Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actor Nominees

In the 1960s, the names that crossed the pond included the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Herman’s Hermits. Today they go by such monikers as Lewis, Owen and Cumberbatch.

There is a new British Invasion, but it is being conducted by thespians on TV screens rather than musicians, and they’re eyeing Emmy gold rather than Grammy treasure.

Several of the noms in the male acting categories have English accents — they include Damian Lewis, Clive Owen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Hugh Bonneville, Brendan Coyle, Jim Carter, Jared Harris, Idris Elba and Martin Freeman — and they’re speaking with perfect diction about the influence of Brits on the current television landscape.

“When I came out of drama school, I had no notion that I would have a career in the U.S.,” explains Damian Lewis, one of the co-stars of Showtime’s hit drama “Homeland.”

“Where I ended up now,” he adds, “is as much a source of amazement to me as anyone else. I never imagined having this dual career on both sides of the Atlantic, spending half a year shooting a great TV show in America.”

Lewis points to his experience on the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” as a watershed event, saying that a downturn in the independent film business around that time created a flood of actors headed to television and a more open-minded approach by TV producers.

“Also, for tax reasons, there was a lot of shooting in the U.K. using British actors,” he says. “People suddenly thought, ‘Wow, we can use British actors in TV, not just film.'”

Clive Owen, co-star of the HBO film “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” worked in British television for several years beginning in the late 1980s before forging a sterling career in features. He said back then there was a welcome mat out for young writers and directors to experiment, and a greater willingness to take creative risks.

“I’m not sure it’s like that anymore,” he explains, adding that his experience with HBO was exemplary.

“Working with HBO is more like the movie work I’ve done,” he says. “It was a really great experience. They were led by the material. They had a passion for the script and the project itself. … I would say we were left alone to work pretty much.”

Before he became known to American auds for his roles in feature films such as “War Horse” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Benedict Cumberbatch did a considerable amount of work in British television.

“I owe a lot to the BBC,” says the star of the “Sherlock” update. “I actually thought about changing my initials to BBC. They’ve given me some fantastic breaks.”

Although his work in American television is limited to a couple of joint productions like the upcoming BBC-HBO collaboration “Parade’s End,” he possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. shows and recognizes a renaissance in the business over the past 10 to 15 years.

“I was aware of American television, although in a very pop culture way,” says Cumberbatch, who noted that he grew up watching American TV shows such as “Knight Rider” and “Airwolf.” “There’s been a sea change over the past 10 years or so, with shows like ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘The Wire’ and ‘Breaking Bad.’ The list goes on. Hugely wonderfully talented people telling extraordinary stories on a big canvas.

“It makes the medium now utterly unique. That’s why a lot of filmmakers and theater people are going back to television, because you can breathe and develop stories over an arc, as opposed to a cookie-cutter approach. I think there is a revolution going on.”

While that occurs, perpetrators of the new British Invasion can probably expect a greater degree of appreciation for their work on these shores.

“I’m recognized in both countries in a really satisfying, middle management sort of way,” Lewis says. “People don’t tend to mob me and rip the shirt off my back. But I think it’s recognition for the work I’ve done over the last 10 years, like ‘Band of Brothers.’ I’ve always had that level of recognition.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actor Nominees
Tax breaks created TV party
Drama | Comedy | Miniseries/Movie
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