Deadline Awards Columnist and Chief Film Critic Pete Hammond gives his take on the top acting contenders for the 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards. Here, he breaks down the categories of Outstanding Lead and Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

With a win here, one of the six nominees for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie has a chance to complete an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony), two others could add to their previous Emmy wins, while the other three are simply looking for their first. Among the contenders, three are playing real-life people as distinctly varied as a serial killer, a legendary artist, and a rock-singing Jesus Christ. The competition is so fierce this year that even Al Pacino failed to make the list. Here’s the handicap…

Antonio Banderas
Genius: Picasso
National Geographic

Following in the footsteps of Geoffrey Rush as Einstein in last year’s Genius, Antonio Banderas plays the great painter Pablo Picasso and throws himself completely into the part—just as he did in And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself, a 2004 contender in the same category that earned the Spanish star his only other Emmy nomination. Playing real-life characters, and especially historical legends, is often a big plus, and that could help Banderas stand out.

FX

Darren Criss
The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
FX

Also playing a real-life person, Darren Criss takes a startling turn from his popular teen image in Glee to play stalker/murderer Andrew Cunanan, the young man who tracked down and killed fashion designer Gianni Versace. It’s a juicy role to be sure, and Criss won the best notices of his career to date by not pulling any punches, but the nomination, his first for acting, is likely the only win this time around, unless the impressive total of 18 nominations for the show itself can help sweep him in.

Benedict Cumberbatch
Patrick Melrose
Showtime

Showtime

Perhaps the most offbeat, intriguing, and daring portrayal of all the nominees. A six-time nominee here, and a 2014 winner as Sherlock, Cumberbatch has managed to become a regular in a category that doesn’t generally fill itself with repeat nominees and winners. The sheer risks he takes with the addicted and conflicted Melrose may be too hard to resist.

Hulu

Jeff Daniels
The Looming Tower
Hulu

This penetrating limited series on the lead-up to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center surprisingly missed a nomination for Best Limited Series, but it did rack one up for star Jeff Daniels. Already an Emmy winner for The Newsroom, Daniels is a double nominee this year, with a Supporting Actor nomination for Godless. Voters will have to decide which Daniels performance to vote for: go for both, or neither? Hmm.

John Legend
Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert
NBC

NBC

You probably can’t go wrong playing Jesus Christ, even if the entire role nominated was sung. John Legend relished the opportunity and got the rare nomination in this category for a musical performance. Reviews were rapturous for the man known more for his singing and recording career than acting, but that’s changing fast. He stands to become a member of the EGOT club should he win, since he already has an Oscar, a Tony, and several Grammys.

Netflix

Jesse Plemons
USS Callister (Black Mirror)
Netflix

An Emmy nominee for his role as Ed Blumquist in Fargo just two years ago, Plemons is back in the race, but moved up to the lead category for his impressive work as Robert Daly in this much-lauded episode of the Netflix anthology series Black Mirror, in which he played a bitter game designer. He could be the dark horse in this category.

PETE’S PICK: Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Melrose


Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

Just as Drama Series Supporting Actress saw three women nominated for Handmaid’s Tale, this category also features a logjam of possibilities for The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, with no less than three contenders vying for gold. Ricky Martin, Edgar Ramírez, and Finn Witrock make up the impressive trio, and each would be worthy. 

Their presence has pushed the number of nominees here to seven this year, where Jeff Daniels, as the villainous Frank Griffin in the western Godless could have an edge if voters want to give him an Emmy for one of his two nominations and choose this over his lead work in Looming Tower. Speaking of which, Daniels is up against his co-star in the latter series, Michael Stuhlbarg, receiving his first Emmy nod after being a regular on Boardwalk Empire for several seasons. He’s well liked, but so is Waco nominee John Leguizamo, and so is Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert—there’s an embarrassment of riches here.

WINNER: Jeff Daniels, Godless

Netflix