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‘This Is Us,’ ‘Westworld,’ ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Emmy Strength Comes From Ensembles

Teamwork can be a powerful thing. Just ask four of the nominees for the lead actor in a drama at this year’s Emmys.

Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia, of “This Is Us,” and Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright, of “Westworld,” fill out the majority of the category. Elsewhere among dramas, “Game of Thrones” is represented by both Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage in the supporting actor race, while three supporting actresses from “The Handmaid’s Tale” — Alexis Bledel, Ann Dowd and Yvonne Strahovski — are nominated, too. And limited series “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” and sketch-comedy standard “Saturday Night Live” both split five nominations apiece across their fields’ two supporting categories.

Multiple nominees from the same series competing might seem at first blush to be likely to eat into one another’s support. But the phenomenon works to demonstrate the breadth of talent on display — they also make that show the story of the category, suggesting that, say, “SNL” or “Westworld” is where the acting heat is.

What’s particularly impressive about this year’s ensembles is how far-flung many of them are. Ventimiglia and Brown exist in two different timelines of “This Is Us,” as do Harris and Wright on HBO’s “Westworld.” And though they play brothers, Coster-Waldau and Dinklage rarely interact these days on “Game of Thrones.” These ensembles, featuring actors working in the same style but rarely in the same frame, function a bit like a shock-and-awe campaign — demonstrating broad and diverse talent with something for any voter. It’s impressive, too, that, say, Harris and Wright manage to pull off performances so tonally congruent without having one another to work opposite.

But the kind of show that may end up impressing Emmy voters the most is one in which actors nominated together put their talents to work in direct collaboration with one another.

On “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Dowd has shared scenes with both Strahovski and — memorably, in the season finale — Bledel. And on “Saturday Night Live,” actors bounce off one another in endless combinations. Little wonder that Dowd and “SNL’s” Kate McKinnon were among the several acting winners last year (along with Riz Ahmed, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Brown) to win in a field in which they were up alongside a co-star or two. If anything, the presence of their co-stars was a potent reminder to voters of how well these performers fit into gifted ensembles. Very few shows can thrive on a single performer’s star power — and the crowded categories at this year’s Emmys reflect, instead, the power of all.

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