The Wire Tells Emmy Voters Who to Pick: Lead Actor/Actress in a Drama

Listen up, Emmy voters. Both masters of sex deserve your notice.

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The Primetime Emmy voters have actually already had their say. Ballots were due last Friday, and the nominations will be announced on Thursday, July 10th. In the meantime, though, we at The Wire feel it's only fair that we should have our say. Hindsight is not only 20/20, it's also fun, and if on Thursday July 10th we can't point at the Emmy voters' choices and say WRONG!, why are we even in this business? So these are the picks that Emmy voters should make. In the interests of a level playing field, we're limiting ourselves to the official Emmy ballot, though we've made sure to do our fair share of complaining about who was left off of that.


Outstanding Supporting Actor/Actress in a Comedy
Outstanding Guest Actor/Actress in a Comedy
Outstanding Supporting Actor/Actress in a Drama
Outstanding Guest Actor/Actress in a Drama
Outstanding Lead Actor/Actress in a Comedy

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama

Honorable mentions: Hoo boy, this one is a toughie, and I’m not even including certified Emmy threats like Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter) that could cost better performances a spot. Demian Bechir did incredible work on The Bridge this year. Hugh Dancy is the star of Hannibal and is doing criminally underrated, sweaty work as Will Graham. Tom Mison came out of nowhere to give Sleepy Hollow a truly credible center to build a ridiculous premise around. Jon Hamm is fantastic on Mad Men and it is utterly criminal that he has never won an Emmy, but I just had to make room.

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad

Yes, it’s obvious, but this category is going to be filled with obvious, so what do you expect me to do about it? Cranston’s performance as Walter White is definitive, and whatever you thought of the final episodes, it is hard to have any complaints about the work he registered in episodes like “Ozymandias.” He’s an awards-eating juggernaut that other actors will glad to be shot of, but in the landscape of television history he will be long-remembered.

Woody Harrelson, True Detective

Woody could have submitted in supporting, a blatant but all-too-acceptible bit of category fraud, and won a trophy, but he’s here in the lead category where he belongs and I’m happy to have him. Yes, his screen partner had the more involving arc, but Harrelson did amazing things with Marty Hart’s evolution over the years. I loved his defensive, self-aggrandizing work in the interviews with the detectives in the present-day storyline, and watching the show slowly reveal what a sad figure Marty had become.

Matthew McConaughey, True Detective

The thing about time is, it’s a flat circle, and just like last year, we’re gonna suffer through a lot of McConaughey acceptance speeches and “alright alright alright,” but it’s pretty justified. Rust Cohle, be it the existential warrior of the ‘90s or the burned-out husk playing possum in the present day, is a truly memorable creation, and McConaughey worked wonders with it.

Mads Mikkelsen, Hannibal

He got no awards attention last year, and it was a crying shame. If the same thing happens this year I might actually have to start cooking and eating people myself. Mikkelsen still doesn’t get enough credit for taking a character that had already been definitively performed by Anthony Hopkins, spinning an entirely new, more buttoned-down take on him, and making it can’t-miss television. We know Hannibal is evil, and we even basically know why, but we still watch Mikkelsen and want to know so much more.

Matthew Rhys, The Americans

Rhys is a bundle of contradictions as Philip Jennings, a caring father and family man who still sometimes regards his wife as an alien, murders people in cold blood without a second thought, and is part of a second sham marriage that exists as a cruel joke for his poor “wife.” Everyone on The Americans is fascinating, but I think Rhys does the best job of making Jennings incredibly appealing while at the same time hiding none of his flaws.

Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex

Sheen’s work as William Masters is spellbinding. This is a man so repressed he can barely stand to have anyone see him emote, but he’s so fascinated with human sexuality he’ll participate in his own studies on the subject. Over the first season, we watched a buttoned-down man investigate his own relationship with intimacy as much as anyone else’s, and we stayed on his side no matter how monstrous he could get in his relationship with Virginia.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama

Honorable Mentions: We feel a little weird not putting likely nominees Kerry Washington (Scandal) and Robin Wright (House of Cards) on our list, but they aren't making the cut this time around.

Nicole Beharie, Sleepy Hollow

The thing about Sleepy Hollow is that every actor on that show has a role that could have easily been thankless. The other thing about Sleepy Hollow is that every actor on that show somehow managed to make the insanity of the show's plot work, and perhaps Nicole Beharie's performance is the best example of that. Whereas Tom Mison as Ichabod gets to play a charming man out of time, Beharie has to keep the show grounded in some sort of modern reality and she does that splendidly.

Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex

When Masters of Sex first came on the air there were those who questioned how seamlessly Lizzy Caplan—best known for Mean Girls and Party Down—could fit into a period drama. Caplan's Virginia Johnson quickly became one of the best heroines currently on television. One thing likely working against Caplan in the awards race is that hers was one of the more subtle performances on the show this season—it's certainly less showy than Michael Sheen's super-repressed Masters—but her Johnson was always the most human, relatable, and, perhaps fittingly, modern person on the show.

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife

Okay, it's not like Margulies is a stranger to this competition, but it's also not like she doesn't deserve to get another nomination. Her Alicia Florrick steered The Good Wife through a tricky season, full of upheaval and death and developments that alternately thrilled and angered its audience. Marguiles was perhaps at her best when Alicia was at her worst, drifting and near-catatonic and unwilling to really engage with her life. It would've been easy to grow frustrated with Alicia if Marguiles' performance didn't convey Alicia's emotional state as effectively as it did.

Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black

Maslany is the underdog who is on the verge of not really becoming an underdog anymore, thanks to the sheer volume of her current supporters. But the power of her multiple Orphan Black performances can't really be understated. Even when the show's plotting got a little wacky this past season, Maslany consistently amazed as she seemingly effortlessly jumped between her clone characters, often playing against herself. It really is a tour de force, and we could watch her for days.

Keri Russell, The Americans

Keri Russell's Americans performance is consistently masterful in its restraint. In the show's second season, Elizabeth Jennings was always simmering just beneath the surface, just about ready to explode but also aware that she must maintain her ultimate disguise. Russell managed to make an audience actually sympathize with her Russian spy as Elizabeth continued to maneuver her relationship with Philip, and tried to reconcile her duty to her country with her desire to protect her family.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.