Emmy Underdogs: 4 Lead Actors I’d Like To See Break Into The Race (Drama Edition)

lead actors drama

The lead actor/actress drama categories proved to be the most difficult ones for me to weigh in on. For one thing, I rarely have many complaints with the nominees in these two categories, especially on the actor’s side (Bryan Cranston, Jon Hamm, Timothy Olyphant–who I’ll be completely heartbroken over if he doesn’t earn another nod this year–even Michael C. Hall, whose show has seen better days, all deserve their spots), and as long as Elisabeth Moss keeps getting recognized in the lead actress category, then all is right in my world. Meanwhile, Damian Lewis and Claire Danes are virtual locks to enter the race this year thanks to their terrific performances in Homeland, so I can hardly count them as underdogs.

Unfortunately, I also have to ignore deserving actors like Kelsey Grammer and Dustin Hoffman because I simply haven’t seen enough of their shows to have strong feelings about their performances. Still, even though I’m ultimately picking from the small pool of dramas that I watch that are unlikely to garner nominations, I’ve settled on four actors I believe consistently turned in award-caliber work this past season.

1. Emmy Rossum–Shameless

Shameless (Showtime) "Just Like the Pilgrims Intended" Season 2 Episode 11 (6)

I would like to see the other three performers on this list honored, but I can understand how they could all miss the cut in such a competitive field. Where Emmy Rossum is concerned, I feel the lack of a nomination is absurd. Rossum is giving one of the best lead performances on television– it just happens to be on a show that Emmy voters apparently don’t watch.

Rossum’s Fiona isn’t a glamorous character. She’s not a lawyer, she doesn’t work for the CIA or an ad agency. She’s a young woman who works crap jobs to keep her five younger siblings clothed and fed, who sacrifices her own dreams so they can have the opportunities she missed out on. All the while she has to deal with her addict parents swooping in and out of the kids’ lives leaving only Fiona to pick up the pieces. In lesser hands, I can easily see Fiona coming off as shrill or long-suffering, but Rossum’s performance is fearless, funny and raw. When she is called on to sell the dramatic material she doesn’t just break your heart, she rips it out, but then she can turn around and make you laugh with just as much ease. She was amazing in season one, but if it’s possible she actually got better in season two as Fiona allowed herself the luxury of a little irresponsibility.

Rossum may not be as high profile as the women who are likely to be nominated over her in this category, but she’s a newcomer who deserves to join their ranks.

2. Michelle Dockery– Downton Abbey

Michelle Dockery

Downton Abbey was less of a stately period piece than it was a soapy mess this season, but Michelle Dockery found a way to cut through the melodrama to give a quiet, sharp edged performance as the iron-hearted Mary. Dockery adheres to the less is more approach of acting, which gives the rare moments when Mary breaks all the more weight. Dockery’s costar, Elizabeth McGovern is the de facto nominee for the series stateside, but Dockery is indisputably the lead. If anyone from Downton Abbey deserves a nomination in the category it’s most certainly her, especially coming off a year where she added so much gravitas to such flimsy material.

3. Jason Isaacs–Awake

Jason Isaacs

Jason Isaacs is on this list based solely on the pilot episode of Awake. Normally, I wouldn’t talk up a performance on a show that I had seen exactly one episode of, but Isaacs was so good in the first episode (and I imagine it would be his submission episode anyway if he did somehow sneak into the race) that I’m breaking my own rule. The two worlds approach allowed Isaacs to not only play up the grief of losing a wife and a child, but also to capture the sense of wonder his character felt as he tried to hold onto both realities at once.

His performance in the pilot was beautiful and moving, top-notch work from a brilliant actor. If Awake had managed to earn a second season, I have no doubt Isaacs would have been a serious contender in the race this year.

4. Peter Krause– Parenthood

Peter Krause

Parenthood is one of television’s true ensembles, but if it has a lead it’s certainly Krause. His character, Adam, is the eldest of the Braverman siblings, and the family’s anchor. What Krause does every week looks deceptively easy. He plays the good guy; the dutiful husband, the loving father, the steadfast big brother to his demanding younger siblings–all traits that set his character apart from the antiheroes that seem to earn the lion’s share of accolades in the lead actor category, but just because his character is a decent guy that doesn’t make Krause’s work less laudable than his dark and broody colleagues’.

In season three, Adam grappled with career changes, money problems and accepting his little girl was growing up. He struggled to help his autistic son fit in at a new school and welcomed a new baby daughter, started a business venture with his brother and almost cheated on his wife. It was a season full of change for Adam, and Krause rose to the occasion, making Adam sympathetic and believable at every turn.

I know antiheroes make for fascinating television, but Krause is proof that there’s real joy to be found in watching a good guy too.


I’ve shared my favorite underdogs in the lead actress and actor categories, now I’d love to hear from you. Which underrated actors are you hoping to see get a shot at Emmy gold this year?

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