Emmy voters are often creatures of habit, content to reward the usual suspects. But this year, the supporting category offers a lot of opportunities for new faces to break in. The diverse group of vets and newbies invited to the party include Jackie Hoffman (“Feud: Bette and Joan”), Chrissy Metz and Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”), Alexander Skarsgard and Shailene Woodley (“Big Little Lies”), Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”).
For 13-year-old British actress Brown, playing the enigmatic, buzz-cutted Eleven on the Duffer brothers retro Netflix drama “Stranger Things” represents a couple of firsts. “It was my first big break and really my first proper acting job,” she says. “When we were shooting [the first season] we never thought it’d be this big, and it’s kind of crazy to realize how many people have responded to it and my character, this outcast.”
Brown says “most, if not all” her scenes in the first season were “quite hard to do, because I had so few lines and you have to convey all the emotions and thoughts without any words.” It’s been estimated that she speaks barely 250 words through the entire first season.
“I remember when [the Duffers] told me I had to shave all my hair off, and it was really hard. I looked just like a boy, and people laughed at me when I went places, they thought I was so weird-looking.”
The toughest scene to play? “It was episode four, when I’m being carried down a hallway by some security guards,” she says. “It was the second scene of me crying, so I was already very emotional.”
To deal with the emotion and to help her access her feelings, Brown turned to singer Adele and her weepy epic soul ballad “Hello.” “It came out on October 23, 2015, the very same day I shot the scene, and I just sat in my trailer listening to it on ear-buds and getting very teary,” she recalls. The process worked. “I went out and did just two takes, and got it.”
Looking ahead, she says the second season is finished, “although I haven’t seen it yet.” Brown also promises fans that she’ll have “a lot more lines, and there’ll be far more explanation about the character, and so much information. I think the fans will get what they want.”
Brown’s breakout role in the show has also jump-started her movie career, and she’s in Atlanta shooting “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” for director Michael Dougherty and Warner Bros., slated for a March 22, 2019 release. “It’s my first film role, and I’m getting to do most of my own stunts. So it’s very exciting.”
Hoffman also did a lot with very little dialogue playing Mamacita in FX’s “Feud: Bette and Joan.” While leading ladies Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange had ample opportunity to chew the scenery as, respectively, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, Hoffman’s stern maid to the latter “was a big challenge, because Mama-cita had so few lines, and I’m so used to theater and lots of dialogue,” she says. “There was a lot of showing up, opening doors, then going home for three days.”
Despite this, Hoffman says the role was “a gift from God. She was German, a very strong and powerful woman, and I had so much fun with her accent, which I didn’t want to exaggerate or do as a stereotype. I wanted to keep it subtle, not too pronounced.”
Less fun for Hoffman was the physical transformation needed for the role. “The makeup was minimal, but the wig was the big time-consuming thing,” she reports. “It took over 40 minutes each time to put it on. It was intense and a painstaking process. The wig should have been nominated.”
The actress, who refers to herself as “a 56-year-old Emmy virgin” in terms of her first nom, says her hardest scenes “were the ones where I was handing out drinks, and Jessica gets progressively more enraged — and it was truly scary because she’s such a powerful performer. She was so intimidating I almost wet myself.”
For Metz, who plays Kate Pearson in “This Is Us,” landing her first Emmy nom has been “really wild.” She says the biggest challenge has been staying vulnerable.
“Most actors like to check footage for unflattering facial shots and to see if the clothes are hanging right, but I purposely don’t look at dailies to check on any of that stuff,” she says. “I think that’s why people relate to Kate so much, because she’s a real girl, trying to figure her life out, and making mistakes, and not necessarily being attractive in the process.”
Her hardest scene so far? “When Kate got on the scale in the pilot,” she says. “It was raw, real and tough to do, as you’re basically naked, but also bearing your soul. It was a defining, sobering, rock-bottom moment for her.”
Metz’s co-star Jones, 60, is a seasoned actor enjoying one of the biggest hits of his career with “This Is Us.” “It’s been a perfect storm of having a great role, with great writing, a great cast, great directors: basically the whole package,” he says. “And that’s a very rare thing in this business, so I’m incredibly gratified. And then playing a character like William, with this wonderful arc and through-line through the whole season, has been a great opportunity for me.”
The hardest scene to play was one of the last episodes, titled “Memphis,” he says, in which his son “Randall drives William back to his hometown of Memphis, where he dies. We actually went to Memphis to do it, and the death scene was very difficult, as you’re playing his life out, and I knew all season that he’d pass away, but not when and which episode.
“And it was difficult because I’d fallen in love with William. I was even hoping for a miracle cure to be written in.”
William is “a very familiar character to me. I grew up with a lot of men just like him — uncles, friends of the family — so it’s especially rewarding to be able to dig inwards and find all the different layers of this character.
“And he’s been a turning point in my career. I’ve been doing this a long time, and none of us had a clue that this would be such a popular show and resonate with such a wide audience. Often it’s all to do with the timing, and the timing for this has been perfect.”