Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actor

‘Dead’ to ‘Downton,’ ‘Boardwalk’ to ‘Breaking Bad,’ these thesps all raised their game during remarkable seasons:

Jon Bernthal
“The Walking Dead”
The arc that took Shane Walsh from hero to villain on “The Walking Dead” could have yielded a stock character in lesser hands. And yet Bernthal managed to keep Walsh sympathetic, and even rational, as the character descended into a madness that led to his death, leaving a vacuum the show can only hope to fill in its upcoming third season.

Matt Bomer
“White Collar”
Once a con man, always a con man? That was the the question surrounding Bomer’s Neal Caffrey, as many believed he was slipping back to old, and comfortable, ways. The question of trust was one that permeated the entire season of USA Network’s smart dramedy.

Hugh Bonneville
“Downton Abbey”
For American auds, he was once best known as the guy in “Notting Hill” who doesn’t recognize Julia Roberts — until now, when he will forever be seen as Lord Grantham, patriarch of Downton. Bonneville has made Grantham the most lovable rich guy around, even when it takes the character longer to recognize the proper course of action that you might like.

Billy Gardell
“Mike & Molly”
Leading up to their long-awaited wedding, Mike can’t quite understand why it takes Molly so much time to plan the day’s events. Sometimes flustered, often bemused and always try to be the stand-up guy his blushing bride would be proud of, Gardell can handle anything his writers throw at him.

Jack Huston
“Boardwalk Empire”
Somehow, in a cast of superstar actors, Huston broke out of what was initially a recurring part to become, for many “Boardwalk” viewers, the most compelling reason to watch. His wan, scratchy delivery belies the rich emotional intensity of Richard Harrow. He makes our heart break every time we see him.

Jeremy Irons
“The Borgias”
Few thesps carry as much gravitas as Irons, who seems to be having a wonderfully over-the-top time playing the pope in Showtime’s Renaissance-era sudser about papal power and, of course, sex. It’s been an iconic role for the Brit, a chance to make an impression on U.S. auds in a big way.

Joel Kinnaman
“The Killing”
Trying to put his meth demons behind him, Holder is completely, and finally, focused on the case to find Rosie Larsen’s killer. OK, maybe not as locked in as his obsessive partner Sarah Linden, but certainly thorough enough to end this two-season case already.

Peter Krause
“Parenthood”
About to become a father for the third time and without a job, Adam Braverman dove in head first with his brother to re-energize an abandoned music studio that turned into a nice profit center. Adam, under Krause’s smart restraint, does a nice job supporting his own family while emotionally corralling the rest of Braverman clan.

William H. Macy
“Shameless”
Every season seems to signal a new low for alcoholic, narcissistic Frank but he apparently hasn’t hit rock bottom yet. Macy allows Frank to exhibit fleeting moments of humanity, but following his mother’s death, Frank is determined to make sure he gets every last penny she left behind. Another financial scheme involves doing just about anything to pry money from dying bar buddy Dottie, including marrying her and later intercepting a phone call telling her she has a new heart.

Matthew Morrison
“Glee”
There were several nice moments for Morrison’s Will: Being chivalrous, he stood up to his fiance’s parents and defended her and being Sue, he switched roles with his nemesis — sweat suit and all. Oh, and teacher of the year award. That has to count for something, right?

Ben McKenzie
“Southland”
Previously a play-by-the-rules guy, McKenzie’s officer Ben Sherman ventured to the dark side. He quickly found out that no matter how honorable the intention, getting personally involved in a case can be awfully dangerous. Looking to get a young teen prostitute off the street cost him his integrity and almost his partner’s life.

John Noble
“Fringe”
What would be a new season of “Fringe” without a new version of Walter? The new Walter is more damaged than previous incarnations — a loner and fearful of leaving his lab. Noble has done a tremendous service to his character, allowing him to survive and thrive in several different alternate universes.

Aaron Paul
“Breaking Bad”
Nominated for a supporting actor Emmy each of his last two years he was eligible, Paul returned with “Breaking” from its year-plus hiatus to reestablish himself as one of the most magnetic actors around. Barely above the level of street slime when the show began, Paul has managed to bring new layers to his Jesse Pinkman with every season.

Adam Scott
“Parks & Recreation”
It’s a long way from the seriousness of HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me” to the ethereal laughs of “Parks,” but Scott has made the journey. He’s an optimist on par with his onscreen girlfriend, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), only with a sprinkle more of reality and several dashes of insecurity, all of which Scott can play, if necessary, in a single moment.

Tom Selleck
“Blue Bloods”
NYPD Commissioner Frank Reagan doesn’t have to say or do much to be a domineering presence both at home and in the workplace, and the same can be said of TV icon Selleck. The “Magnum” star is wildly respected by his peers and lends gravitas to the CBS procedural in ways that very few actors could.

Dan Stevens
“Downton Abbey”
While keeping that prototypical stiff upper lip, Stevens had to give Downton’s Matthew extra doses of frailty following his physically and emotionally brutal experiences from the Great War — and then still leave enough strength and fortitude to have two women swooning over him. Mission accomplished.

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