Anthony Hemingway, who directed half the episodes of FX’s “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” recalls being on set with Cuba Gooding Jr., who played Simpson. They were filming a scene during episode four that showed O.J. behind bars, mentally unraveling.

“I literally just said, ‘Cry.’ And he, like a baby, started,” Hemingway says. “After we cut he started to curse me out: ‘Mother f—r. Only you can make me do this s—t.’”

An unusually close bond between actor and director is a bit of a throughline among those nominated for Emmys this year for lead performance in a limited series or TV movie. Idris Elba, nominated for “Luther,” has worked with director Sam Miller on eight previous episodes as well as the feature “No Good Deed.” Susanne Bier directed Tom Hiddleston in all six episodes of AMC’s “The Night Manager,” and could see a lot more of the actor soon. She’s on the shortlist to the direct the next “Bond” movie, and he’s rumored to take over the titular role. Before director Jay Roach worked with Bryan Cranston on HBO’s “All the Way,” they collaborated on another biopic, “Trumbo.” (Breaking the trend: director Douglas Mackinnon was a newcomer to both “Sherlock” and nominee Benedict Cumberbatch when he helmed the Brit series’ standalone installment “The Abominable Bride.”)

Hemingway and Gooding first worked together on the 2012 film “Red Tails,” about the Tuskegee airmen. Hemingway says he understands Gooding’s process, which was one key to the actor’s acclaimed performance.

“Not many people can get to and connect with Cuba like I can — and I know he’s shared Ryan [Murphy] can do the same thing,” Hemingway says. “We know the right buttons and the right things to push to find the right emotions.”

“Everyone had their note in this wonderful symphony and the directors were the conductors.”
Courtney B. Vance

Hemingway’s relationship with Courtney B. Vance, also nominated in the category for playing lawyer Johnnie Cochran, extends back to the 1998 TV movie “Ambushed.” The director’s mother, Eleanor, was a longtime production coordinator who worked with Vance on the film. Later, Hemingway worked with Vance as an assistant director on several episodes of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”  Hemingway had a good sense for how Vance approaches his work — as an intellectual. He remembers preparing for a scene in episode four where Cochran, meets with Simpson in prison.

“I told him, ‘Courtney, this scene … we’re shooting first thing Monday morning and I need you to be on it,’” Hemingway says. “Knowing his process and knowing how to work with him, I gave him the head’s up and he came in on Monday morning slaying.”

Vance attributes the FX show’s success to hiring a competent crew that worked tirelessly through what he calls a “grueling” production process. “Everyone had their note in this wonderful symphony, and the directors were the conductors,” he says.
Bier says both “Night Manager” actors, Hiddleston and Hugh Laurie, were very collaborative. “They came to set every single day with, at times, radical suggestions for how to deal with the scenes, how to change the dialogue or how to do things. At times less radical, but always with suggestions,” she notes. “That was very, very thrilling.”

Roach, who directed Cranston in the LBJ biopic “All the Way” calls the star a writer, a thinker, and a creative partner.  Roach agreed to direct “All the Way” before he and Cranston had started working on “Trumbo.” He remembers thinking, “I hope I know what I’m doing because if ‘Trumbo’ doesn’t go well, this is going to be really awkward.”

But their collaborative chemistry, which included sharing letters that the real life Dalton Trumbo wrote and recordings of President Lyndon Johnson’s phone messages, proved fertile ground for creativity. Still, Roach says he and Cranston had creative differences, even some as preliminary as how theatrical to make Trumbo’s character. “I wondered if sometimes people overheard us and thought ‘Are those guys fighting?’” the director laughs.

But the truth was in the next take. “It would be just electric,” he says. “We’re making films about cantankerous, combative, feisty people so you don’t want to close the door to that kind energy on set. I never discouraged it.”

As almost certainly applies to many of the relationships between directors and actors present in the lineup of Emmy-nominated leading actors, Roach says he and Cranston were able to drop pretenses and focus on getting the best possible result. “Where you really test the relationship is when you disagree,” Roach says. “But there was never a time when a debate didn’t end where each of us learned something and the approach to the storytelling got richer as a result.”