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Emmy Predictions: Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — Opportunity Knocks

Plenty of new series should find their way into Emmy contention in a Supporting Actor race with just one nominee from 2020 still eligible.

Michael Kenneth Williams in "Lovecraft Country"

Michael Kenneth Williams in “Lovecraft Country”

Eli Joshua Ade / HBO

Last Year’s Winner: Billy Crudup, “The Morning Show”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Peter Dinklage was the last actor to earn back-to-back wins in the Best Supporting Actor, Drama category, and that was just a few years ago: 2018-2019. Before that, you have to go back to 1995-1996 to find a repeat winner, when Ray Walston took home two Emmys for “Picket Fences.” Billy Crudup will have a chance to defend his title when “The Morning Show” returns, but he won’t repeat this year, since Season 2 will not be released in time.
Fun Fact: Though it’s rare for the same actor to win in consecutive years (only eight have done it, and only one has done it in the last 25 years), programs fare slightly better and repeat winners still surface regularly. Joe Pantoliano and Michael Imperioli won the Supporting category for “The Sopranos” in 2003 and 2004, while Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford, and John Spencer won for “The West Wing” between 2000 – 2002. (Plus, each of Aaron Paul’s three Emmy wins were separated by one year, and “Lost” won twice in three years from 2007 – 2009.)
Notable Ineligible Series: Billy Crudup and Mark Duplass in “The Morning Show” (Season 2 will not be eligible); Nicolas Braun, Kieran Culkin, and Matthew Macfadyen in “Succession” (Season 3 is not expected to be eligible); Giancarlo Esposito and Jonathan Banks in “Better Call Saul” (Season 6 will not be eligible); Jeffrey Wright in “Westworld” (Season 4 will not be eligible); David Harbour in “Stranger Things” (Season 4 is not expected to be eligible)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. This article will be updated throughout the season, along with all our predictions, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest news from the 2020 race. Voting for the 2021 Emmys will be held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out in September, at a date (or dates) to be announced. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony.

The State of the Race

The supporting races in every genre are always tricky to predict, given the sheer number of submissions, but this year’s crop of Drama actors may be damn near impossible. For starters, the category is likely to field eight nominees for only the second time ever. Last year marked the first expansion, but only one of the 2020 nominees remains eligible in 2021. That’s right. Seven of eight slots are unclaimed, which means there’s a massive opportunity for various series to establish an Emmy foothold by snagging one, two, or even three nominations.

Let’s start with who’s likely to be sticking around: Bradley Whitford earned his first nomination for “The Handmaid’s Tale” in the Guest Actor category, and after winning that trophy in 2019, he snagged a nomination in the Supporting field last year. Expect the seven-time nominee and three-time winner to return, and there may be more “Handmaid’s” actors along with him. Joseph Fiennes hasn’t been nominated since 2018, but this year’s dip in competition could usher him back into the race. O.T. Fagbenle (who will also be starring in “Black Widow”) and Max Minghella have never been nominated for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but never say never with this show: Its cast has done extremely well with voters through three seasons.

Netflix, meanwhile, is hoping Tobias Menzies can follow in the footsteps of past “Crown” nominees (Matt Smith in 2019 and John Lithgow, who won, in 2018) and earn his first nomination. There’s also Jonathan Bailey of “Bridgerton” to consider and Ben Barnes from “Shadow and Bone.” Disney+ will be betting on Giancarlo Esposito to move from a Guest Actor nod in Season 1 to a Supporting Actor nomination in Season 2 for “The Mandalorian,” and NBC is hoping whoever turned out for Chris Sullivan in 2019 puts the “This Is Us” actor’s name on their ballots again this year.

HBO, meanwhile, has a bevy of strong contenders. Michael Kenneth Williams has been nominated four times in the last six years, and he’s got a great shot at No. 5 with “Lovecraft Country.” The return of “In Treatment,” a half-hour drama whose actors resonated with TV Academy voters in the past, could bode well for Season 4 co-stars Anthony Ramos, John Benjamin Hickey, and even Joel Kinnaman. Then there’s “Perry Mason,” which features 12-time nominee and six-time winner John Lithgow, as well as beloved “Barry” nominee Stephen Root. (Shea Whigham and Chris Chalk are also worthy of consideration for their first Emmy nominations.) Rounding out HBO’s top crop of supporting stars are a pair of deserving long shots: Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) delivered a passionate yet measured turn in Luca Guadagnino’s “We Are Who We Are,” and Ken Leung is the elder scene-stealer in a cast of youngsters on “Industry.”

With plenty more names bouncing around town, it will be difficult to discern who makes the most noise until June is upon us, but one thing’s for certain: There’s going to be a lot of new faces in the Supporting Actor race.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Bradley Whitford, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  2. Michael Kenneth Williams, “Lovecraft Country”
  3. Tobias Menzies, “The Crown”
  4. John Lithgow, “Perry Mason”
  5. Anthony Ramos, “In Treatment”
  6. John Benjamin Hickey, “In Treatment”
  7. Joseph Fiennes, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
  8. Jonathan Bailey, “Bridgerton”

Contenders: Giancarlo Esposito, “The Mandalorian”; Chris Sullivan, “This Is Us”; Asia Kate Dillon, “Billions”; Ryan Jamaal Swain, “Pose”; Joel Kinnaman, “In Treatment”; O.T. Fagbenle, “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Max Minghella, “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Wes Bentley, “Yellowstone”; Richard Cabral, “Mayans M.C.”; Gabriel Bateman, “The Mosquito Coast”

In a Perfect World: Scott Mescudi (Kid Cudi), “We Are Who We Are”; Ken Leung, “Industry”; Michael Stuhlbarg, “Your Honor”

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