The television landscape has gone through a major shift in recent years. The earlier part of the decade saw a Lead Actor lineup that perpetually included Hugh Laurie, Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall, and Kevin Spacey, plus a few variations. Besides “House of Cards,” those consistently nominated series have all left the airwaves over the past five years or so, and their replacements haven’t been as predictable.
A year after “Breaking Bad” ended, Bob Odenkirk took his spin-off series, “Better Call Saul,” and became one of the new recurring faces in the Lead Actor – Drama lineup. With three previous nominations and no clear frontrunner for the current season, could this be the year he finally takes home the trophy? Or will the TV Academy return to a previous winner, like Sterling K. Brown, who is still a standout performer in the ensemble of “This Is Us?”
Let’s take a look at some of the major contenders for this year’s Lead Actor in a Drama Series. There may not be a frontrunner, but there is no shortage of great candidates.
Previously at the Emmys
After three consecutive nominations, no one was more surprised last year than Matthew Rhys himself when he won the prize for the final season of “The Americans.” It was a series with a passionate fanbase that consistently grew over six seasons, and Rhys was an obvious and deserving winner. The series has now ended, though, so there is no chance for a repeat trip to the stage.
The year before, Sterling K. Brown won for his first season as Randall Pearson on “This Is Us.” He was nominated again last year, along with co-star Milo Ventimiglia. Brown seems likely to snag another nomination, and so does Ventimiglia. But in a series that is becoming increasingly ensemble, will it still feel appropriate to nominate them both in Lead Actor? The short answer is yes. But then, co-star Justin Hartley, who has thus far gone without a single nomination, deserves the same acclaim. Some Academy members may start to feel like it’s time to spread the wealth a bit, particularly in a show where there are really five leads.
Liev Schreiber has multiple nominations for “Ray Donovan” from Showtime. Both critically acclaimed and possessing a passionate group of fans, Schreiber may return to the Emmys again, but a win seems as distant as ever.
Last year, Jason Bateman was in for “Ozark,” and both Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright scored noms for “Westworld.” Bateman could be in for a repeat visit, but “Westworld” won’t air new episodes until 2020, so Harris and Wright are out.
This brings us back to Bob Odenkirk. “Breaking Bad” fans first met him as criminal lawyer Saul Goodman in 2009. But his spin-off/prequel series “Better Call Saul” is dedicated to telling the story of how Jimmy McGill, a second-rate lawyer desperate for his brother’s approval, became the slick, fast-talking ambulance chaser everyone knows and loves. Many actors give consistently good performances year after year. But Odenkirk manages to get better and more interesting all the time. Watching his optimistic and troubled-but-trying Jimmy descend into corruption and greed has been a fascinating and captivating journey. Perhaps he will finally have his day.
A few leading men are a couple of seasons into their shows and haven’t yet been nominated. It seems a longshot for someone like Freddie Highmore in “The Good Doctor,” and yet, his name comes up every year as someone with a shot at landing in the lineup.
If “Game of Thrones” is a truly unstoppable force, Kit Harrington may find himself nominated again. He previously made it in the Supporting Actor race, but even in the huge ensemble cast Jon Snow is a clear lead, which is where HBO has reportedly decided to place his campaign. With the end finally upon us, this could be a big way to reward someone who has been a strong presence from the beginning.
James Franco‘s second season of “The Deuce” could land him a slot, and a lot of fans are rooting for him. Co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Critic’s Choice Award, so the show has its fans. The question is, does Franco? Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis are also still vying for Emmy love for “Billions.”
There are also a few new series to keep an eye on this year. One of the most notable is Billy Porter, who turned his role in “Pose” into a Golden Globe nomination. The series premiered last fall on FX and also landed itself a Best Drama nod by the HFPA.
Porter ultimately lost his category to fellow newcomer Richard Madden, who stars in “Bodyguard” on Netflix. With only six episodes in the first season, Madden took his “Game of Thrones” creds to the contemporary world of London espionage. That Golden Globe was a needed boost to put attention on Madden and his show.
Two Amazon shows also enjoyed big debuts this year. Stephan James, who was a breakthrough performer in last year’s “If Beale Street Could Talk,” also had a great fun on TV in “Homecoming.” He joined Porter and Madden as Globe nominees and could very well take the good will to the Emmys too. Amazon will also be campaigning for John Krasinski in “Jack Ryan,” a series with such confidence from the company, they got a second season order before the first season premiered.
HBO may be putting their primary focus on “Thrones,” but they also have freshman “Succession” to add to the mix. The network will campaign both Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong in the lead category. Cox won an Emmy for Supporting Actor in the TV Movie “Nuremberg” in 2001, and was nominated for Guest Actor in the comedy “Frasier” a year later. This would be a first nomination for Strong.
This year’s race for Lead Actor in a Drama Series seems pretty wide open. But Odenkirk’s consistency and growth, plus his repeat visits put him in a good position to finally take home the trophy in 2019. Then again, with the next season not coming until 2020, some voters may lose sight of his work or choose to try to reward him next year when the show comes back and “Game of Thrones” is no longer an option. Still, Odenkirk and the father/son duo from “This Is Us” seem like the safest bets for nominations at the very least.
- Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us” (NBC)
- Brian Cox, “Succession” (HBO)
- Kit Harrington, “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
- Richard Madden, “Bodyguard” (Netflix)
- Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
- Bill Porter, “Pose” (FX)
- Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us” (NBC)