Emmy Circuit: Netflix’s ‘When They See Us’ Poised to Win Supporting Actor in a Limited Series

Asante Blackk from Netflix's "When They See Us"

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series. We are now in the Emmy post-nomination phase, where we watch all the nominated Emmy episodes and predict their chances of winning. The Creative Arts Emmy winners will be revealed Saturday, Sept. 14 while the Primetime Emmy Awards aires on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.

OPENING STATEMENTS

The 2019 Primetime Emmy Awards have nominated six distinguished performers for excellence in Supporting Acting in a Limited Series. This year’s nominees are an extremely diverse group who range in age from seventeen to sixty-eight. They hail from four different countries, with one nominee making his screen debut, while others have over a hundred acting credits. Four are first time Emmy nominees, one is a previous winner.

The one commonality found in this year’s nominees, is that they are each portraying a real person. Each of these actors have demonstrated that they can hold their own in a nonfiction narrative. There is always a sense of added pressure in playing real people, making it easier to find fault in a performance. But these men have beautifully brought to the screen five very different human beings and have been justly recognized for their effective endeavors.

AND THE NOMINEES ARE…

• Asante Blackk- “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part One”
• Paul Dano – “Escape at Dannemora” – Episode: “Part Seven”
• John Leguizamo – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Three”
• Stellan Skarsgård- “Chernobyl” – Episode: “Please Remain Calm”
• Ben Whishaw – “A Very English Scandal” – Episode: “Episode Three”
• Michael K. Williams – “When They See US” – Episode: “Part One”

Asante Blackk- “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part One”

Asante Blackk in “When They See Us

Episode Synopsis: “Five adolescents are shown in their comfortable, familiar residential neighborhood of Harlem, bantering with each other and playing restlessly.” (From IMDb)

In the Netflix miniseries “When They See Us,” director Ava DuVernay delivers a heart-wrenching depiction of the Central Park Five case (now recognized as the Exonerated Five). DuVernay made a choice to cast all but one of the five with two actors – one younger and the other older. The genius in casting two different performers is that DuVernay is able to draw attention to how much time each man actually lost – from the time they were arrested as children to the time they were released as adults. Each of the four younger actors deliver powerful performances in their respective portions of the story, but Emmy voters have deservedly singled out Asante Blackk.

In his screen debut, Blackk’s performance as the wrongly convicted Kevin Richardson in “When They See Us” is a standout amongst a gilded group of young actors. There is a natural innocence to Blackk that elevates his layered portrait of a child in an unimaginable situation. When Kevin begs for his sister to sign a statement so that he can go home, the audience can feel his pain and fear. As Kevin’s fate is solidified and he stands in an empty street with his trumpet, the audience can sense his childhood coming to an end.

Balckk’s performance stays with audiences long after the series is over. His soulful take on Kevin Richardson is a worthy introduction to this budding talent. As this year’s youngest nominee, Blackk is beginning his career on an incredibly high note. Although a win is unlikely, this nomination is well deserved.

Paul Dano – “Escape at Dannemora” – Episode: “Part 7”

Paul Dano in “Escape from Dannemora”

Episode Synopsis: “As the law closes in, all are confronted with hard truths.” (From IMDb)

When Paul Dano is credited as a cast member of a film or television program, audiences know a powerhouse performance is inevitable. Dano has fleshed out an angsty, purposefully mute teenager in the dramedy “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) and has held his own opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson’sThere Will Be Blood” (2007). For his first Emmy nomination, Dano has earned recognition for his nuanced portrayal of inmate David Sweat in Showtime’sEscape at Dannemora.”

The miniseries is based on the true story of the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape of two convicted murderers (Dano and Emmy nominee Benecio del Toro) with the help of a disgruntled female employee (Emmy nominee Patricia Arquette). Dano plays Sweat with a mean and hardened, but oddly sensitive demeanor. His characterization of a man faced with a life in prison and looking for what little he can to make that life bearable is incredibly intriguing. Although the series may have worked better as a feature film (rather than a seven part miniseries), Dano’s performance is one of the reasons to take the time to watch this Ben Stiller-directed prison break.

John Leguizamo – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Three”

John Leguizamo in “When They See Us”

Episode Synopsis: “Antron, Yusef, Kevin and Raymond struggle being behind bars. They eventually are let out and have a hard time adjusting to life outside.” (From IMDb)

Of all of the performers nominated in this category, John Leguizamo’s nomination is the most puzzling. Although his performance in “When They See Us” is well done, it is not a role that attracted much fanfare. Leguizmo plays the father of Raymond Santana, Jr. (one of the Central Park Five) who is struggling to move through life while his son’s is on hold.

Leguizamo’s submitted episode is the third part in this four part series. In this submission, his Raymond Santana Sr. is shown as a dutiful father both while his son is in prison and after his release. Leguizamo captures a sometimes placid man in the midst of a messy and emotionally fraught situation. But within this series, there are most assuredly flashier roles. This brings about the question of name recognition having a hand in this nomination. Leguizamo taking home the gold seems unlikely given that there are far more compelling performances within this group of talented men.

Stellan Skarsgård- “Chernobyl” – Episode: “Please Remain Calm”

Stellan Skarsgård in “Chernobyl”

Episode Synopsis: “With untold millions at risk, Ulana makes a desperate attempt to reach Valery and warn him about the threat of a second explosion.” (From IMDb)

HBO’sChernobyl” is based on the true story of the devastating nuclear incident that occurred at a Ukrainian Power Plant under the SSR in 1986. The event is considered the worst nuclear disaster in history. HBO has managed to take a bleak and depressing story and create a political and social thriller. The driving force behind the thrills has a lot to do with the three heavy hitters at the series’ center. Jared Harris, Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård have all secured Emmy nominations for their work on this miniseries.

In the case of Supporting Actor for a Limited Series, nominee Skarsgård portrays real-life Russian politician Boris Shcherbina. Shcherbina oversaw the Chernobyl crisis and the subsequent cleanup. Skarsgård has a rare talent for capturing elitism and true fellowship within a single character.

The second to last scene in the episode “Please Remain Calm” sees Harris and Skarsgård looking for volunteers to essentially die in order to drain water from a flooded basement before it contacts the molten core and causes an explosion. To ask individuals to make such a sacrifice is unimaginable. Harris’ character fumbles with “white” lies, and he is ultimately unable to spur volunteers. But Skarsgård sits stoically in a chair and tells the truth. His Shcherbina asks for a sacrifice in the name of country and civil duty and volunteers are secured. Skarsgård’s regal air translates to a politically wise performance and one of his best in recent memory.

Ben Whishaw – “A Very English Scandal” – Episode: “Episode 3”

Ben Whishaw in “A Very English Scandal”

Episode Synopsis: “Although Norman’s would-be killer is caught, Jeremy continues to deny any involvement in the plot, but soon discovers that he cannot escape the past.” (From IMDb)

British actor Ben Whishaw has received his first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for the BBC One miniseries “A Very English Scandal.” The program is a depiction of the story that led to the downfall of British politician Jeremy Thorpe (Hugh Grant, also an Emmy nominee). Whishaw portrays Norman Josiffe/Scott, the man Jeremy Thorpe (along with three others) was arrested and tried for attempting to murder.

Whishaw takes the audience on a surprising journey. He starts out as a simple man who viewers see as a victim, taken advantage of by an older, powerful figure. But as the narrative unfolds, Norman’s manipulative and scheming ways rival that of the story’s initial antagonist. This leaves the audience unsure of what to think about his character, and how to feel about the events unfolding on screen. The unease makes for a wickedly amusing watch. Just this year, Whishaw won the Golden Globe and BAFTA for this performance. These precursors may help him secure his first Emmy, but he has some new competition in this field- i.e., the men from “When They See Us.”

Michael K. Williams – “When They See US” – Episode: “Part One”

Caleel Harris and Michael K. Williams in “When They See Us”

Episode Synopsis: “Five adolescents are shown in their comfortable, familiar residential neighborhood of Harlem, bantering with each other and playing restlessly.” (From IMDb)

With his work in “When They See Us,” Michael K. Williams has secured his third nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series. Previously, Williams was nominated for his performance in HBO’sBessie” (2015) and HBO’sThe Night Of” (2016), but has yet to take home the gold. But 2019 just may be his time.

Williams delivers an absolutely gut-wrenching performance as Bobby McCray, the father of the wrongful accused Antron McCray of the Central Park Five. Appearing in three of the four episodes of the series, Williams has the opportunity to portray different phases of grief. In episode one, he plays a father who, due to ignorance, essentially turns his son over to a corrupt justice system. In episode two, he portrays a father unable to come to terms with his role in his son’s predicament. And in episode three, Williams plays an old man wrecked with guilt and unsuccessfully seeking forgiveness for his sins.

Williams has the most screen time in the first episode of the series and has chosen to submit it for consideration to Emmy voters. The episode also features a standout scene opposite Caleel Harris (young Antron McCray). In the scene, he convinces his son to sign a confession that is not true. In spite of the strength of this episode, one would hope that Emmy voters have seen the series in its entirety. Because what is truly remarkable about Williams’ performance is his arc. The seasoned actor is a revelation playing a man who makes a life changing mistake and is slowly eaten alive by that choice. In a just world, the Emmy goes to Williams.

CURRENT LIMITED SERIES SUPPORTING ACTORS PREDICTIONS

  1. Michael K. Williams – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part One”
  2. Ben Whishaw – “A Very English Scandal” – Episode: “Episode Three”
  3. Stellan Skarsgård- “Chernobyl” – Episode: “Please Remain Calm – Part 2”
  4. Paul Dano – “Escape at Dannemora” – Episode: “Part Seven”
  5. John Leguizamo – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Three”
  6. Asante Blackk- “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part One”

    WILL WIN: Michael K. Williams – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part One”

    SHOULD WIN: Michael K. Williams – “When They See US” – Episode: “Part One”

    SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Norbert Leo Butz – “Fosse/Verdon” OR Eric Lange – “Escape from Dannemora”

    What do you think will win Supporting Actor Limited Series this year? Let us know in the comments below. 

CHECK OUT ALL THE OFFICIAL PREDICTIONS ON THE CIRCUIT HUB AND MAKE YOUR OWN!