True-life personas dominate this year’s noms in the lead actor in a miniseries or movie category, with only British thesp Idris Elba’s “Luther” a wholly fictional creation.Two Kennedys, a famous criminal, the Supreme Court’s first African-American justice and a Secretary of the Treasury round out the rest of the cast of characters. Venezuelan-born Edgar Ramirez, who was also nommed for a Golden Globe, made a major impression on critics with his charismatic portrayal of the enigmatic fugitive Carlos the Jackal in Olivier Assayas’ epic yet intimate “Carlos.” HBO is a mainstay here, as always, having seen its actors come away with this award seven of the past 10 years. “Thurgood” thesp Laurence Fishburne is no Emmy newcomer himself; he’s been nommed in this category twice before and won for guest actor for “Tribeca” back in 1993. In the exemplary one-person play, Fishburne re-created the role he played on Broadway for a filmed performance from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The pay cabler’s investment in current events paid off for Hurt, who played Hank Paulson — a pivotal figure in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis that was retold in the adaptation of Andrew Ross Sorkin’s tome “Too Big to Fail.” Elba, previously known to U.S. auds in the central role of ambitious drug lieutenant Stringer Bell on HBO’s “The Wire,” moved to the other side of the law as the titular, volatile police detective in BBC America’s “Luther.” Noms are rounded out by a pair from the series that was controversial before it even aired, “The Kennedys.” After being dumped by History and passed by others, the mini gave the ReelzChannel its first taste of Emmy recognition. Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper were tabbed as John F. Kennedy and brother Bobby, respectively.
Best scene: Any scene where Elba’s John Luther cat-and-mouses with Ruth Wilson’s clever killer, Alice Morgan. Bad-tempered cop vs. unpredictable lunatic equals compelling telly.
Why he might win: His Luther is a terrific blend of detail-oriented detective and emotionally challenged husband, with the two often overlapping with one another. And for fans of “The Wire,” this could be a way to rectify the wrongs when the series never got any Emmy love.
Maybe not: He shouldn’t be punished for this, but as “Luther” is more of a series than a miniseries — season two recently debuted in Britain — that could confuse some voters.
Best scene: Fishburne as Marshall passionately arguing the watershed “Brown vs. the Board of Education” case, as well as later telling story of his swearing in to the Supreme Court.
Why he might win: As a one-man vehicle, Fishburne holds aud’s attention throughout, conveying the essence of an important, complex man who had a sense of humor, too. It’s his show and absolutely nails it.
Maybe not: Essentially a filmed play, it might be too stagey for voters’ taste.
“Too Big to Fail”
Best scene: Hurt, as Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, nailing the titular line in a scene with Topher Grace’s Jim Wilkinson: “You want too big to fail? Here it is!”
Why he might win: Flanked by an all-star ensemble, Hurt’s Paulson arguably comes closest to the hero here, and the thesp was rewarded with a surplus of good reviews.
Maybe not: A guy discussing the meltdown of an economy means he may not have the showiest of roles or the sexiest material to deal with. Yea, money talks but not sure it can win Emmys.
Best scene: A confident President Kennedy says to one of his generals, “My intention is to have you fight the battles and I’ll set the policy. Does that work for you?”
Why he might win: Kinnear captured JFK’s much-imitated speech patterns believably, with a hint of melancholy. The actor has always been likeable and that could make a difference.
Maybe not: Could be harmed by the controversy of the mini — some critics and historians felt it fudged reality — and reviews overall were less than kind. Reelz’s relatively low profile not a plus, either.
Best scene: Quieter moments with Kristin Booth as Bobby’s wife, Ethel, as when Bobby suggested that she take over for Jackie in an interview.
Why he might win: Despite having to wear a prosthetic nose, Pepper held his own with an earnest portrayal of Bobby. Most critics who said unkind things of the mini praise his perf, saying he was one of the highlights of the project.
Maybe not: He may be overshadowed by Kinnear’s JFK, or possibly the two nominees could also cancel each other out.
Best scene: A memorable moment sans dialogue in which Ramirez stands naked in front of a tall mirror admiring and infatuated with his own image. There’s also the riveting OPEC raid sequence, with Carlos at his most charismatic and dangerous.
Why he might win: Ramirez was also nominated for a Golden Globe and a SAG Award (the series itself won the Globe), and he received rave notices. Voters would look very international in scope selecting him here.
Maybe not: Originally produced for French TV and then reaired on Sundance (an edited version had a brief theatrical run in U.S.), the question remains: Did enough people see it? And the film’s complicated portrayal of a terrorist is fairly dark stuff that could turn more conservative voters off.
Actors look to play characters unlike themselves
Comedy | Drama | Miniseries & Movies