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 Supporting 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: Ben Whishaw, “A Very English Scandal”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Hot shows don’t win. In three of the last four years, one program has earned three nominations for Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie — taking up half the category all by itself. Last year saw “When They See Us” earn nominations for Asante Blackk, John Leguizamo, and Michael K. Williams; “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” snagged nods for Ricky Martin, Édgar Ramirez, and Finn Wittrock in 2018; and in 2016, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” pulled nominations for Sterling K. Brown, David Schwimmer, and John Travolta. The outlying year, 2017, didn’t have a thrice-nominated program, but it did have two shows with two nominations each (“Feud” and “The Night Of”). Still, the big takeaway remains: In six years, only one person has won when a co-star was nominated in this category. (Sterling K. Brown for “O.J.”)
Fun Fact: Only one actor has won this category twice: Beau Bridges, who took home his first trophy for “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom” (what a title!) and his second, fittingly, for “The Second Civil War.” (Both from HBO.) The late theatrical titan Brian Dennehy has the most nominations in the category with four — plus two more as a lead actor — though he never won.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Fargo” (Season 4 did not finish shooting before production was suspended.); “The Undoing” (HBO has pushed the release date to 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), “Genius: Aretha” (delayed)
The State of the Race
A wealth of candidates make for an always unpredictable Best Supporting Actor race, but this year’s competition could be steered by two shows: “Watchmen” and “Hollywood.” HBO’s critically acclaimed and well-rated limited series is gaining momentum every day, and excellent supporting contenders abound: There’s Tim Blake Nelson, whose voice does a lot of work for him when that reflective mask covers his features; Yahya Abdul-Mateen, whose role grows in prominence and complexity in the series’ latter half; Louis Gossett Jr., who enters as a wild card and exits on a profound moment of poignancy; even Jovan Adepo leaves quite a mark in the season’s best episode. While slotting all four into the final count may be a stretch, two or three is looking more and more likely.
But what about “Hollywood”? Ryan Murphy’s first official Netflix original series under his overall deal with the streamer offered plenty of juicy parts to prominent Emmy favorites — Jim Parsons seems to have taken his vulgar, malevolent role simply to prove he can play the polar opposite of Sheldon Cooper — but reviews were not kind and the seven-episode series didn’t stay on Netflix’s Top 10 list very long. Did enough voters watch, and did enough voters like what they saw? If so, Darren Criss could be back in the running, alongside “Normal Heart” nominee Joe Mantello and the clear, charismatic standout of the cast, Dylan McDermott (though he hasn’t been nominated since 1997). If not, “Hollywood” could face a poor showing in a category it’s practically designed to dominate (which wouldn’t bode well for the rest of the race).
There’s a world in which both shows perform well and leave little room for other candidates, another where neither show performs at their respective peaks, and a third where it’s a mixed bag. Obviously, everyone outside of HBO and Netflix are hoping for the latter, starting with Hulu’s “Mrs. America.” The critics’ favorite should run up its nomination count on the Supporting Actress side of things, but it’s still hoping John Slattery can add a tally over here. Meanwhile, J.K. Simmons will need the fire Apple is flaming over “Defending Jacob” to be real; maybe it’s performing well, maybe it’s not, but we’ll find out how well it hit with the TV Academy come nominations. The same goes for “Little Fires Everywhere” (Joshua Jackson) and the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” interactive movie (Tituss Burgess) — if voters made time for these programs, perhaps the supporting players stand a chance.
That still leaves top contenders like Ray Romano, who is perfectly cast in HBO’s “Bad Education” (and makes the most of it), as well as Jesse Plemons, whose return to the “Breaking Bad” universe didn’t disappoint. Michael Sheen could capitalize off of “Quiz,” as could Tom Wilkinson for “Belgravia,” but AMC and Epix (respectively) would have to mount quite a campaign to elevate them above more prominent limited series and TV movies — not to mention, hope that two programs don’t box everyone else out.
- Tim Blake Nelson, “Watchmen”
- John Slattery, “Mrs. America”
- Jim Parsons, “Hollywood”
- John Turturro, “The Plot Against America”
- Joe Mantello, “Hollywood”
- Yahya Abdul-Mateen, “Watchmen”
Spoilers: Ray Romano, “Bad Education”; Darren Criss, “Hollywood”; Jesse Plemons, “El Camino”; Dylan McDermott, “Hollywood”; J.K. Simmons, “Defending Jacob”; Tituss Burgess, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
In a Perfect World: Louis Gossett Jr., “Watchmen”; Jovan Adepo, “Watchmen”; Tahar Rahim, “The Eddy”