Emmy Predictions 2019: Best Actor in a Drama Series

Billy Porter, Jason Bateman, and Bob Odenkirk look to keep a "Game of Thrones" sweep at bay in the Best Actor race. [Updated September 16]
POSE -- "In My Heels" -- Season 2, Episode 10 (Airs Tues, August 20, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured:  Billy Porter as Pray Tell. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX
Billy Porter in "Pose"
Michael Parmelee/FX

Last Year’s Winner: Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: This is more of a cold streak, but a good one: Kevin Spacey will likely never win an Emmy. Despite 12 nominations overall and five nods in this category alone, the two-time Oscar winning actor — who now stands indicted for sexual assault — never won the TV Academy’s highest honor. Only three other lead actors have been nominated more without winning (and their odds of landing a trophy before it’s all said and done are much better than Spacey’s): Michael C. Hall, Hugh Laurie, and Martin Sheen all have been nominated as lead drama actors six times. (Sheen did win an Emmy for Guest Actor in 1994, though.)
Fun Fact: Only Robert Young has won multiple Emmys as a lead actor in a drama series for two different roles. He won in 1956 and 1957 for playing insurance agent Jim Anderson in NBC’s “Father Knows Best,” before winning again in 1970 for the eponymous role of Dr. Marcus Welby in “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Young, however, is not the only actor to win lead actor Emmys for two different shows: James Spader won in 2004 and 2005 for “The Practice” and “Boston Legal,” respectively, but he played attorney Alan Shore in both the original and its spinoff.
Notable Ineligible Series: Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld” (returns in 2020); Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”; Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards” (fired from the series); Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” (ended)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. This article will be updated throughout the season, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for all the latest buzz from the 2019 race, and read predictions in the rest of the categories, as well. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15. The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, September 22. Fox is broadcasting the ceremony.

The State of the Race

This year might be the year that TV critics lose their collective minds. After seeing their passionate arguments in support of “The Americans” come to fruition in Matthew Rhys’ victory last year, this year sees yet another perennial also-ran with his best shot yet of taking home the trophy: Bob Odenkirk. The “Breaking Bad” favorite has been nominated for each season of the AMC spinoff “Better Call Saul,” and so far he’s lost to Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”), and Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”). Only Brown remains in 2019, so perhaps it’s finally Odenkirk’s turn to take the stage?

Still, critics don’t decide the race: Voters do (a fact made painfully obvious when Keri Russell lost in her final year of eligibility). That leaves the door open for Jason Bateman, who’s been nominated six times at the Emmys, including four times for “Ozark” (directing and acting in back-to-back years). There’s an argument to be made he’s overdue, and if the TV Academy wants to spread the love a bit, he’d win in this category. (Directing is locked down by “Game of Thrones.”) You have to respect the multi-hyphenate nominees, and Bateman’s performance is definitely one of “Ozark’s” best features.

Buzz, however, would give the edge to “Pose” star Billy Porter. He’s made quite a mark on the industry rather quickly, reigning over red carpets and earning accolades for his magnetic turn in Ryan Murphy’s FX drama. He may not have the track record of his opponents, but Pray Tell literally names the category! You have to assume he’ll be a force on the campaign circuit, too, as Season 2 rolls out over the summer.

Yet Emmy rules, if not history, as well, dictates that Kit Harington is a serious contender, too. His show has the most nominations. He’s never won. It’s the final season. All these factors favor the one time King of the North, and so long as voters stick by what they’ve seen in the final round of voting, Harington could be climbing the stage come September. As crazy as it may sound, he’s got better odds than either “This Is Us” star: Sterling K. Brown has already won twice, and Milo Ventimiglia surprised people when landing the nomination.

Power Ranking the Nominees:

  1. Billy Porter, “Pose”
  2. Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
  3. Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
  4. Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”
  5. Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
  6. Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us”

Will Win: Billy Porter, “Pose”
Could Win: Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
Should Win: Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”

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