Emmy Circuit: Veteran Film Actors Out In Front of the Lead Actor in a Limited Series/TV Movie Race

Sam Rockwell Fosse/Verdon Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series, where we analyze and predict all your favorite TV series and their chances with the Television Academy (at least at this time of publishing).  The series examines the shows and performances about their awards potential, most notably the Emmy Awards.  Emmy nomination voting opens June 10 and closes on June 24.  The official Emmy nominations will be announced on Tuesday, July 16 while the ceremony airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22.  All Emmy pieces run with the following schedule: Mondays (Dramas), Tuesdays (Network Spotlight), Wednesdays (Comedies), Thursdays (Network Spotlight), Fridays (Limited Series, Variety Series, Below-the Lines).


Mahershala Ali True Detective Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie
“True Detective” Stars Mahershala Ali

The two men who have combined to win the last three Supporting Actor Oscars will face off in the Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie category at this year’s Emmys. Depending on where you stand, Mahershala Ali and Sam Rockwell are the undeniable frontrunners.

Rockwell plays the legendary Bob Fosse on “Fosse/Verdon” and embodies the flawed icon. He brings all of Fosse to life, with his undeniable creativity apparent from his moments on screen. His non-stop drinking, drugging, smoking and work ethic are on display. Most of all, his penchant for sleeping around is called out. Rockwell plays the director with charisma, a devil-may-care attitude, and spiteful looks. Audiences never question why people were drawn to Fosse. The gravitational pull felt from Rockwell clarifies how charm and wit made Fosse an all-time great director. The layered and emotional performance feel natural to many who knew the legend and educates the next generation on the show business icon.

On the flip side, Ali gives a haunted and melancholy-soaked lead performance in the third season of “True Detective” on HBO. He inhabits a man struggling to remember his life. It is relatable to watch him fight for broken memories. At the same time, he must reckon with his failings as a man, husband, and an officer of the law. While criticisms began swelling around the latest season, Ali was like Teflon. In fact, he won an Oscar the night of the finale. Performing through old age makeup, accents, and police dialogue, Ali delivers a tour-de-force that makes the latest season a contender. The love for Ali continues his rise in Hollywood and two Oscars in three years proves those in the industry adore him. Can he add an Emmy to his mantle?

Meanwhile, another Supporting Actor Oscar winner brings menace to the screen as a convicted murderer. Benicio Del Toro receives the darkest role in “Escape at Dannemora” but is able to showcase many of the qualities that make him such a riveting actor. His performance can be very weird at times, which also means he’s making some interesting choices as Richard Matt. Perhaps no scenes in television were as oddly captivating and disturbing as the “Don’t tell anybody” line he delivered to Arquette. Del Toro disappears into the role of Inmate Matt and ratchets up the scary aspects of the persona in spurts. Like a cobra, Del Toro lies in wait for the next moment to surprise, scare, and attack. It makes for an excellent performance of one of the most dangerous characters brought to TV this year.

Previously at the Emmys

deadwood the movie ian mcshane Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie
“Deadwood: The Movie” Stars Ian McShane

However, there is a wild card in the mix, and this man doesn’t like to play fair.  Ian McShane returned to the screen in his iconic role of Al Swearengen for “Deadwood: The Movie” on the last day of Emmy eligibility. McShane received a Golden Globe for the role in 2005 and picked up an Emmy nomination as well. The return of the Western sent shockwaves throughout the TV community, but perhaps most important to McShane’s candidacy is the man behind the scenes. With David Milch pouring himself into Swearengen and the news of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, “Deadwood: The Movie” has extra momentum. Unsurprisingly, the meta readings of Swearengen have already begun a rallying cry for the performance. HBO has the revival on the way to winning TV Movie, and with Rockwell and Ali potentially splitting votes, there are plenty of reasons to expect McShane to win the Emmy.

Fighting for a nomination is Emmy favorite, Anthony Hopkins. While he missed a nomination for “Westworld” last year, he received a nomination in 2017. He also has two Emmy wins in five nominations over the course of his career. Hopkins dove into the role of “King Lear,” another chance to show off his Shakespearean chops. Unsurprisingly, Hopkins was excellent, and the category has some space for a potential surprise nominee.

Jared Harris Chernobyl Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie
“Chernobyl” Stars Jared Harris

Finally, Jared Harris hopes to crash the party. Harris led “Chernobyl” to become one of the most popular shows of the season and it is difficult to imagine the sensation without him. He tears into the material and makes difficult scientific phraseology digestible. The finale speaks to his power to captivate. Harris literally educates the people of the jury in the finale as if they are in AP Physics. However, because of choices he made along the way, you hang on to his every word. His character contains multitudes, paying his dues for crimes working for the State and simultaneously fighting it from the inside. Balancing the heroism with genuine regret for a life he’s led makes Harris’ Legaslov one of TV’s best characters of the decade.


"When They See Jharrel Jerome Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie
“When They See Us” Stars Jharrel Jerome

There are plenty of breakout performers this year and many of them get standout moments in “When They See Us” from Ava DuVernay. The creative team behind the Netflix vehicle absolutely nailed the casting of the five teens. However, Jharrel Jerome is the one that will get the Lead Actor push and he deserves it. Jerome has the highlight episode of the series with a career-changing turn. As we watch the effects of prison on a mind over a decade, audience hearts melts for him. He crafts a transcendent performance as Korey Wise and if nominated, could contend for a win.

He is the only actor in “When They See Us” who plays his character as a teenager and an adult. Unlike other actors who had to build on previous performances, Jerome created his character and saw it through to the end. He layers his performance with intense emotional payoffs, true fear, and unending defiance in the face of injustice. The final episode crystalizes many of the show’s themes, and Jerome becomes the avatar for the fight. He creates an emotional heartbeat for the series and without him, and it would be difficult to call DuVernay’s series one of the best of the year.

Christopher Abbott also gets a chance to break into the race with the lead role in “Catch-22” from George Clooney. Abbott steadies the series with an infusion of emotion. While the events around him fall into parody and insanity, he keeps the emotional center of the series in-tact. The turn from Abbott might be the best in the series, but it is unclear if anyone is actually watching “Catch-22” right now. With bigger stars around him, the limited support for the show may go to Clooney, Hugh Laurie, or Kyle Chandler.

Guess They’re Contenders

Hugh Grant A Very English Scandal Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie
“A Very English Scandal” Stars Hugh Grant

Perhaps the most intriguing contender in the race is Hugh Grant. The famed Brit has been on a hot streak over the past few years, delivering some of his career-best work. Sadly, “Paddington 2” and “Florence Foster Jenkins” did not result in his first Oscar nomination. After a series of precursor nominations, “A Very English Scandal” could succeed where others did not.

However, Grant has not been able to break through. Unlike his counterpart, Ben Whishaw, Grant has not won anything for his performance. He lost at the Golden Globes, BFCA, and most telling of all, the BAFTA to Benedict Cumberbatch (for “Patrice Melrose“). The big question facing Amazon’s year has been their ability to keep this show in the limelight. Grant should be in the race, but can we guarantee voters will remember the three-episode show that premiered in June of 2018? Sustaining buzz for a whole year can be quite difficult.

Benedict Cumberbatch Brexit Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie
“Brexit” Stars Benedict Cumberbatch

There are other former Emmy nominees on the fringes of the race this year. Benedict Cumberbatch has been a huge Emmy favorite in the past, winning once in 2014 for “Sherlock” and racking up seven nominations over his career. With “Brexit,” he attempts to give a face to the movement within Britain, but the buzz for the TV movie is almost non-existent. He was excellent in the role, and a nomination in most other years would be warranted. However, with many breakout stars and returning favorites, “Brexit” does not seem to have the juice to get him into the race. However, the group did just nominate him for “Patrick Melrose,” so anything is possible.

Also on the fringes of the race is Timothy Olyphant. Olyphant received an Emmy nomination for Lead Actor for “Justified,” but his return with “Deadwood: The Movie” has lots of critics buzzing. It’s a solid performance, but it does not stand above McShane. The internal competition of the movie may cause Olyphant to lose some support and miss out on a nomination.

Peter Dinklage may have the juice to win a Supporting Actor Emmy for “Game of Thrones” but does he have the love to grab a double nomination? “My Dinner with Herve” feels like an afterthought at this point. It might sneak into the weak TV/Movie race this year simply because of the love for Dinklage. With his career on everyone’s minds, could he sneak into Limited Series Lead Actor as well?

Fionn Whitehead Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Lead Actor Limited Series/TV Movie
“Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” Stars Fionn Whitehead

Finally, Fionn Whitehead, Dominique West, and Chris Pine find themselves on the outskirts of the race. Each has strong work this year, but will there be enough passion to get them into the race? The top-heavy nature of the 2019 race has sucked that energy and passion into other lauded performances. It is hard to imagine that these three can break through that noise, even enough to grab a nomination.

Current Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie Predictions

  1. Ian McShane – “Deadwood: The Movie”
  2. Sam Rockwell – “Fosse/Verdon”
  3. Mahershala Ali- “True Detective”
  4. Benicio Del Toro- “Escape at Dannemora”
  5. Jharrel Jerome – “When They See Us”
  6. Jared Harris – “Chernobyl”

Can Ian McShane take advantage of the split? Which front-runner is most in danger of missing a nomination? Comment below and share your thoughts!