When it came to the lead acting races in last year’s limited series or movie category, the women mounted an impressive lineup. Three Academy Award winners (Frances McDormand, Jessica Lange, and Emma Thompson) and three Oscar nominees (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah, and Felicity Huffman) competed for the top prize, which went to McDormand for “Olive Kitteridge.”
This year, it looks to be the men’s turn, with a surprising number of Oscar nominees and winners eligible in the category, along with some big-name star power flexing its muscles. Academy Award winners in the running for lead actor include Anthony Hopkins (“The Dresser”), Cuba Gooding Jr. (“The People V. O.J. Simpson”), Richard Dreyfuss (“Madoff”), and Timothy Hutton (“American Crime”).
They will face considerable competition from Oscar nominees like Benedict Cumberbatch, who has already won an Emmy for his role in “Sherlock,” and Ian McKellen, who goes head-to-head with Hopkins in “The Dresser.” It’s also going to be difficult to take on six-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, who received his first Oscar nom this year and is likely to be Emmy-nominated for reprising his Tony Award-winning role as Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way.”
Then there are some wildcards. James Franco is an Oscar nominee who did solid work in Hulu’s miniseries “11/22/63,” but the Television Academy doesn’t always embrace genre shows. Voters might be even more averse to lighthearted fare in a traditionally serious category. Bill Murray is eligible for his Netflix special “A Very Murray Christmas,” but are voters likely to reward something so offbeat alongside shows like “Fargo” (with stalwart lead Patrick Wilson) and “Luther” (recent double SAG Award winner Idris Elba)?
If so, they could go with another wildcard: three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp playing Donald Trump in “Funny or Die’s The Art of the Deal.” Yes, the spoof, directed by Jeremy Konner, is silly but it’s also smart, perfectly aping a 1980s movie that has been uncovered in which The Donald insists on playing himself. Depp’s recent headlines make this an even tougher sell, but the performance is a master class in comic timing.
|“Bill Murray is eligible for his Netflix special ‘A Very Murray Christmas,’ but are voters likely to reward something so offbeat?”|
Even if actors don’t come in with Oscar pedigrees, there is some considerable star power rounding out the category. Despite dismal reviews, Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn are both eligible for season two of “True Detective.” Respected thespians like Paul Dano (“War & Peace”) and Ben Whishaw (“London Spy”) are in the mix, while Wilson (“Fargo”) and Wes Bentley (“American Horror Story: Hotel”) both headed up wildly popular shows.
In terms of heat, few actors are more buzzed about than Oscar Isaac, who already won a Golden Globe in January for “Show Me a Hero” while “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was breaking box office records. (Appearing in the summer tent pole “X-Men: Apocalypse” as voting is getting under way can’t hurt either.)
Also bringing star power are two Brits who are both favored to take over as James Bond, Elba and Tom Hiddleston for “The Night Manager.” Both are enjoying white-hot career streaks and turned in acclaimed work in hit programs.
Name recognition and previous laurels can’t hurt, but the category’s frontrunner just might turn out to be a respected character actor who has been working steadily for years without statues and trophies. Though Courtney B. Vance won a Tony Award in 2013 for featured actor in a play for “Lucky Guy,” he has never received an Oscar, Golden Globe, or Emmy nomination. His blistering turn as Johnnie Cochran in “The People V. O.J. Simpson” was a marvel to watch, and will be difficult to ignore come Emmy night.