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Emmy Predictions: Best Actor in a Drama Series — One More for Porter, or a First for O’Connor?

"The Crown" and "Pose" square off in another close race — unless the TV Academy votes for the Netflix drama in all categories.

Billy Porter in "Pose"

Billy Porter in “Pose”

Eric Liebowitz / FX

Last Year’s Winner: Jeremy Strong, “Succession”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: The Best Actor in a Drama Series category hasn’t seen a repeat winner in over a decade, and it won’t see one again this year. Bryan Cranston was the last to win back-to-back(-to-back) Emmys from 2008 – 2010, and while Jeremy Strong will return to defend his title for “Succession,” the next season didn’t premiere in time for last year’s winner to compete in 2021.
Fun Fact: Kyle Chandler won the Emmy for Best Actor in a Drama Series in 2011 for his portrayal of Eric Taylor in the final season of “Friday Night Lights.” That’s it. That’s the fact. It’s fun because it’s Kyle Chandler winning an Emmy for the best TV series ever made.
Notable Ineligible Series: Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox, “Succession” (Season 3 is not eligible); Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul” (Season 6 is not eligible); Jason Bateman, “Ozark” (Season 4 is not eligible); Steve Carell, “The Morning Show” (Season 2 is not eligible)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best 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 2021 race. Voting for the 2021 Emmys was held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations were announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards were given out Saturday, September 11 and Sunday, September 12. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony, which is also streaming on Paramount+.

The State of the Race

Like many of the races at this year’s Emmys, the Best Actor in a Drama Series category may very well come down to the strength of the presumed Drama favorite, “The Crown.” If Netflix’s royal gem sweeps or comes close to sweeping, Josh O’Connor will likely be part of the parade. His turn as Prince Charles wasn’t nominated for Season 3, but he landed his first Emmy nod this year, along with 23 other series representatives. That’s 11 more nominations than the show received for any previous season, and “The Crown’s” four wins at the 2021 Creative Arts ceremonies puts Season 4 ahead of the total wins awarded Seasons 1 and 3, and only one shy of Season 3.

In other words, this year’s slate of episodes is outpacing previous seasons. But it’s not infallible. Prior to 2021, only two cast members of “The Crown” had won two Primetime acting awards: Claire Foy and John Lithgow. Foy did win Guest Actress this year (for what’s basically a voiceover performance), so perhaps this is the year the acting body rallies around “The Crown,” but they can do so while still voting for someone else here. (Emma Corrin, Gillian Anderson, and the series itself are all expected victors.) Last year, the four main acting categories were split between four shows (“Succession,” “Euphoria,” “Ozark,” and “The Morning Show”); the same happened in 2019 and 2018, while 2017 saw two winners from “The Handmaid’s Tale” and two winners from other shows. The point being: It’s much more common to see an array of shows represented in the acting races than for one series to dominate the main categories, and 2021 will likely play out similarly.

So who can topple “The Crown”? There doesn’t seem to be enough heat around Matthew Rhys this year (“Perry Mason” only scored five nominations) or Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us” might see a resurgence next year for its final season), so those two are likely the longest shots. Jonathan Majors is certainly worthy, and the 18 nominations for “Lovecraft Country” would normally be a sign of strength. But the show was canceled before final round voting began, which may have killed any momentum left for a fantasy-adventure series that debuted last summer.

That leaves Regé-Jean Page of “Bridgerton” and Billy Porter of “Pose.” Had the Emmys been held at the end of last year, O’Connor and Page would still be squaring off, and Page would likely have the edge. It’s so hard to maintain momentum from winter of one year through summer of the next, when the series in question is released all at once (as evidenced by Netflix’s inability to win Best Drama Series, Best Comedy Series, or Best Limited Series over the last decade); with that in mind, “Bridgerton’s” 12 nominations are remarkable, but it doesn’t mean Page has the same buzz as he did nine months ago.

So I’m betting on Porter. An Emmy winner in the category two years ago, the “Pose” star should benefit from the TV Academy’s familiarity with his work, his show, and his general affability — you gotta love a star who knows how to handle the red carpet, go deep in interviews, and develop his character over three compelling seasons. Voters are ready to recognize “Pose,” and he’s been their favorite representative since the start. O’Connor could still take it, but Porter should (and will) be ready to take the stage.

Power Rankings: 

  1. Billy Porter, “Pose”
  2. Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”
  3. Regé-Jean Page, “Bridgerton”
  4. Jonathan Majors, “Lovecraft Country”
  5. Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
  6. Matthew Rhys, “Perry Mason”

Will Win: Billy Porter, “Pose”
Could Win: Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”
Should Win: Jonathan Majors, “Lovecraft Country”

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