When it comes to television, this year’s SAG Awards nominations may welcome a host of newcomers, including actors from Hulu’s Emmy juggernaut “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Netflix newcomers “Alias Grace,” “GLOW,” “Mindhunter” and “Ozark”; CBS’s “Young Sheldon;” ABC’s “The Mayor” and “The Good Doctor” and Showtime’s “White Famous” and “SMILF.”
Like “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Alias Grace” is based on a Margaret Atwood novel. Sarah Gadon, who plays the title role, says two scenes from the series provoke the most response from viewers and stood out to her when she read the script. “I was terrified of them,” she says. “How are we going to pull that off?”
She’s referring to a scene in episode one when Grace stares at herself in a mirror as voiceover narration reveals how Grace, an Irish-Canadian servant convicted of murdering her employer in 1840s Canada, was viewed by others. “As it was written in the script she transforms into all these personas and I wondered, will it be special effects? Will it seem theatrical and corny?” Gadon says.
After discussing the scene with writer Sarah Polley and director Mary Harron, the trio agreed to ground the sequence and go for subtlety. Gadon is also proud of the 20-minute, filmed-in-real-time hypnotism scene from episode five, which was shot over two days.
“It’s this sequence of Grace speaking under the veil as somebody else,” Gadon, who worked with a dialect coach to take on the voices of other characters in that scene, says. “It was more daunting because it goes on for so long and also there’s the idea of playing it out of Grace’s own register and voice, out of Grace’s own accent. It was a real transformation.”
For Alison Brie, portraying a 1980s-era actress-turned-TV-wrestler proved most challenging when her character auditions in the first episode of “GLOW.” She must transform from a novice in grappling to an experienced wrestler in a dream sequence as at a time when she was still learning the moves.
“The way it transitions from the real world to this fantasy sequence at the end of the episode is amazing and one of the things that made me really want to do the show,” Brie says. “If there was a source of anxiety, it was that we had only four weeks to learn as much wrestling as possible. It’s funny that the first wrestling sequence we ever shot was when we knew the least.”
On ABC’s breakout hit “The Good Doctor,” Freddie Highmore says he’s most proud of the quieter, character-driven scenes featuring his autistic surgeon, Dr. Shaun Murphy, whether that’s Shaun’s interactions with a neighbor he has a crush on or exploring Shaun’s backstory in episode five through a patient who resembles Shaun’s deceased brother. And top of mind is a sense of responsibility when portraying an autistic character.
“We are aware of the fact that Shaun can never, nor should he, represent everyone who has autism,” Highmore says, “in the same way a neurotypical lead character of a television show would not represent everyone who is neurotypical in the world.”
On ABC’s comedy side, Brandon Micheal Hall of “The Mayor,” says a scene in the pilot episode between rapper-turned-mayor Courtney Rose and his mother (Yvette Nicole Brown) echoed a conversation with his own, real-life mom.
“We’re out on the fire escape and she explains to me the responsibility I’m taking on as mayor is not just about me, it’s about the entire community,” Hall says. “I relate to that because I have the same ideals behind working on ‘The Mayor,’ which is the responsibility of carrying my first show for the first time. My [real] mom sat me down to say ‘See, this is someone representing their community in a positive light and the picture is always bigger.’”
“I would love for our show to get nominated as a whole. I think we’ve got something special.”
And then there are a few potential newcomers to this year’s SAG Awards nominations who aren’t brand new but have yet to score recognition from voters. ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu certainly seems like a candidate for recognition alongside Wendi McLendon-Covey of “The Goldbergs,” which just reached 100 episodes.
“The fact that you’re even asking me about the possibility is as joyful to me as it comes,” says McLendon-Covey. “I would love our show to get nominated as a whole. I think we put the work in and we’ve got something special. But the fact that I’m even having the conversation is enough of a thrill for me.”
McLendon-Covey, who plays smothering mother Beverly Goldberg on the family comedy, points to a recently-filmed episode as an example of how the show takes care to ground its humor with real emotional stakes. In the episode, her father (George Segal), whose driver’s license was revoked in the pilot but has been driving this whole time anyway, is faced with finally stopping for good.
“It’s the gravity of realizing my swinging dad really can’t have these keys anymore. There’s just some scenes where it hits her hard, and as much as she tries to be funny about it and flip, it’s killing her inside,” McLendon-Covey says. “That’s a hard thing to play. I always worry about those scenes because you just don’t know how they’re going to read. I’m very emotional and I always start crying. Well, crying is not always the thing to do. It can end up being so over-the-top and take a subtle moment and ruin it. So there is a balancing act.”
For the ultimate “everything old is new again,” look no further than NBC’s revival of “Will & Grace.” That show’s four leads won SAG Awards individually and as an ensemble in the show’s original run and could be back for more with the show’s new iteration.
“There’s always been this fantasy people have about coming back to your childhood or young adulthood. An opportunity to go back in time is what it feels like,” Sean Hayes says of the chance to revisit the character of Jack on “Will & Grace.”
Hayes is particularly fond of the recent “Grandpa Jack” episode that dealt with gay conversion therapy (“It could have gone to a ‘very special episode’ place but it didn’t.”) and a scene earlier in the season when Jack wore magnets on his neck to make himself look younger, leading to a series of pratfalls and an emphasis on physical comedy.
“That went down to the wire,” says Hayes, who has won four SAG Awards for playing Jack. “What is the math of this farce? We were working all hours to make sense of it all because it’s so silly but in a fun way. It actually turned out pretty good, and the response was great.”
Hayes described the SAG Awards as a fun evening filled with respect and honor. “You’re surrounded by all these actors you admire and some of them you aspire to be like,” he says. “More than any other awards show, because there are not a lot of seat-fillers – not that there’s anything against seat fillers, we love and thank them for their duty – but it’s truly reminiscent of high school when you’re all sitting in the auditorium after a run-through getting notes and it’s just all actors hanging out in close proximity to one another.”