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Emmy Predictions 2021: Best Actor in a Limited Series — Showtime Could Control the Category

The premium cable network has multiple big-name contenders in the mix, but there's time left for competitors to make their moves.

The Good Lord Bird Ethan Hawke Showtime

Ethan Hawke in “The Good Lord Bird”

William Gray / Showtime

Last Year’s Winner: Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much Is True”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: In accordance with its category, the Best Actor in a Limited Series race hasn’t seen a repeat winner or even back-to-back wins by the same network in over a decade. (HBO won from 2008-2010, thanks to Paul Giamatti in “John Adams,” Brendan Gleeson in “Into the Storm,” and Al Pacino in “You Don’t Know Jack.”) Still, a recent anthology series does have a perfect two-for-two record in the category: “American Crime Story” has garnered wins in each of its first two seasons, with both Courtney B. Vance walking away with the trophy for “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” and then Darren Criss snagging his own Emmy two years later for “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” We’ll have to wait one more year to see if the FX series can go three-for-three.
Fun Fact: “American Crime Story” is one of only two programs with more than one win in the category, although it’s still way behind in total nominations. “Hallmark Hall of Fame” cleaned up from 1959-1969, as the longest-running primetime series in television history pulled in 12 of its 81(!) Emmy nominations in this category alone. It won four times, all while airing on NBC. (The anthology series also aired on CBS, ABC, just once on PBS, and now resides on The Hallmark Channel.)
Notable Ineligible Series: “American Crime Story: Impeachment” (the season did not air in time to be eligible); Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (submitted as a Drama Series)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or TV Movie. 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

While not quite as crowded as the Best Actress race, those vying for Best Actor in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or TV Movie will still face stiff competition affected by many unpredictable variables. Six of the top contenders starred in projects released last year, which can be a detriment against competitors whose work is more top-of-mind for TV Academy voters. Three of those contenders come from the same network, which can pose a problem if voters want to spread the love across television’s many distributors, while two others come from a project that doesn’t really belong in this category at all.

Let’s start with the network looking for control of the category: Showtime has frontrunners in Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird”), Bryan Cranston (“Your Honor”), and Jeff Daniels (“The Comey Rule”). Hawke landed an acting nomination at the SAG Awards already, and his voracious approach to the role of John Brown should prove hard to forget. Cranston is absolutely beloved by the TV Academy, with 15 nominations and six wins already; his name on the ballot should be enough to draw in anyone who may have missed “Your Honor” back in December. Daniels is also an Emmy favorite, earning five nominations and two wins — all as an actor — in the last eight years. “The Comey Rule” was touted as a ratings success for Showtime, which could help it sustain through a long Emmy season.

Filling out the rest of the aforementioned six are Hugh Grant in “The Undoing,” whose rakish charms were amped up to delightful extremes in the HBO mystery; Ewan McGregor in “Halston,” a two-time Emmy nominee whose latest projects stems from the actor-friendly mega-producer Ryan Murphy; and then there’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. of “Hamilton.”

While the Tony Award nominee and winner, respectively, are certainly both leads in the landmark Broadway musical, it’s hard to measure their work in a live stage production against those from actual TV Movies (or limited series). Is there a true apples-to-apples comparison between Miranda and Odom Jr.’s recorded and cut together theatrical performances and, say, Andrew Scott in “Oslo,” an HBO original film, made and released as a movie? Should voters consider that the two “Hamilton!” leads honed their blocking, vocals, and elocution through a year-plus of Broadway shows before they were recorded for a Disney+ release? And should their accomplishment in perseverance and consistency be a positive or a negative when held against actors who got one or two takes per scene and wrapped their roles in a few months or less? Bottom line: Should an Emmy be given for not just the same role honored by the Tonys, but for the very same work?

“Hamilton” being considered a TV Movie is yet another shrug by the TV Academy when it comes to the dilapidated category, as more and more non-movies are admitted to make sure there are enough notable nominees to fill out the ballot. That’s not a problem in the acting categories, though. Here, voters could still consider Paul Bettany in the Amazon Prime Video film “Uncle Frank,” in addition to his notable turn in the Disney+ limited series “WandaVision.” Amazon Prime Video also has another legitimate TV Movie in “Sylvie’s Love,” led by Nnamdi Asomugha, while Chris Rock took the reins for FX’s acclaimed new season of “Fargo.” And if voters respond to “The Underground Railroad” the way critics have, look for Joel Edgerton to earn his first Emmy nomination as the submitted Lead Actor of Barry Jenkins’ lauded limited series.

If voters dug even deeper, they’d discover a once-in-a-lifetime performance from Jude Law in “The Third Day” (which, to be fair, includes a live episode that also skews an even comparison with other limited series performances), or a thought-provoking turn from Nick Robinson in “A Teacher.” There’s plenty of TV to honor this year. Let’s make sure we do, eh?

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Ethan Hawke, “The Good Lord Bird”
  2. Ewan McGregor, “Halston”
  3. Hugh Grant, “The Undoing”
  4. Bryan Cranston, “Your Honor”
  5. Jeff Daniels, “The Comey Rule”

Contenders: Joel Edgerton, “The Underground Railroad”; Paul Bettany, “WandaVision”; Andrew Scott, “Oslo”; Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton”; Leslie Odom Jr., “Hamilton”; Chris Rock, “Fargo,”; Nnamdi Asomugha, “Sylvie’s Love”; Paul Bettany, “Uncle Frank”

In a Perfect World: Jude Law, “The Third Day”; Nick Robinson, “A Teacher”

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