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Emmy Guest Role Contenders Preview – Minor Roles Make for Major Impact

Guest Stars Emmy Race

These thesps make the most of limited screen time:

Beau Bridges
“The Millers”
The oft-nominated, three-time Emmy winner says he jumped at the chance to join the cast of CBS’ new hit comedy “The Millers” before even reading a script, “because of showrunner Greg Garcia. We’d previously worked together on ‘My Name Is Earl,’ and he’s one of the funniest, most innovative guys in the business today, who writes very relatable material.” Bridges also loved the family theme — “all the ups and downs, which is a universal experience” — and his character, Tom Miller, “who’s far more complex, and smarter, than you realize at first. And he’s also a bit of a roue — another surprise.”

Jane Fonda
“The Newsroom”
Jane Fonda calls Leona Lansing, the media baroness she plays in “The Newsroom,” “marinated in Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch.” Although Lansing harbors a conservative streak that tends to protect her corporate interests, her tough-as-nails exterior often belies solid core values. Achieving this balancing can be a cinch compared to Aaron Sorkin’s dense Shakespearean monologues. “Aaron is a unique genius,” Fonda tells Variety. “I don’t know how he comes up with this stuff. It’s unbelievable.” Although Sorkin often holds season-arc details from his actors, one thing is certain: We’ll see more of Fonda in the upcoming last season. “Am I going to miss being able to say those words? You bet,” she says. “I am so sad that it’s going to be over.”

Nathan Lane
“Modern Family” and “The Good Wife”
The veteran of film, TV and stage describes his recurring roles in both Emmy favorite “Modern Family” and “The Good Wife” as “an embarrassment of riches.” In the former, he plays “the gayest man in America,” the highly strung, flamboyant event-planner Pepper Saltzman. “It’s a great name, a great character — and great fun to play,” he says of the role that has nabbed him two Emmy noms to date. In the latter, he plays Clarke Hayden, for which he’s also been Emmy-nominated. “He’s this severe, repressed, slightly ambiguous figure, who’s all about business and couldn’t be more different from Pepper.”

Joe Morton
Now in his second season of “Scandal,” Morton has been entertaining — and terrifying — fans as Rowan Pope, the icy head of a secret government agency and father to D.C. fixer Olivia Pope. “He’s a man who has two objectives,” he explains. “One, to protect the republic, and two, to protect his daughter — and he’ll basically go to any lengths necessary to do either and/or both.” After a career “largely spent portraying good guys,” Morton has fully embraced his darker side. “Rowan’s a piece of work, but the biggest challenge has been learning all the monologues,” he admits. “Shonda (Rhimes) wants it word-perfect.”

Diana Rigg
“Game of Thrones”
“The Avengers” icon says she was “absolutely thrilled” when first approached about playing the sharp-tongued grandmother Lady Olenna. “She’s a very powerful old woman, who’s led a very colorful life,” notes Rigg. “She’s strong, witty, dangerous, very protective of her own — and very entertaining.” Although not familiar with the books, she’d followed the HBO series, and says the biggest challenge has been “entering an already established hit series, where fans have very strong ideas about what that character’s like, and you have to meet their expectations.” With her third season of the brutal saga coming up, Rigg expects “to be knocked off at some point — but maybe I’ll outlive ’em all.”

Octavia Spencer
The Oscar-winning actress (“The Help”) has appeared in four episodes of the Chuck Lorre CBS comedy so far — “with hopefully more to come” — as Regina, “a pill-popping embezzler on the run from the cops, so she has a lot of issues.” Lorre wrote her into the show after Spencer showed up at the pilot taping to support old pals Allison Janney and Anna Faris. “The taping was so funny, I rushed up to Chuck and begged to be included — forgetting all about my terrible stage fright,” she recalls. “We shoot in front of a live studio audience, but he’s really helped me deal with it.”

Christopher Evan Welch
“Silicon Valley”
When Welch took on the role of billionaire venture capitalist Peter Gregory in the new HBO show, he showed up already “fully inhabiting” his character, says writer-director-producer Alec Berg (“Seinfeld,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). “It was as if he was just channeling it. I don’t know where it came from or how he did it, but it felt incredibly real to all of us — especially (creator) Mike Judge” (who based the comedy on his own experiences as a Silicon Valley engineer in the late 1980s). When Welch (“Lincoln,” “The Master”) tragically succumbed to lung cancer in December, at just 48, “it was devastating,” says Berg. “He’s sorely missed.”