Bittersweet recognition

Actors uncomfortable campaigning against castmates

Winning an Emmy is surely something most actors and actresses aspire to, but before being celebrated by their peers they must often undergo the awkwardness of the submission process, and prepare for the possibility that if they are nominated, they may end up competing against fellow cast members. Such hurdles can make a supporting Emmy victory a bittersweet triumph.

Even after winning an Emmy for supporting actor in a drama series in 2000 for his portrayal of White House communications director Toby Ziegler on “The West Wing,” and scoring noms for the role in 2001 and 2002, Richard Schiff is still not comfortable with the submission process.

“It’s a very ironic and odd method,” he says. “The idea that you submit yourself for an award is somewhat ludicrous to me. If someone is going to honor you, by singling you out for some special achievement, it seems to me that should happen without your own investment. Otherwise, it’s kind of like raising your hand and going, ‘Pick me. Pick me. Pick me.’ It’s very hard for me to get into that process, and yet I’ve been convinced by managers and agents that it’s important to do, and that’s the way it’s done.”

Third-party opinions

To avoid at least part of the uneasiness that goes with submitting oneself for an Emmy, Schiff turns to his inner circle for help.

“It’s very hard for me to judge my own work, much less look at it, so my wife — because I trust her opinion so much — will look at stuff, along with my manager, and I’ll ask (former ‘West Wing’ exec producer-director) Tommy (Schlamme) what he thinks. I don’t like to participate in it so that I get to pretend that I’m not really volunteering for an award,” he quips.

Penny Johnson Jerald, whose character Sherry Palmer also works in the White House as the devious first lady on “24,” is hoping for her first Emmy nomination. She concurs that the submission process leaves her feeling slightly uncomfortable.

“When you talk about submitting yourself, it takes you out of the creative realm of acting and you find yourself in this business thought process, which is not very comfortable, at least for me,” she says. “It’s kind of like a campaign, like running for office.”

Supporting actor in a comedy winner Brad Garrett, who portrays Ray Romano’s brother, Robert, on the perennial Emmy fave “Everybody Loves Raymond,” has little trouble with the submission process and takes it seriously. “During the seven years of the show, there were three years when everybody was nominated except me. That really makes me spend extra time on the artwork (for trade ads),” he quips.

Garrett also has learned to accept the snubs.

“Everyone tells you that you’ve been robbed, but the reality of it is that there are 85 actors that are usually eligible for your category and they pick five,” he says. “In the years that I have been nominated and the years that I haven’t been, all of the five gentlemen deserve to be there.”

In 2000 and again last year, Garrett found himself nominated in the same category as Peter Boyle, who plays the wisecracking patriarch Frank Barone on the “Raymond.” “Peter and I always joke about it but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to win,” he says. “Peter winning would be the second-greatest thing, and I’m sure he feels the same way.”

This year, however, Garrett says he’s pulling for Boyle. “There’s a very good chance I’ll be voting for Peter. It would be great to see him snag one. He’s very overdue.”

Both Garrett and Schiff credit the writers of their shows with developing scripts that allow the supporting cast to shine and eventually receive their due.

“I remember when Brad (Whitford) was not nominated and that felt wrong, but in subsequent years that was taken care of,” Schiff says. “It’s kind of nice now, because every one of the original cast who stuck for a few years has been nominated at one time or another, and a lot of different people have won, and that feels right for our show.”