Emmy Underdogs: 4 Supporting Actors I’d Like to See Break Into the Race (Drama Edition)

Supporting Actor Drama

When the Emmy nominees are announced on July 19th, there will be some celebrating and even more grumbling. But that’s to be expected, critics and TV fans alike are a passionate bunch. We all have our favorites that we believe deserve to have their work honored, and let’s be real; the Emmy voters make some strange choices sometimes. They make good ones too (Peter Dinklage and Margo Martindale’s wins last year are a testament to that), but it’s the bad ones we tend to remember the most. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Emmy season though is how easy it has become to predict the nominees. Many of the same people are given a nod year in and year out, and even if it’s deserved, it can suck some of the excitement out of the lead up to the announcements.

That is why I’ve decided not to deal with the sure things at all. Instead of predicting the nominees, I’ll be offering up my picks for the most deserving underdogs. They won’t earn a nomination unless I’ve completely underestimated the Emmy voters, but if their shows were more popular or the field was less crowded I’d like to believe they would all be locks. First up I’ll be sharing four of my favorite underdogs in the Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress races (two in each category). We may not hear their names called alongside Peter Dinklage, Aaron Paul or Maggie Smith’s on July 19th, but each one of them did amazing work this year and they deserve to be recognized–even if it’s only in the form of a shout out from a devoted fangirl.

1. Alfie Allen– Game of Thrones

Alfie Allen

Honestly, I could have filled up this entire article with Game of Thrones actors that I feel deserve nominations, but I settled on two. Dinklage is a lock in this category after last year’s win (deservedly so, of course) which means Emmy voters probably won’t find room to recognize Alfie Allen’s stunning work as Theon. That is a shame, because Allen, who had the unenviable task of playing the turncoat who took Winterfell, betrayed Robb and killed two innocent kids, had what was easily one of the season’s most compelling arcs.

Watching Theon return to the Iron Isles for the first time since he was a child only to discover his family now believed him to be tainted by the Starks was wrenching, but no more so than Theon’s ill-fated attempt to take control of Winterfell. In lesser hands, Theon would have been written off as a traitor, but thanks to Allen, Theon remained sympathetic throughout. His performance was both intense and vulnerable, and he could switch from one emotion to the other without missing a beat. The more lost Theon became the more fevered intensity Allen poured into the role. By the time the finale rolled around it was clear that Allen had established himself as one of the show’s MVPs.

2. Kiernan Shipka– Mad Men

Kiernan Shipka

Before Mad Men ends, Kiernan Shipka needs to win an Emmy. On a show overflowing with capable adult actors, Shipka always manages to shine. She just gets better each year and this year happened to be a particularly good one for her. Sally has now entered that awkward phase between childhood and young adulthood, which gave Shipka some terrific, emotional material to work with, whether she was sneaking off for a date with her sort-of boyfriend, Glen, or witnessing Uncle Roger get a little too friendly with her step-grandmother, Shipka rose to the occasion with grace.

The quickly fading innocence of Sally Draper is one of Mad Men‘s most consistently brilliant arcs. Sally is growing up right before our eyes, and Shipka’s performance is only getting better with time.

3. Jeremy Allen White– Shameless

Jeremy Allen White

There was a scene in season two of Shameless where Jeremy Allen White’s character, Lip recorded a video for a baby he thought was his, a baby that he knew he would never get to raise. No other moment from the last season of television moved me as much as that scene did. White was so raw and so sincere as he told his unborn son that he wished he could be the one to raise him that it made my heart ache.

But that was just one moment in a season of standout moments for the performer. The more Lip struggled with his fear of repeating his father’s mistakes and failing his family, the better White became (which is a feat unto itself because he was already brilliant). It wasn’t easy to watch Lip spiral so completely out of control, but White thrived on the chaos, ensuring that the audience felt all of the anger, confusion and desperation that defined Lip this season.

4. Maisie Williams– Game of Thrones

Game Of Thrones What Is Dead May Never Die Season 2 Episode 3 (6)

Like Shipka, Williams is asked to tackle material that would be challenging for an adult actor, never mind a child one, but she does it with ease. She has made Arya Stark one of the show’s true breakout characters. Her fierceness defines her and it was that very quality that was on full display as she went toe-to-toe with Tywin Lannister and the mysterious Jaqen in season two.

Still, Williams didn’t have quite as much Emmy-caliber material to work with as she did in the first season, and the lack of a meaty episode will likely hold her back from entering the race this year (that and Emmy voters rarely honor child actors). It is hard for me to imagine anyone watching Williams’s performance in “Garden of Bones” and not want to immediately hand her a trophy though. Seeing Arya curled in the mud, whispering the names of the people she wished dead was a highlight of the season, and Williams played Arya’s subtle shift toward darkness beautifully. She may not have one standout character-centric episode to submit, but when a performer is as good as Williams is on a weekly basis I’d like to think a lack of Emmy-bait material won’t hold her back.


I had to make significant cuts to keep my picks down to just two underdogs for each category. I opted to showcase four of the younger performers whose work is most likely to get overlooked, but the supporting drama races are overflowing with deserving potential nominees. I would love to hear which performers you would like to see earn a nomination in the comments section!

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