This year’s nominees in the supporting categories are evidence of a changing television landscape. Writing teams are experimenting as the medium gets bolder, transforming traditional second-banana characters into more fully rounded individuals.
Take Uzo Aduba’s inmate Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren on Net-flix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” The thesp credits the writing for giving her a rich foundation to work from. “I think that the easy route would have been to make a stock character,” she says. “If you just looked at her on the surface it would be easy to not fight for this person. And I love the challenge of fighting for her.”
While all the supporting drama actresses are past nominees, only Aduba has won a trophy, last year for guest actor. Christina Hendricks’ turn in AMC’s “Mad Men” and Christine Baranski’s in CBS’ “The Good Wife” are among those in the running with Aduba — although unlike Aduba, whose show is in its second season, the pair have been nominated every year dating back to 2010. After six straight years of nominations, neither actress has won for her role. Also in contention: previous nominees Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) and Joanne Froggatt (PBS’ “Downton Abbey.”).
The dramatic supporting actor race includes Peter Dinklage, whose “Game of Thrones” performance impressed voters enough to win in 2011, but hasn’t repeated since. Jonathan Banks could manage to keep the “Breaking Bad” family love alive with his performance in AMC’s spinoff “Better Call Saul.” Also in contention are previous nominees Jim Carter (“Downton Abbey”) and Alan Cumming (“The Good Wife”) and newcomers Michael Kelly and Ben Mendelsohn (Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “Bloodline,” respectively).
One of the most interesting competitions is in supporting comedy actor. Ty Burrell (ABC’s “Modern Family”) is the returning champion having won in 2014 and 2011. Still, he faces competition from “Veep” actor Tony Hale who won two years ago for the HBO comedy, previous nominees Andre Braugher (Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) and Adam Driver (HBO’s “Girls”) and two category newcomers: Tituss Burgess (Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”) and Keegan-Michael Key (Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele”).
Burgess is nominated for playing the flamboyant Titus Andromedon, and says: “We had to find a way to make him three-dimensional. And although he’s eccentric and however fabulous they make him, I feel like I know a version of him.”
Key adds that his success comes from creative autonomy at Comedy Central.
“It’s mind boggling how little interference we’ve had from the network,” he says. “I think the fact that they’ve given us the freedom to do what we want, and have given Amy (Schumer) the freedom to do what she wanted, and Nick Kroll the freedom to do what he wanted, you have three very distinct shows in the sketch arena on one network.”
Even fellow nominee Burrell is a fan of Key, whom he has known since they attended school together at Penn State. “I feel like I’m more like the guy who won the lottery,” he says. “Keegan is the guy who was born to be where he is.”
Braugher, who has won two Emmys in the past for dramatic roles on ”Homicide: Life on the Street” and “Thief,” now finds himself a return nominee in the comedy category (for Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”). He believes the current state of television has allowed him to explore different roles.
“My career has come, I think, quite a long way and is in an entirely different place from where it started. And I’m quite comfortable here. It’s quite a breath of fresh air.”
Last year’s supporting actress winner, Allison Janney (CBS’ “Mom”), stands a good chance at reclaiming the prize, but faces a strong challenge from a record seven other nominees, including Julie Bowen (ABC’s “Modern Family”), Mayim Bialik (CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory”), Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”), Gaby Hoffmann (Amazon’s “Transparent”), Jane Krakowski (“Kimmy Schmidt”), Kate McKinnon (NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”) and Niecy Nash (HBO’s “Getting On.”).
Chlumsky enjoyed an uproarious meltdown during episode five, “Convention,” which could be the moment that pushes the thesp, who has been nominated twice before but never won, over the edge to Emmy victory. “Every season I’m giving it that kind of commitment and (the writers are) giving it that commitment and roundness,” she says. “But this is the moment when the curtain got opened and we all got to see what we’ve all been shooting for.”
With only five shows recognized among the 12 nominations in the limited series or movie category, FX’s “American Horror Story,” cast is a strong contender; Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates, Denis O’Hare, Sarah Paulson and Finn Wittrock are all representing the series.
As a two-time winner, Burrell offers an expert opinion on what Emmy voters are looking for.
“Based on my past experience,” he says, “the evidence supports actors with vaguely low self-esteem and no real skill set. That’s the winning formula.”