Can 'Breaking Bad' thesp remain on kudos winning streak?

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Gallery: The Actor Nominees

Can anybody knock off Bryan Cranston?

Three of his contenders are either past winners or actors with multiple prior noms. The two newcomers to the race are respected thesps with longstanding careers and deemed long overdue for Emmy recognition.

Three-time nominee Hamm’s leading man role Don Draper on AMC’s “Mad Men” is also multitextured, with Draper acting out in self-destructive and amoral ways to avoid deep emotional pain.

Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights”) and Matthew Fox (“Lost”) are receiving their first Emmy nods after years of putting in solid yet underappreciated performances, at least by TV Acad standards. Both of the actors’ onscreen alter egos wrestle with right versus wrong, how to hold their families and friends together. Come Emmy night, whoever wins, the award will be for a character that struggles in so many different ways, just like the rest of us.

That’s the big question in the lead actor in a drama category as Cranston’s turn as Walter White — chemistry teacher turned meth producer — has garnered the thesp two well-deserved Emmys and now a chance at a hat trick, an extremely difficult task considering the talent in this group.

While Cranston’s White has a twisted soul, characters played by Michael C. Hall, Hugh Laurie and Jon Hamm can say the same thing. In “Dexter,” Hall plays a tormented serial killer with an blood thirst he satisfies by hunting down murderers. “House” star Laurie, who’s been nominated three times for his turn as the quirky and antisocial diagnostician on the Fox hit drama, plays a complex and misunderstood physician with little if any social skills.

Kyle Chandler
“Friday Night Lights”
Emmy pedigree: One previous nom
Best scene: In “The Son,” Chandler’s head coach Eric Taylor shares a tender and poignant moment with his daughter (Aimee Teegarden), consoling her following the death of her boyfriend’s father.
Why he might win: The NBC drama has been a critical hit since it launched, but none of the cast had ever been nominated. The series is now wrapping up production on what is likely its final season, and many contend that an Emmy for Chandler would be well-deserved.
Maybe not: Would be sad to say, but some may consider a nom for Chandler and Britton a win in many ways, since the show has long been ignored by Emmy and at least got recognition when many thought it would never come.

Bryan Cranston
“Breaking Bad”
Emmy pedigree: Two wins, plus three previous noms
Best scene: Walter assists his young protege (played by two-time Emmy nominee Aaron Paul) in murdering two thugs. At first, Walter is unsure what to do, but when he rams his car into one and shoots the other, it’s an emotional powderkeg of a moment.
Why he might win: The success of the show rests of Cranston’s Michael Corleone-like turn from a meek and ineffectual chemistry teacher to a drug kingpin. That’s no easy task, but the former “Malcolm in the Middle” thesp has proven he’s been more than up to the challenge.
Maybe not: Though it would be nearly impossible to argue against another win, voters might see fit to spread the wealth to others such as Laurie, who have long been nominated but never cashed in.

Matthew Fox
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: Fox’s Jack Shepard has a telling moment when he returns to the island and admits to Hurley (Jorge Garcia) that back in the States his life has little meaning.
Why he might win: Voters might be tempted to heap awards on the show following its final farewell season. With Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson both having won previously, it would seem Fox — considered by many as the centerpiece of the show — would be worthy as well.
Maybe not: Up until the last episode, much of the final season of “Lost” revolved around O’Quinn’s portrayal of the dark side. It could be hard for some to vote for two actors from the same show with so many other talented thesps up for noms.

Michael C. Hall
Emmy pedigree: Three previous noms
Best scene: In the “Lost Boys” episode, Dexter and wife Rita (Julie Benz) take their baby for a booster shot, but all Dexter can think about is how the syringe could be used for murder.
Why he might win: As the centerpiece of Showtime’s current programming surge, Hall has proven he can move from one show (“Six Feet Under”) to another without a hint of typecasting. Not an easy accomplishment for a well-liked pro.
Maybe not: Difficult to say if this will be the year his luck turns around after losing two times in a row.

Hugh Laurie
Emmy pedigree: Four previous noms
Best scene: In the season finale, and after a year of staying clean (he’d kicked his Vicodin habit), House grabs his secret stash behind a medicine cabinet. Slumped on the floor, gripping the bottle of pills, Laurie shows his full range an actor.
Why he might win: If the award is going to someone overdue, there’s no better candidate than Laurie. His performances are always nuanced, smart and delivered with bone dry wit.
Maybe not: While “House” remains a ratings winner for Fox, series has lost much of its buzz compared to the competition here. That could hurt the Brit.

Jon Hamm
“Mad Men”
Emmy pedigree: Three previous noms
Best scene: Hands down, the Big Reveal. After Hamm’s onscreen wife Betty Draper (January Jones) discovers that Draper has been leading a double life, he’s forced to come clean about his entire life history.
Why he might win: It was a big season for Hamm’s alter ego Don Draper, with plotlines and dramatic turns requiring the star to plumb great depths of emotion — often using only his eyes or other small facial expression.
Maybe not: An incorrigible liar, drinker and adulterer, Draper is far from a righteous character, and the season ended with Betty filing for divorce. If the Academy is looking for virtue in its lead contender, they ought look elsewhere (perhaps to Fox or Chandler).

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