There is no doubt that the supporting actor race in drama is as tight as any in the Emmy race. However, unlike the Supporting Actress race, we have some idea how the Emmys will vote. There are some big favorites still in consideration this year. Without a doubt, a few of these are sure things. That said, freshman shows have shaken up the category once again, and those first timers account for most of the top 20 contenders. Let’s dive in.
Right now there’s a frontrunner that’s held the top spot since November. John Lithgow has been on cruise control this season and doesn’t look to let up. Lithgow was an absolute tour-de-force on “The Crown” and is a heavy frontrunner to win the top prize. It’s not only a physical transformation but showcases complete commitment to the character. Lithgow is widely respected across the acting community, and the performance of a lifetime looks like it’s netted him another chance at Emmy gold. After all, he’s won 5 times before. They obviously love him.
The actor that impossible to not feel sorry for is Jonathan Banks. How he hasn’t taken home the big prize over the first two years of “Better Call Saul” is frankly unbelievable. Banks has been an absolute force on “Saul,” so much so that many have questioned why Vince Gilligan didn’t just make the show about Mike Ehrmantraut, to begin with. It’s a good question, and Banks is a shoe in for another nomination.
There are some newcomers looking to crash the party, and they likely make up the next group of contenders. David Harbour may have received the greatest career boost from “Stranger Things” and he should push hard for a nomination. This is the same group that’s gone crazy for “Game of Thrones,” and Harbour’s one-liners are as good as any Lannister. Beyond that, Harbour’s social activism has kept him in the spotlight. The SAG speech is extremely memorable, and when you pair Harbour’s talent with his ability to grab the culture spotlight, it’s hard to argue against him.
Ron Cephas Jones might be the most heartbreaking performance of 2016-2017 and has a different trajectory than other actors in the category. Jones has confirmed he’ll return for season 2, but it’s hard to imagine any story could be as powerful as his performance in “Memphis” this year. He might have an honest shot to win the title on a single episode showdown. The show needs to be embraced for all the networks, and he’s best in the category from his show.
Jeffrey Wright also gives a stellar performance, but it’s his coldness that helps him differentiate himself from the competition. Wright has emotional moments, and some horrifying ones as well. his performance is unique in ways his competition simply cannot be, and this gives him a strong foundation for a campaign. Wright, like Lithgow, is a well-respected actor, and his abilities are well known. He took home an Emmy in 2004, so look for the TV Academy to invite him back to the party.
This is where things get extremely tricky. 3 through 11 are really a matter of preference. Simply because we don’t know the upside of some freshman shows, they have a slight edge over actors who have been snubbed on multiple occasions. While Michael McKean and Christopher Eccleston give two of the strongest performances in the category, Emmy hasn’t gone to them yet. McKean is spectacular and continues to gain rave reviews for his work on “Saul” this past year. Eccleston has one of the landmark episodes of “The Leftovers” in his pocket as well. Yet will anyone be surprised when they get left on the sideline this year? It will be sad and undeserved, but it feels likely.
For that reason, Ed Harris and Jared Harris are higher on the ladder. Ed Harris is so perfectly cast in the role, it is amazing someone did not reboot this film and cast him as the Man in Black years ago. Really, it just reminds us we need more Harris starring westerns. Moving from one Harris to another, Jared gives a brilliant turn as King George VI. However, he’s only in 5 episodes, giving him the weakest stance to go on. Perhaps more damning is that both Harris’ are 2nd fiddle in the supporting races, even within their own show. That’s perhaps their largest issue sitting in their way.
Michael Kelly and Jon Voight have a stronger case than McKean and Eccleston for the mere fact they’ve actually received nominations. Both shows seem to be crumbling, but even the initial nomination is a huge leg up. In Voight’s case, he’s grabbed two Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award for “Ray Donovan” from Showtime. Kelly has also grabbed a pair of nominations, and unlike most of the “House of Cards” crew, he actually got good material. It’s still tough to give him the go ahead, but he’s closer than people think.
Perhaps the most appealing wildcard in this discussion is the potential inclusion of Giancarlo Esposito. For the unaware, Esposito portrays Gus Fring, perhaps the single greatest villain in television history. In fact, it might not be close, and Gus’ return was a landmark moment from the prequel. Esposito received an Emmy nod in this category for playing Gus in “Breaking Bad,” and reception toward Esposito was strong. Esposito did not receive his due on “Breaking Bad,” so there is potential for a makeup nomination.
Again there are too many amazing performances that will be left outside without getting a real shot. The only performance that might be more appealing than Esposito’s run will be Asia Kate Dillion. Dillion gives an incredibly strong performance, and they deserve every accolade they get. Dillion has drawn attention as the first gender non-binary in the Emmy discussion. They give a performance that should be in the race, regardless of category.
Finn Wolfhard won’t get nominated, but his performance is integral to the “Stranger Things” dynamic. Noah Emmerich feels as if he will go unrewarded for his incredible turn on “The Americans” and it is an absolute shame. James Marsden is too low on the totem pole in his show. Joseph Gilgun will never get through for “Preacher” despite being one of the funniest performers on TV. Craig Robinson and Christian Slater will cancel each other out for their turns on “Mr. Robot” this year. With “Homeland” seemingly losing steam, I’d be surprised to see Mandy Patinkin or F. Murray Abraham to make too much noise. It was another great year for the category, and it remains the strongest in the TV categories.