Andre Braugher’s first Emmy win surprised the actor. His performance in NBC’s “Homicide: Life on the Street” as driven detective Frank Pembleton had garnered notice for years, but an Emmy win for lead actor in a drama series eluded Braugher in 1996. When he took the stage in 1998, he was spotted reaching for a “cheat sheet,” but never pulled it out. Yet the victory was an important one for the actor, who had been nominated for Emmys twice before without a win. Braugher won again in 2006 for a leading role in the FX limited series “Thief,” and received his most recent nomination last year for his supporting role on the Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
How did you feel about your chances the first year you won?
1998 was my last year of “Homicide.” I had left the show at the end of the sixth season and I had been nominated and so that September, I won. I didn’t expect to win. Every year, Dennis Franz won for “NYPD Blue” and there was no doubt that he was going to get it. My expectation was that Dennis was going to take it again. “NYPD Blue” was a phenomenon in essence. He was dominating the category.
What do you remember when your name was announced?
You know, I was more surprised than anything. Everyone handicaps their own category, and so I said everything based on quality of work and history, Dennis was going to own it again. When they said my name, I was stunned.
Did you have a speech prepared?
I had to kind of wing it. I wound up losing my cheat sheet …
What did the win mean to you?
It’s quite a pleasure being nominated. My acting peers thought my work was exemplary, along with four of my fellow actors, and so that was the real thrill. I enjoyed it. There’s not a lot of champagne popping and dancing around, but you know, that really was quite inspiring in that this work had stood out for my peers, people who knew acting, and who responded to it. “Homicide” was never widely viewed, never a highly rated show. It was tucked away on Friday nights. It stands out to me fondly as being one of the best gigs that I’ve ever worked.
Did winning an Emmy take the pressure off you to get nominations for subsequent work?
A lot of it is in the mind of the viewers. The viewer is also a part of the creative process. I think what I have to do is yield to the sort of innate genius of the crowd. They know better than I do. In those years I was nominated, it was because they saw something that I couldn’t. In those years I wasn’t nominated, it was obvious I’d reached too far in my imagination.