A column chronicling conversations and events on the Emmy awards circuit.
The Television Academy, with near-daily email reminders, is badgering procrastinating members to get their Emmy ballots in before 10 PM PT on Monday night. In other words, you have one more weekend of this long and winding campaign season to seal the fates of the nominees for the whopping 122 categories culled from 9,100 submissions this year. That means if you are a straggler like me and have yet to jump online and look at your ballot, you still are rifling through the looming tower of screeners that not only threatened the environment with their sheer numbers but also represent a daunting duty to get it right.
The one good thing about final voting for the Emmys as opposed to the Oscars is that the TV Academy maintains the peer idea, and outside of the Program categories, keeps it to those individual branch members to make determinations for their colleagues. In other words, actors still vote for actors, cinematographers for cinematographers and, in my case, writers for writers. It makes a lot of sense. What do I know about prosthetic vs. non-prosthetic makeup? Everyone does get to vote on the single-program categories, and that means, as always with the Emmys, there can be disparity in ultimate totals that shows pile up. With more than 21,000 eligible voters casting ballots for envelopes to be opened across three, count ’em, three Emmy ceremonies in September, guessing the ultimate outcome with any certainty can be a perilous affair.
Netflix led the list this year, just barely over perennial leader HBO, but when it has come to campaigning in final Phase 2 the awards-hungry streamer has been far out in front with nightly events to lure Academy members to sample shows that also were similarly campaigned like this in Phase 1 before nominations. The deep pockets of Netflix seem to get deeper each year as the streamer tries to crack the elusive Best Drama and Comedy Series categories with a first-time win. Rival Hulu became the unlikely entity to do just that when its took the Best Drama Series Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017 and hope to repeat this year in the category, while another rival, Amazon, hopes to become the first streamer to win Best Comedy Series with its newcomer The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Perhaps that kind of strong competition has inspired Netflix to keep the noise up about its prospects in those categories — The Crown, Stranger Things, GLOW, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — but its best shot in top program contests is, like last year, in the relatively weak Television Movie field. It has a good shot to repeat with another edition of its Black Mirror anthology series, USS Callister, which easily leads that field with seven nominations. Time will tell. Get those ballots in.
KERI RUSSELL HOPES THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM
Another Emmy hopeful this year is FX’s critical favorite The Americans, which despite consistent acclaim has had a wildly inconsistent ride at the Emmys over its six seasons. For its final turn at bat in this season, it received just four nominations, by far the lowest overall total of any of the seven nominees for Best Drama Series, yet it recently got a big boost just as Emmy voting got underway when the Television Critics Association’s TCA Awards recognized it as the top Drama Series (its third such accolade from TCA) and Drama Series Actress Keri Russell. It had been nominated for the Best Drama Series Emmy only once before, in 2016, and really didn’t get serious recognition from the TV Academy until it hit its fourth season. To date its only two wins are both for Margo Martindale in the supporting race.
The series has had a really odd trajectory but shouldn’t be counted out for this one last turn. Voters are aware that it’s now or never, and that could help if the favorites in the Drama Series category, past winners The Handmaid’s Tale and Game of Thrones, cancel each other out and let an underdog like Americans prevail. It has proved to be a slow, steady riser with both its stars, Matthew Rhys and Russell, finally getting into the game with consecutive nominations in the final three seasons, after being ignored for the first three. That’s not the way Emmys usually work, to say the least, but it also could indicate that this is a show posed to further break conventional rules by having a big Emmy night on September 17 as a way to say goodbye to a great series about Russian spies living in our midst that has only grown in its timeliness and importance.
I hopped on the phone this week with Russell, who was just coming from the airport after arriving back from London where she is shooting Star Wars: Episode IX. I congratulated her on the new Emmy recognition, which she was very excited about, especially considering the show’s unusual path. “I know, it’s funny. Maybe it speaks to how much good stuff there is on TV right now, ” she said. “There must be hundreds of shows on television now, and there’s really good stuff. There’s good actors working on TV because it’s such a cool medium, especially in cable. So I don’t know. The show did have an unusual trajectory, but you know, ‘What a fun way to go out’ is all I have to say about it. It’s like, who cares about winning? It is just so fun to end like this and still be nominated and recognized. It’s ideal. It’s exactly what you’d want after six years of giving your life to this story. It’s the best way to go out.”
She’s obviously happy about the nomination for Rhys as well since they not only were a couple onscreen but also off screen since 2013. Still, she has no plans to continue acting with him, at least for a while, but realizes it definitely willlbe a shift. “He’s a good acting partner, and I enjoyed working with him,” Russell said, “You play well with certain people, and I felt that with him, so it was good. Maybe he can write or direct me in something.”
She noted that with all the current talk of Russians in the news every day that maybe it is good that the show ended before people lost all empathy for their characters, even though nothing topical was going to change how the 1980s-set show ended. History already had happened, and that was how it was going to end.” Illustrating how it had taken on current real-life circumstances, Russell added, “The other morning we passed this guy dressed in a suit for work, and he just said, ‘Stan should’ve gotten you guys — he should have arrested you.'”
I pointed out to her that former President Obama famously is a big fan of the show and mentioned that it’s clear President Trump is a big fan of Russians, so I wondered if they had ever heard any feedback from him, like they got from Obama. She politely dodged that question but said the answer was no. “I have to say that it was amazing to talk to President Obama about it. We actually got invited to a state dinner because he was a fan and that was an incredible, incredible moment, and he’s just an amazing leader who we miss very much,” she said, adding that he knew specific details about the show.
SPOILER ALERT: The following includes some details about the finale of The Americans. Speaking of details, I wondered if she knew all along how it was going to end. “I had no idea until about two months before it ended,” she said. “[Writer-producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields] have always written with such kind of sparse, restrained intelligence that it’s always good, and it’s always a nice surprise so I knew something good was coming, but I had no idea it would be so incredibly personally devastating, ” she added about the stunning ending when the couple left for Russia on a train, gut-wrenchingly forced to leave their two children behind in America.
“I hope people liked it. I mean I hope they were satisfied,” Russell said of the ending. “I have to say I was so happy about the [TCA] critics’ awards because I feel, and I’m not joking, that at a certain point Joe and Joel were writing the show for them,” she laughed. “I really do. I feel like this is their ideal audience and we’re just doing it for them, so it made those awards where they acknowledged the show so much more rewarding because they are the toughest audience to win over. You know, it’s not the simplest show, but I love the way it ended and I hope other people did too.”
HEADING TO ‘STAR WARS’ WITH J.J. ABRAMS
So where do you go after an experience like playing a complex character like Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans? Straight to Star Wars, of course. As mentioned, Russell has joined the cast of the currently shooting Star Wars: Episode IX, but despite my grilling she wouldn’t reveal plot details or even the name of the character she plays. She loves her director, J.J Abrams, who is back directing the latest installment of the franchise. You may recall he was creator and producer of her series Felicity which ran from 1998-2002 on the WB. They are back working together in a galaxy far, far away from that one. “It is just so much more fun to work with someone that you like so much,” Russell said. “I mean, we see each other and then we talk nonstop and fill in all the details of the past years, and you know, it’s just nice when you have that kind of fun and history with someone. It makes it all that much more enjoyable. When J.J. calls so unexpectedly, cool things happen, ” she added of the reunion on the much anticipated movie she will be working on and off in for the next few months.
Russell also will be headed back to the stage and Broadway next year in a revival of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, in which she will be co-starring with another member of the Star Wars cast, Adam Driver, beginning in March. It will mark her first stage appearance since her off-Broadway debut in 2005’s Fat Pig. Since she’s open to doing Broadway these days, I asked if there had been any talk of taking a stab at joining the cast of the smash hit musical Waitress, which is based on the wonderful 2007 indie film hit in which she starred to great acclaim. I thought that would be a casting that would really make waves. “I’m not really a singer. The only thing I’m trained in is dance. I am a dancer, but I’m not a singer,” she laughed about the prospect of taking that role on again in a musical. “Believe it or not, I still haven’t seen it. My life got overrun with children and dressing in ’80s clothing [for The Americans], but I know that would be funny.”
Broadway will have to be content with her in a straight play — no singing — next year and moviegoers in a new Star Wars, as Keri Russell leaves The Americans behind and TV viewers richer for the experience of having spent time with her in it the past six years.