Throughout Emmy season, IndieWire will evaluate 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 Limited Series or TV Movie. 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 the week of September 14. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place virtually 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: Jharrel Jerome, “When They See Us”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: The same actor has never won this category in back-to-back years, and only one program has garnered more than one award: “American Crime Story” is two-for-two in the Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie category, with Courtney B. Vance winning for “The People v. O.J. Simpson” in 2016 and Darren Criss taking home the trophy for “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” in 2018.
Fun Fact: Hal Holbrook has the most all-time nominations in the category with seven, and his first three nominations were split evenly among the big three TV networks of the era. In 1967, he represented CBS in “Hal Holbrook: Mark Twain Tonight!”; in 1971 he was up for NBC’s “A Clear and Present Danger”; and in 1973, he got the nod for ABC’s “That Certain Summer.” He won the next year for ABC’s “Pueblo.” (And in case you were wondering, Fox wasn’t founded until 1986 and historically didn’t submit as many limited series or TV movies as its broadcast competitors.)
Notable Ineligible Series: “Fargo” (Season 4 did not finish shooting before production was suspended); “The Undoing” (HBO has pushed the release date to October 25); “American Crime Story” (“Impeachment” has not premiered), “True Detective” (Season 4 has not premiered), “The Alienist” (Season 2 was not eligible), “The Good Lord Bird” (moved to October 4), “Big Little Lies” (Season 2 is eligible as a drama series)
The State of the Race
Of late, the Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie category has been dominated by breakout performances. Young actors like Riz Ahmed (“The Night Of”), Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace”), and Jharrel Jerome (“When They See Us”) have beat out stiff competition from well-known veterans. This year offers two breakouts and three acclaimed vets. Will the trend continue, or will movie-star wattage win out?
First and foremost among the cadre of well-established performers is Mark Ruffalo. Not only is the Marvel star nominated for an HBO limited series in “I Know This Much Is True,” but he’s playing two roles (twins) — one who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and the other coping with PTSD. The challenge of each part is enough to push him to the top of the conversation, and Ruffalo is a three-time Oscar nominee with good Emmy cred from “The Normal Heart.”
But he’s not the only bonafide star competing here. Hugh Jackman earned rave reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival for “Bad Education” (which sold to HBO), and his program earned a nomination for Best TV Movie, as well. That’s one more nod than Ruffalo’s show earned, which is either good news for Jackman or bad news for both. Recent history sees this category rewarding popular programs, so perhaps Jeremy Irons is in good shape with “Watchmen.” Dubbed the male lead of HBO’s 26-time nominee, Irons has a good track record at the Emmys (he’s won three of his four nominations) and had a plum role in the wild story.
All that being said, if we’re talking trends, then we need to look at the breakout nominees. Jeremy Pope is one of four acting nominees from “Hollywood” and the only one who’s a first-time nominee. Given plenty of juicy moments in the soapy fantasy, if voters take a liking to Pope, he’d be easy to support. But this year, there was far more fervor surrounding another first-time nominee: Paul Mescal. “Normal People” only managed four nominations, but they’re in big categories: Directing, Writing, Casting, and Actor. Mescal has the best chance to win of all the show’s nominations, and his presence on the ballot shows that enough of the TV Academy were as affected by the show as the rest of us. While just about anyone could win this category, I’m betting on that passion to fuel Mescal past the competition.
Power Ranking the Nominees:
1. Paul Mescal, “Normal People”
2. Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much Is True”
3. Hugh Jackman, “Bad Education”
4. Jeremy Irons, “Watchmen”
5. Jeremy Pope, “Hollywood”
Will Win: Paul Mescal, “Normal People”
Could Win: Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much Is True” or Hugh Jackman, “Bad Education”
Should Win: Paul Mescal, Mark Ruffalo, or Hugh Jackman — really, anyone.