the Ridley Scott movie All the Money in the World, where he was famously replaced by Christopher Plummer who got an Oscar nomination for his efforts.

The multiple Oscar- and Tony Award-winning Spacey has been nominated 12 times in various capacities for Emmys, mostly as producer and star of House of Cards, but has never won. It appeared he would finally be able to add an Emmy statuette to his mantlepiece when the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voted him their Founders Award in 2017, given “to an individual who crosses cultural borders to touch humanity.” But they revoked it in late October before the scheduled November 20 ceremony had a chance to take place because of the allegations against him.

Kevin Spacey
CBS

But watching last Sunday’s terrific Tony Awards broadcast hosted this year by Josh Groban and Sara Bareilles, I was reminded that it was just a year ago that Spacey had hosted the Tonys, and it is that 2017 CBS broadcast that is eligible now for an Emmy nomination in the Variety Specials (Live) category, as usual. In addition to the producers, the host is also usually eligible to receive a Tony should it win. The rub is it appears producers , and perhaps CBS, are also trying to dodge a bullet here  by not even submitting it in the program category which would be a first for the Emmy-friendly Tonys , but still are making it eligible in other categories where Spacey doesn’t figure (ie. lighting etc). The sleuths at sister site Gold Derby picked up on this little nugget.

The reason this is significant is because the Tony Awards gets nominated in this category (or previous iterations of it) every year like clockwork. Since 1980 it has won 15 times by my count, most recently last year for the James Corden-hosted 2016 show, and it has been nominated another 12 times at least. However, the Spacey connection likely makes this the rare year the 2017 show (in which Dear Evan Hansen was the big winner) misses getting nominated at all. I can’t imagine the TV Academy or CBS would want to be in a position where it would appear to be rewarding Spacey, even if he personally is taken out of eligibility and the show still made the list. It looks like the Emmys won’t have the Tonys to kick around this year.  Based on last Sunday’s broadcast however where The Band’s Visit , Harry Potter , and Angels In America cleaned up, you can bet the Tonys will be back next year big time.

Competition for the nominations in the category this year include the usual suspects like the Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys, Super Bowl Halftime Show, Fox’s A Christmas Story Live and the likely frontrunner at this point, NBC’s Easter Sunday presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar!

JESSICA BIEL TRANSFORMS INTO ‘THE SINNER’

Justin Timberlake Jessica Biel
REXShutterstock

Jessica Biel has gotten the reviews of her career by going a little psycho in the USA Network limited series mystery drama The Sinner, which won her Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations and has now put her in serious contention for a Lead Actress nod in the Limited Series/Movie category at the Emmys.

She truly becomes almost unrecognizable in the creepy story of a woman named Cora who goes crazy one day and kills a man in full public view, and in front of her husband and young son, on a crowded beach. Since we know who did this from the start, the eight part series is more of a “why-did-she-do-it” as she gradually unravels emotionally and the mysteries about her motive deepens. It has gotten the best notices for the USA Network since Season 1 of Mr. Robot, and it has launched a major Emmy campaign on Biel’s and the show’s behalf.

Biel, who also serves as an executive producer, praises USA as well as her return to TV where as a child actor she did more than 130 episodes of the polar-opposite Seventh Heaven.

“Television has changed so much since I was a kid…I mean specifically for women, the great roles on TV, so it just felt like a no-brainer,” she told me in a phone conversation this week. “It’s just like being up on the evolution of your business and finding where you can tell the most compelling stories, and where you can find the most intriguing characters, and that’s on television now.”

USA Network

She and partner Michelle Purple teamed with Universal Cable Productions which brought her the book, they hired writer-creator Derek Simonds, shopped the pilot around town and sold it to USA. It is not as easy as it sounds due to the nature of the material, and not the norm of what USA has previously been known for. “They took a huge risk with this show, right? I mean this is really dark material. Would anybody even care to watch something like this? None of us really knew the answer to that but I’ve just been so thankful they jumped off the cliff with us and were really bold and courageous and not interested in doing the same things over and over again,” she said.

I suggested to Biel that the emotional toll this role must have taken on her would likely send anyone to a therapist. “I am glad to hear you say that. Believe me, I saw a therapist before, during, and after,” she laughed. “I’m still seeing my therapist. That’s just part of my life now. I always make this joke that I need to see some sort of facialist after the amount of crying, and forehead scrunching and eye scrunching. My poor skin after that show, I feel like I aged 10 years.”

Still, Biel said as an actor this is the kind of dream role you live for, however torturous it may seem, because it is the most creatively fulfilling. She says she did have to go deep to try to find compassion and understanding for this deeply disturbed character in some way, and tried to relate it to obviously dissimilar traumas she has experienced in her own life to help her get there.

“I think any great character actor, anybody who’s ever played a villain before would say the same thing, that to find that empathy, and that compassion for this person, you really have to start to believe in them,” she said. “You have to believe in their path or whatever it is that your character is trying to accomplish, you have to have major empathy for that even if it is insane… If you just play crazy then it is a bad performance.”

The Sinner
USA Network

For Biel, The Sinner represents a new way of taking charge of her career, and that is also as a producer. Due to the show’s success it has now been picked up for a second season with a brand new story, ala American Crime Story. Co-star Bill Pullman will continue on as the detective with a new featured star, Carrie Coon, but Biel will be involved only as a producer. She likes the new direction.

“Our business is changing. It’s very different now,” she said. “I don’t feel that to be fully engaged in your career is just sitting by phone hoping that somebody calls you, hoping that there’s an audition that you can score out of the multitudes of amazingly talented people. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. It’s too competitive. For me, I was craving to do more anyway and I wanted some different experiences. I wanted to wear some different hats. I want to have a long career and you know I don’t necessarily feel like, ‘Well am I going to be doing this when I’m 60 or 70 years old?’ I don’t know. Maybe. That’ll be really great, but it would also be great to have another side of a career where I’m producing things for other people. I have a great company that I’m behind. I’m partnering with people, we’re making great content, and it doesn’t necessarily all have to bank on me being on screen, even though right now I’m still very interested.”

Netflix

In addition to this Emmy contender, Biel also has a recurring role in another likely nominee, Netflix’s wild and crazy animated hit BoJack Horseman, in which she voices a character that is Jessica Biel! “How about that? It’s so much fun. I mean BoJack is…it’s almost like a crime that you get paid for it because it’s so much fun and those guys are so funny and cool and you just walk into that booth and you’re there for a couple hours literally just being totally insane and crazy,” she said. “I get to make fun of myself like I’m some crazy pretentious bimbo. I get to be like kind of psychotic. They write me just going anything and everything and it’s always this sort of heightened surreal kind of person or version of me and that’s just fun. I mean people don’t think of me to do things like that and I’d love to do more things like that especially on camera stuff too, so it’s a really nice kind of dipping my toe into a comedy world that feels safe.”

As for the immediate future, she will be spending the summer buzzing around Europe with her family and following husband Justin Timberlake on his latest tour, while her company continues to develop new projects. “We’ll see what bites,” she said.

J.K. SIMMONS DOUBLES THE CHALLENGE

Netflix

Ironically, I also hopped on the phone this week with another Emmy contender who happens coincidentally to also be in BoJack Horseman, having played Lenny Turtletaub in several episodes since the show debuted on Netflix in 2014. That’s just one of many animated projects J.K. Simmons loves doing including Robot Chicken and Archer. Much of his time these days though revolves around one of the more challenging roles of his career in the Starz series Counterpart, for which he is currently busy shooting Season 2, so it was hard to put our schedules together for a little chat.

Counterpart is an intriguing futuristic series in which he says he gets to play opposite his favorite actor, himself. In it he is Howard Silk, a lowly UN employee who finds out his agency has a gateway to a parallel dimension in which his other “self,” as it were, is a major spy. He is caught up on both sides of this Cold War in the complex show that features an international cast. Some of it has been shot in Berlin, but Simmons was partially attracted because he mostly gets to work in L.A. on it.

After winning a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2014 for Whiplash, the new show affords him the luxury of moving up to a leading man part, or should I say leading men?

“What appealed initially was playing the kinder, gentler, meek version of Howard,” he said. “I didn’t even know that it was a whole parallel world thing, or playing two characters when I sat down to read the script. I just was initially drawn into this by the sad sack Howard we meet in the first 20 pages,” he said. “And then the bombshell drops and we are aware there’s a second universe and a second Howard.”

Counterpoint
Starz

He was initially kind of shocked when he realized that meant he would be playing both these guys. He said while it was daunting, he also found it refreshingly challenging for a guy who has been around the block in this business a long time. “I have a short attention span and I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again,” he said. Even though it is essentially episodic TV, he doesn’t see any chance of this particular series getting stale or repeating itself, saying there are virtually limitless possibilities.

As for playing opposite himself?

“When I have the opportunity to play scenes with my favorite actor and play both Howards, you know, I just really approach them one at a time, and we’ve got a variety of ways that we’ve gone about it, technically, logistically,” he said. “But really what we’ve arrived at is a very actor-friendly way of being able to shoot those scenes where I’m just playing them with my stand-in, and you know we play it one way and then we flip it around and play it the other way, just like you would a scene if it was me (and the other actors). So it just means you’ve got to be twice as prepared.”

And because it is just 10 episodes a season, with a bit of a more luxurious shooting schedule, he finds doing it the perfect hybrid between traditional TV and a feature film — different than his first foray into television with his role on the long-running series Oz 20 years ago.

Starz

Of course, all this means he has time to cash in that Oscar success with more movies, and in fact most recently finished working with his Whiplash producer, and Juno director Jason Reitman, on the new political drama The Front Runner about the ill-fated presidential campaign of Sen. Gary Hart, who found a scandalous photo of him on a boat with Donna Rice erupted into scandal and destroyed his once-promising run for the White House in 1988. Hugh Jackman plays Hart, and Simmons is his campaign manager Bill Dixon. It is planned for release through Sony this fall and could be an awards contender.

Inevitably it will compared to some of the scandals the current President has found himself in, but this happened 30 years ago and a lot has obviously changed.

“Obviously other scandals have happened in the meantime but you know being with a girl in a bikini on a boat kind of pales in comparison,” Simmons laughed, adding that the book and screenplay examine the thing rather holistically and don’t take sides. “It’s not about right versus left and it doesn’t make Gary Hart out to be a hero or Superman. It really looks at a lot of angles including holding the press sort of culpable. Is this really what the Washington Post should be doing? Hiding in bushes?” He says the real Bill Dixon was very helpful and cooperative with in phone conversations, emails and giving the overall vibe of the times and what exactly happened.

“I am not a particularly politically involved person, but looking back on it now, it was a seminal campaign in many ways,” he said.

AMPAS

Simmons says scripts have been coming in at a lively pace since his Whiplash Oscar, and he doesn’t believe he ever would have gotten Counterpart without that movie and the rewards it brought to him. “I’ve been very fortunate from the early days of my career, you know, that one good thing has seemed to lead to another. So, I had no complaints before that, but there have been a plethora of opportunities since then, and interestingly it’s given me the freedom to kind of turn down even more than usual,” he said, pointing to the importance of family time. “You know, our kids are teenagers and they’re not going to be with us in the same house, forever, and I took the last two summers completely off. I’m taking this summer virtually off here. We wrap in a week on Counterpart, and it’s given me the opportunity to kind of say, you know what, I think I’m going to have job offers, I don’t have to work all the damn time, and so I can afford to take more time to be with my family.”