By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist July 5, 2012 at 12:02PM
Of everyone on this list, Idris Elba probably has the best chance of actually making it to a nod; he was, after all, a nominee last year (a double nominee, in fact, also picking one up for his guest performance in "The Big C"), and won the Golden Globe in the category for his performance in the eligible series of "Luther" back in January. But he faces tough competition that hadn't yet been aired when the Globes were around: "Hemingway and Gellhorn," "Game Change" and "Hatfields and McCoys" all hit the TV dial in the last few months, and most prognosticators agree that their stars have a good chance of beating out Elba this time around. It doesn't help that season two of "Luther," in which Elba plays the titular, tortured, renegade London cop, felt a little inferior to the first. Telling a tighter, more focused, and shorter story, it suffered from the lack of Ruth Wilson to play off, and from slightly ridiculous plotlines -- identical LARPing twins! And while the show has always been a little ridiculous, it's eminently watchable thank to Elba. On the page, Luther isn't all that different from most leads in cop shows, but the actor plays him like he was the first performer ever to play a rule-breaking cop with a death wish. He's simply magnetic, and while Elba is always strong, "Luther" feels like something of a defining role for him, and the actor constantly found new notes to play across the season, whether in his paternal relationship with a girl he's rescued from a pornography ring, or his vulnerability and panic as he becomes more and more trapped by the gangsters after her. With "Prometheus" and next year's "Pacific Rim" looking to make him a bonafide big-screen star and "Luther" wrapping up after a third season (although with a possible movie on the way), it'd be a shame not to acknowledge him before he leaves TV for good, especially as he was never nominated for Stringer Bell on "The Wire."
When terminally underrated character actor Jared Harris (the son of the late, great Richard Harris) arrived on "Mad Men" back in 2009, his character, Lane Pryce, felt like something of a caricature; a stiff, awkward Brit brought in by Sterling Cooper's owners, Putnam Powell & Lowe, to serve as their new financial officer. But the character grew more and more interesting over time, and the fifth season marked the best material that the actor had been given. Now living with his wife (Embeth Davidtz) in New York, Lane Pryce started the season in serious financial straits, and for all the other storylines that he went through -- falling in love with a girl in a photo in a lost wallet, gloriously beating Pete Campbell with his fists -- it was the inescapable black hole of his finances and his attempt to embezzle funds from the company to stave them off that ensnared him. Just when Lane thought that he was out of the worst, Don discovered the fraud, and demanded Lane's resignation, a situation made even worse by his unaware wife's kind-hearted purchase of a new Jaguar. It was in this episode, "Commissions and Fees," that Harris really hit his stride; the actor was magnificent, be it in his devestating breakdown when seeing his new car, or his dignified, blackly comic attempt at gassing himself in the car. And the discovery of his body, hanging on the back of his office door, was one of the most wrenching things we've ever seen on TV. In a year where Harris has made serious movie inroads (playing Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows"), and did double duty by reprising his villain David Robert Jones on "Fringe," few actors deserve more recognition for their work.
It's hard to convince newcomers to "Game of Thrones" that a series in the traditionally masculine fantasy, with as much gratuitous nudity as it has, can include some of the best written and performed female characters on television. "Game of Thrones" does indeed have them, but even despite Peter Dinklage's Emmy victory last year, we'd be very surprised if any of the show's ladies made their way into the final six this year. While our first choice for recognition might be Maisie Williams, who we've talked about her relatively recently, and though Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke are both deserving, it's Lena Headey who we think should have been more seriously considered this time around. On the big-screen, the British actress all too often got cast as the pretty face -- in "The Jungle Book," "300" and "The Brothers Grimm," among others -- but she's really shown her strengths as Cersei Lannister, the manipulative, Machiavellian Queen, and in the more recent second season, widow and semi-regent, of Westeros. Cersei has, almost from the off, been one of the most obviously unsympathetic characters on the show, but as time has gone on, Headey has brought all kinds of texture to the part; the incestuous, murderous villain who betrayed Ned Stark is also an exploited woman, married off to a man who never loved her, and a mother increasingly discovering that the son she sacrificed so much for is a monster beyond anything she could have imagined. And Headey has palpably relished the material, especially now she has Dinklage as an on-screen sparring partner; their scenes together were some of the finest on the show. Between those and Cersei's spectacular drunken meltdown during the battle of the Blackwater, she's quietly creating one of the most memorable and complex villains in television history.