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Emmy Predictions 2020: Best Actor in a Drama Series

The father-son duo driving "Succession" go head-to-head, while two long-denied nominees look for their first win. [Updated August 5]

HBO Succession Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong


Zach Dilgard/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 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: Billy Porter, “Pose”
Still Eligible: Yes.
Hot Streak: The last actor to win consecutive trophies for Best Actor in a Drama Series was Bryan Cranston, who took home three straight Emmys for “Breaking Bad” between 2008 – 2010. Cranston won again in 2014, making him the only actor to win in this category twice in the last 10 years.
Fun Fact: Between Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us” has earned six Emmy nominations in this category alone, tying it for the seventh most of any program, ever. If both are nominated again in 2020, the drama would jump “The West Wing” and tie “Law & Order,” “Mad Men,” and “Columbo” for third all-time — in just four years.
Notable Ineligible Series: Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones” (ended); Richard Madden, “Bodyguard” (Season 2 has not premiered)

The State of the Race

Setting aside that it’s been a decade since an actor won this category in back-to-back years, Billy Porter’s Emmy victory feels like it happened eons ago. The “Pose” star has been setting red carpets ablaze ever since, and he remains a strong contender in 2020. But there are many more in the race, starting with the two leads of HBO’s dominant drama, “Succession.”

On paper, Brian Cox would appear to have the edge. This marks the third Emmy nomination for the celebrated actor, who won his first trophy back in 2001 (for the TNT drama, “Nuremberg”). Cox is also the elder statesman of the cast; his resume speaks for itself, and such a long, impressive history in Hollywood should result in voters eager to give him a proper spotlight. And yet, the TV Academy picks its own favorites, not just the most well-known name. Previous winners, including Billy Porter, Matthew Rhys, Jeff Daniels, and Kyle Chandler, weren’t the most famous faces on the ballot, or the ones with the longest resumes. Their work spoke for itself, and the audience responded. Strong could be in a similar position, as his sad yet surprising son has transfixed “Succession” fans.

If anyone is going to break up the family party, it’s Jason Bateman. Best Actor in a Drama Series marks yet another race where category leaders “Succession” and “Ozark” will square off for top honors, and there are a few factors working in Netflix’s favor. For one, Bateman has never won an acting trophy. Thanks to his dual nominations in 2020 (here for “Ozark,” plus a Guest Actor nod for “The Outsider”), he now has more Emmy recognition for his dramatic work than his comedic turns (two nominations for “Arrested Development” vs. three for “Ozark”). Voters could solidify that endorsement with a win, or Bateman could simply benefit from vote-splitting between the “Succession” leads. Either is reasonable, given the support of “Ozark” (18 nominations overall) and Bateman (he won for Best Director last year), as well as the lack of an obvious choice between Strong and Cox. This category could be a real toss-up.

And that still leaves one former winner and one notable nominee who’s never won. Sterling K. Brown has a better shot at taking home his third Emmy over on the Comedy side of things, where he’s nominated for Best Supporting Actor in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” but you can never count a two-time winner out — especially one who’s making a habit of being nominated multiple times in the same year. (Brown was also nominated twice in 2018, for “This Is Us” and as a Guest Actor in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”) Steve Carell is also used to getting nominated by now, but he still hasn’t taken the stage. His nod for “The Morning Show” marks his tenth nomination and seventh acting nod; while it would be one hell of an upset to see him claim his first trophy this year, the TV Academy very well could rally behind him as a form of apology. After all, there’s no going back in time to honor his work on “The Office,” but he can still win an Emmy.

Power Ranking the Nominees:

1. Jeremy Strong, “Succession”
2. Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
3. Brian Cox, “Succession”
4. Billy Porter, “Pose”
5. Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
6. Steve Carell, “The Morning Show”

Will Win: Jeremy Strong, “Succession”
Could Win: Jason Bateman, “Ozark,”
Should Win: Jeremy Strong, “Succession”

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