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Emmy Predictions 2020: Best Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie

Will another young breakout steal the Emmy spotlight, or can the horde of veteran actors take back control of the category? [Updated June 16]

Bad Education HBO Movie Hugh Jackman Allison Janney

Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney in “Bad Education”

JoJo Whilden / HBO

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 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: 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 vs. 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 until Fall 2020); “American Crime Story” (“Impeachment” has not premiered), “True Detective” (Season 4 has not premiered), “The Alienist” (Season 2 has not premiered), “The Good Lord Bird” (delayed), “Big Little Lies” (Season 2 is eligible as a drama series)

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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”) and Jharrel Jerome (“When They See Us”) have beat out stiff competition from well-known veterans. Who the 2020 breakouts turn out to be remains to be seen, but there are plenty of established performers looking to break the trend.

First and foremost is Mark Ruffalo. Not only is the Marvel star leading an HBO limited series of “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 bona fide star competing here. Ruffalo’s Marvel co-star Chris Evans is making his post-“Captain America” serialized debut in the Apple TV+ original, “Defending Jacob”; Oscar-winner Russell Crowe is fresh off his Golden Globe win for Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice”; Hugh Jackman earned rave reviews out of the Toronto International Film Festival for “Bad Education” (which sold to HBO); Jude Law will be pushing “The Third Day” and Jeremy Irons has been dubbed the male lead of “Watchmen.”

Each of those last three are HBO projects, giving the premium cabler enough contenders to fill each nomination slot, but plenty of other networks will be fighting for a spot. Aaron Paul’s return to “Breaking Bad” via “El Camino” could net the actor his first Emmy nod since he won his third trophy for the AMC drama in 2014. André Holland is leading Damian Chazelle’s latest jazz-themed offering for Netflix, “The Eddy,” which is also the director’s first limited series. Idris Elba is back on the BBC beat with “Luther,” and Matthew Macfadyen hopes his “Succession” success sparks added interest in AMC’s “Quiz.”

Filling out the dark horse contenders, Sacha Baron Cohen would have to overcome an early release date for Netflix’s “The Spy”; Jeremy Pope hopes Ryan Murphy’s Netflix anthology “Hollywood” speaks to the industry its named after; Morgan Spector and “The Plot Against America” needs the TV Academy to come around on David Simon if “The Wire” co-creator’s latest will get its due; Willem Dafoe has to outshine his puppy co-star in “Togo”; and Miles Teller would have to do a lot of schmoozing if he wants voters to seek out “Too Old to Die Young,” an Amazon Prime original of a past era. Finally, there’s Paul Mescal, the relative unknown anchoring Hulu’s “Normal People.” Might he be the breakout of 2020? Stay tuned to find out.

Predicted Nominees:

1. Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much Is True”
2. Hugh Jackman, “Bad Education”
3. Aaron Paul, “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”
4. Russell Crowe, “The Loudest Voice”
5. Jeremy Irons, “Watchmen”
6. André Holland, “The Eddy”

Spoilers: Paul Mescal, “Normal People”; Chris Evans, “Defending Jacob”; Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Spy”; Matthew Macfadyen, “Quiz”

In a Perfect World: Miles Teller, “Too Old to Die Young”

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