For Emmy-nominated supporting actors on topical series, work in 2016-17 sometimes bordered on the prescient. The first scene “Homeland” star Mandy Patinkin and F. Murray Abraham filmed last season was with Elizabeth Marvel, playing U.S. President Elizabeth Keane, “where we came up against her friction with the intelligence community,” Patinkin recalls, and “within seconds the [real world] candidate-elect decided to attempt to annihilate the intelligence community along with the press and every other mainstay of tradition and order.” He adds: “We joked that people are going to think Donald Trump is in our writers’ room just sort of pitching in to echo everything we’d laid out.”
Patinkin, nominated for supporting actor in a drama, says if “Homeland” offered certain elements of fictional possibility in the past, the most recent season “seemed to become almost a Polaroid of the world around us.” For him, the series inspired a new avenue in human-rights work around refugees, using his social-media feeds to counter fearmongering.
The third season of ABC’s “American Crime” dealt with economic issues and forced labor, featuring supporting drama actress nominee Regina King as a social worker trying to get underage teens to give up sex work. She credits series creator John Ridley and the show’s writers for giving voice to that group on the drama.
“They’re representing what’s happening and it’s not to point any blame, it’s just shining a light on things that have been going on for a long time,” King says. “It’s a show that creates a bridge for those different groups of people that need to be talking about their differences. ‘American Crime’ is helpful in starting those conversations.”
Ann Dowd, nominated in the same category for her role on Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” says the candidacy of Donald Trump helped fuel her performance. “It gave us an outlet to express the outrage,” she says. “It was a place to put all of the feelings of concern and rage and, ‘Wait a minute, what is going on?’ It was a form of activism. We could use out words and our story to put something out there that would have some relevance rather than staying home and talking amongst ourselves.”
Dowd plays a disciplinarian she sees as “more complicated” than a sinister person hoping to punish. “There had to be something else to her,” she says. “So the desire to understand what that could possibly be was very strong. That’s the job I‘ve been given: To present a human being you could possibly understand regardless of how extreme she is.”
It wasn’t just the dramas that found themselves newly relevant in the current political climate. “Saturday Night Live” had one of its most-watched seasons in decades, with viewership up 30 percent compared to the year prior. Four of its performers — Alec Baldwin, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer and Leslie Jones — received supporting actor in a comedy series nominations, with Baldwin playing Trump and McKinnon as Hillary Clinton.
At HBO’s “Veep,” supporting comedy actor Emmy nominees Tony Hale and Matt Walsh say it was surreal to be shooting political satire when real-world politics took a turn for the bizarre. “Sometimes you’re saying, why are we shooting a political sitcom when there’s one happening on CNN?” Hale says. “It was very odd. [The show’s writers have] created some insane scenarios and you’re like, ‘this is an insane scenario that is happening on the news.’”
Later they saw “Veep” as a show that gave viewers the freedom to laugh at a political circus. “We realized this season was offering escapism,” Walsh says. “I noticed more than ever before people dying for this show to return because they wanted to laugh in the political sphere.”
In addition, Walsh says “Veep” benefited from its most recent season taking place with Selina (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) out of political office. It also saved Walsh’s Mike McLintock from comparisons to former Trump administration press secretary Sean Spicer.
“I’m glad Mike wasn’t at the podium this year,” he says. “I think people might have assumed I was doing an impression of him, but Mike existed many years before Sean existed as press secretary.”