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Patrika Darbo Won the First Acting Emmy for a Short-Form Indie – And She Wasn’t Even Paid

The "Days of Our Lives" actress receives her first Primetime Emmy award for "Acting Dead," the only indie series recognized by this year's new short form categories.

Patrika Darbo

Rob Latour/Variety/REX/Shutterstock


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Patrika Darbo wasn’t paid a dime to star in the web series “Acting Dead.” But that gamble paid off – with an Emmy win this weekend.

“Nobody got paid, we all worked deferred,” Darbo told IndieWire on Monday, a day after winning for outstanding actress in a short form comedy or drama. (Deferred payment refers to when an actor works for free until the project makes money.) “So I really got paid very well with my Emmy last night.”

The victory was sweet for Darbo, who had previously been nominated for a Daytime Emmy in 2000 (as Dr. Nancy Wesley in “Days Of Our Lives”). But it was also a big win for independent creators, as the Television Academy’s expanded short form categories opened the door toward recognizing small-time productions outside of the usual studio and network system.

“Acting Dead” is a smart and zany satire written and produced by accomplished voiceover actor Brian Beacock. Darbo stars as eccentric Hollywood agent Margo Mullen, while Beacock plays Tate Blodgett, an actor who cannot book roles until he becomes a zombie. With its outlandish characters and Beacock’s matter-of-fact narration, at times “Acting Dead” is reminiscent of “Arrested Development.” That would make Darbo… Lucille Bluth.

In this first year of the short form categories, Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital” took the trophy for Outstanding Series and Outstanding Actor for Rob Corrdry. Outstanding Variety Series went to “Park Bench With Steve Buscemi,” which had funding from AOL, and Outstanding Non-fiction series to FX’s “Inside Look: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson.” That made “Acting Dead” the only independently-produced series to win.

“We’re the one group that was turning in our plastic bottles and having lemonade stands so that we could afford to do it,” Darbo said.

READ MORE: Creative Arts Emmys 2016: Full Winners List – RuPaul Makes History, ‘Game of Thrones’ Wins Big

Darbo’s win is not merely a win for independent creators, it’s also a win for an often overlooked group in Hollywood: women of a certain age. Darbo could never have predicted how it would pay off. “We’re all getting an opportunity — be we 20 years old or 50 years old – to keep doing what we love doing,” she said.

Many young creators and actors self-produce web series in the hopes of getting noticed, like with “Her Story,” the only indie nominated in the outstanding short form series category. Darbo and Beacock tried their hand at a young person’s medium – and it paid off. “It’s a medium for the young filmmaker,” Darbo said. “Be they behind the camera or in front of the camera, to do the craft they really love.”

A seasoned character actress, Darbo appeared in “Days of Our Lives” between 1999 and 2013. She has an ebullient and maternal charm onscreen, and speaks with an easy Southern drawl (she was born in Jacksonville, Florida). With roles in “Step By Step,” “Babe,” and “Corrina, Corrina,” Darbo has one of those faces (and voices) many people recognize, but cannot name. With this Emmy win, that’s about to change.

READ MORE: Creative Arts Emmys 2016: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler Make History by Sharing Guest Comedy Actress Honors

With her cherubic face and formidable older woman energy, Darbo is often compared to Margo Martindale, who won her second consecutive Emmy on Sunday night for her role on FX’s “The Americans.” “We’ve gone up against each other for over twenty years,” Darbo said, praising Martindale’s work. “We’re both character women, but we fall into different little categories.”

Darbo’s age has not kept her from booking cutting edge projects, like Apple’s first scripted series, “Vital Signs,” helmed by Dr. Dre. She’s also preparing for an upcoming voiceover role in Fox’s “American Dad.”

Seasoned as she is, Darbo was delighted by last night’s win. “They give it to you and then you walk offstage, and they take it away from you,” she said of the golden statuette. “I was like, give me that back!” (She got her own at the end of the night.)

Here’s the trailer to “Acting Dead”:

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