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 Drama Series.
It’s co-star versus co-star in the Lead Actor race this time around, as Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright and Ed Harris battle for the gold, while This Is Us stars Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia face off again for the second year running. Brown won that round in 2017—but will Ventimiglia prevail in the rematch? The category also sees the return of Matthew Rhys of The Americans, which is looking at its final chance for glory this year, and making his debut in the category is Jason Bateman, who also has a directing nomination for first year Netflix series Ozark.
Bateman has been nominated twice previously—in 2005 and 2013 for Arrested Development. But he was overlooked for Mitchell Hurwitz’s series this time around and made the switch instead to Drama. The actor finds himself up for two Emmys, not only for his turn as Ozark’s Marty Byrde, but also as a director on the Netflix series. Can this TV comedy veteran make a breakthrough in either category?
Sterling K. Brown
This Is Us
An Emmy-winner for the past two years in a row, first in 2016 for the O.J. Simpson limited series on FX, and then last year for the debut season of This Is Us, Brown finds himself the defending champ in this category, and also benefits from a second Emmy bid this year as Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for his appearance on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. His Emmy track record speaks for itself and there is little reason to expect that his lucky streak won’t continue.
A perennial nominee, Harris has four Oscar and three Emmy nods to his name but has yet to grab any gold. He was overlooked for Westworld’s first season but he’s had an especially strong year, and could finally make it to the winners’ circle with his charismatic performance on this popular and complex series, which benefits from an especially strong showing this year—21 nominations in all. The bad news? He’s competing with his co-star, which could split votes.
The FX series ends its five-year run this season, giving Rhys—a nominee for the past two years for his role as undercover KGB agent Philip Jennings—one last crack at the Emmy. Now that the show is over, Rhys could steal the advantage here, just as Jon Hamm was finally rewarded on the last chance he got for Mad Men.
This Is Us
Ventimiglia had to settle as runner-up for his first-ever Emmy nomination for this series last year, seeing his co-star Sterling K. Brown triumph. Could the switch be on this time around? Ventimiglia had, by far, the most-talked about episode this season, where it was revealed just how his character Jack Pearson died. It was the kind of flashy acting showcase Emmy voters love—but Ventimiglia still has to face stiff competition.
A previous Emmy winner in 2004 for the miniseries Angels in America, Wright received his second consecutive nomination for Westworld this year, but because of the increased spotlight on his role, he has moved up from Supporting to Lead Actor. Wright has been rightly praised for his performance as the unreliable narrator Bernard Lowe. But will he cancel himself out by competing with Ed Harris, both new to this category this year?
PETE’S PICK: Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Offering a bounty of superb performances, this category has no returning champ from last year, although Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage is back after GoT took a hiatus last season. He has won twice previously, but this time around must face first-time nominee and acclaimed co-star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. The popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale could lift the chances of first-timer Joseph Fiennes, though it’s the women who get the lion’s share of attention—and nominations—for that series.
David Harbour has his second consecutive nod here and might be the choice for Stranger Things, even if voters ultimately ignored its above-the-line accomplishments in Season 1. Matt Smith gets a royal vote of confidence for his last turn in The Crown, earning a first mention here, while, on the opposite scale, veteran Mandy Patinkin (a winner in 1995 for Chicago Hope) has grabbed his seventh nomination, and his fourth for Homeland, as CIA man Saul Berenson. But Homeland is the only show in this category that doesn’t have a corresponding Drama Series nomination this year, which perhaps lessens his chances.
WINNER: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones