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Emmy Predictions 2020: Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

With "Game of Thrones" out, will a new HBO drama take control of the category or can an array of shows snag representation?

Kieran Culkin and J. Smith-Cameron in "Succession" Season 2

Kieran Culkin and J. Smith-Cameron in “Succession”

Graeme Hunter/HBO

Throughout Emmy season, IndieWire will be evaluating the top contenders for TV’s most prestigious prize, and it all starts here. At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. This article will be updated throughout the coming months, along with all our predictions, to reflect an up-to-the-minute state of the race. Make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest coverage on the 2020 Emmys, including breaking news, analysis, interviews, podcasts, FYC event coverage, reviews of all the awards contenders, and more. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, September 20. (See our awards calendar for a more detailed breakdown of important dates.) ABC is broadcasting the ceremony.

Last Year’s Winner: Peter Dinklage, “Game of Thrones”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: After last year’s win, Peter Dinklage finished an Emmy run worthy of his epic series, ending with the most wins in the history of this category (four), the most nominations (eight), and pushing “Game of Thrones” to the most series wins, as well (also four, of course). The most nominated show remains “Hill Street Blues,” which snagged 16 nominations and three wins.
Fun Fact: The reason “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law,” and “The West Wing” hold such a dominant lead in the most-nominated programs count (16, 15, and 14, respectively) is because these are the shows with the most nominated performers. While Dinklage’s eight individual nominations for “Game of Thrones” helped push the show to 12 total nominations, seven different actors from “Hill Street Blues” were nominated 16 times in just six years: Taurean Blacque, Michael Conrad, Charles Haid, James Sikking, Joe Spano, Michael Warren, and Bruce Weitz. Conrad won twice and Weitz once, but the sheer power of “Hill Street Blues” was best shown in 1982, when every slot in this category was filled by an actor from the NBC drama.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Game of Thrones” (Peter Dinklage, Alfie Allen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), “House of Cards” (Michael Kelly)

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The State of the Race

The 2020 Emmy race for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series looks to be a classic case of overcrowding: Still-eligible former nominees will go head-to-head with new contenders and long-time also-rans. For instance, Jonathan Banks has been nominated six times, including all four seasons of “Better Call Saul,” making him a frontrunner — but can co-star Giancarlo Esposito also make his way back into the race? Is there room for multiple nominees from the same show, or are there simply too many options for voters to double-dip?

The same question looms over “Succession,” HBO’s new Emmy juggernaut, which has Kieran Culkin, Matthew Macfadyen, Alan Ruck, and Nicholas Braun all contending for supporting slots. Culkin is a two-time Golden Globe nominee for the role, and Macfadyen is a fan favorite, but the key may simply be how passionately voters respond to the series overall. We already know they’re big fans of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which could bode well for Bradley Whitford and Joseph Fiennes, unless the zeal for Hulu’s dystopian drama has lessened. The same goes for “This Is Us,” which saw Chris Sullivan surprise everyone by snagging a spot in last year’s crowded race, but he’ll have to top Justin Hartley again — not to mention the rest of the field.

Coming on strong are newcomers like Billy Crudup in “The Morning Show,” who earned consistently strong reviews from critics who were largely mixed on the series overall. Josh O’Connor, meanwhile, could ride a wave of love for “The Crown” to his first nomination, while Tom Pelphrey could similarly benefit if “Ozark” hits it big in Season 3. He’ll have to top Emmy winner Alexander Skarsgard, who’s moving from the Limited Series categories to Drama along with all of “Big Little Lies.” HBO also has the most recent addition to “Westworld” in the running: Vincent Cassel. (Aaron Paul is going for Lead Actor in the HBO series, while he’s up for Supporting Actor in “Truth be Told” on Apple TV+.)

If there’s room for a surprise here, it would be nice to see Delroy Lindo back in the Emmy race, especially representing “The Good Fight,” and Adam Scott should be rewarded for his affecting role in “Big Little Lies.” Asia Kate Dillon is as regularly and unjustly overlooked as the rest of “Billions,” while Mark Duplass carried a lot of the dramatic weight within “The Morning Show” (often playing the straight man to Crudup’s wild card). But hey, if the Emmy voters finally get it together and honor “Better Call Saul,” it would be nice to see Michael Mando or Tony Dalton invited to the party, too.

Predicted Nominees:

1. Kieran Culkin, “Succession”
2. Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”
3. Billy Crudup, “The Morning Show”
4. David Harbour, “Stranger Things”
5. Matthew Macfadyen, “Succession”
6. Bradley Whitford, “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Spoilers: Giancarlo Esposito, “Better Call Saul”; Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”; Tom Pelphrey, “Ozark”; Alexander Skarsgard, “Big Little Lies”; Mandy Patinkin, “Homeland”; Chris Sullivan, “This Is Us”; Joseph Fiennes, “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Justin Hartley, “This Is Us”; Vincent Cassel, “Westworld”

In a Perfect World: Adam Scott, “Big Little Lies”; Delroy Lindo, “The Good Fight”; Asia Kate Dillon, “Billions”

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