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10 TV Stars Who Deserve Emmy Nominations (But Probably Won't Get Them)

by Oliver Lyttelton
July 5, 2012 12:02 PM
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Idris Elba as John Luther in "Luther"
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."   

Jared Harris as Lane Pryce in "Mad Men"
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.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in "Game of Thrones"
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.  

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  • John | July 9, 2012 5:29 AMReply

    "The Middle" is the best comedy on the air, yet its always ignored. Wake up people.

  • Mark | July 8, 2012 7:51 PMReply

    I agree with most of this list, namely Kerry Washington, Anna Chlumsky and definitely Jared Harris (who was superb on "Mad Men" this season), however, I would like to add the name of a spectacular actress doing stunning work on her series: Khandi Alexander in "Treme". Alexander should have been nominated for an Emmy before (for her incredible work in the HBO mini-series "The Corner" and last season's work on "Treme"), but continuing to ignore her would just be criminal.

  • Scandal is not a soap, Ollie | July 6, 2012 11:55 AMReply

    Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope is so entertaining. Hope she makes the cut.

  • beardy man child | July 5, 2012 6:09 PMReply

    Mark Margolis should get a nom for his performance in Breaking Bad, didn't speak a word but my God did he knock it out of the park

  • Derek | July 5, 2012 5:59 PMReply

    If fucking pains me that Dean Norris' name hasn't been mentioned. One of the best actors on tv. Pitch perfect on Breaking Bad.

    Good call on Anna Chlumsky. Always wanted to finger blast that.

  • RH | July 5, 2012 2:48 PMReply


  • Mitchell | July 5, 2012 2:12 PMReply

    Among the many who deserve to be mentioned, I feel the need to give shout outs to Alfie Allen in "Game of Thrones", Shea Whigham in "Boardwalk Empire" and basically the whole cast of "Happy Endings", but especially the three females (Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert and Casey Wilson). They won't be getting nominated, but they all really should be.

  • sp | July 5, 2012 2:36 PM

    Mitchell, I agree with your choices, but also the men of "Happy Endings.". I also agree with Playlist's choices : Jared Harris, Jason Isaacs( always great) , and Madeleine Stowe .

  • ryan | July 5, 2012 1:40 PMReply

    i definitely agree Rich, Anna Torv is equally worthy of a nod. I just feel Noble should have WON both the Emmy and Golden Globe by now!! makes you wonder if Torv's ties with Murdoch is keeping the liberal Hollywood (i am liberal minded btw) at bay...everything is politics. but it is a crime to not consider Noble for anything. he is proof that the talent pool is very deep with fairly unknown actors until they get a big break.

  • Sigh | July 5, 2012 11:21 PM

    (Please ignore "Torvwatch," she's a nutjob who posts this crap everywhere.)

  • TorvWatch | July 5, 2012 9:33 PM

    so you are saying that Anna Torv is the reason your Noble did not get an Emmy?????
    how pathetic , sad and insulting.

    1. Anna Torv is NOT related to M, other than being estranged from her father and his side of the famile (including M's exwife) since she was a child.
    She grew up with her mother and brother, payed her own way through NIDA, did her stage and tv in Australia.
    BTW. Anna Torv must be the most humble, modest person in the business, and the returning description of fans meeting her is Shy, Sweet en so greatful to fans.

    2. Noble is so overrated, all the credit he gets for the writing and material he gets is shocking.
    he is so much a Look at me actor.

    3. Anna Torv is just as much Underrated , since the pilot. What she has done with a character as Olivia Dunham, with the little material she gets, is beyond amazing.
    Anna is a brilliant actress, and if she would have gotten a decent story arc about her past from the beginning (what Noble has gotten in Overkill),
    Anna Torv would have been on the Emmy and Golden Globes lists from season 1.

    Big mistake of the showrunners to underuse Anna Torv, but the way she has handled all the crap in S1 she got in the USA, and how she has dealt with remarks like Ryan above, shows what a class-act Anna Torv is.

  • holly | July 5, 2012 1:08 PMReply

    Idris Elba overacts like mad in Luther, A very over rated actor. He chews the scenery in most things and cant do an american accent to save his life.

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 1:22 PM

    Seriously? Because I know lots of people who knew him as Stringer Bell first and they're always shocked to find out he's English.

  • Kim | July 5, 2012 12:43 PMReply

    Lena Headey should get a nod. Cersei was written to be hated! That's all. A flat one dimensional cartoon character. But in her hands, Cersei is anything but. I love her Cersei.

  • Nolan | July 5, 2012 12:39 PMReply

    I would think that a show as popular as Game of Thrones would get some recognition, although they may just nominate Dinklage every year and call it a day. That said, Headey especially deserves it when you compare her work in season 2 to her work in season 1. She was actually fairly weak the first time around, but really stunned a lot of people this time. Her scene with Tyrion where she discusses her children was fantastic, as was the drunken siege scene.

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 12:44 PM

    That one, wordless moment where Tyrion clearly wants to put a hand on her shoulder, but they both understand that that's not their relationship? Best acting in the series, thus far, I think.

  • ry | July 5, 2012 12:35 PMReply

    what about JOHN NOBLE!!! his character of walter on Fringe is he plays three people!!

  • Sigh | July 5, 2012 11:24 PM

    "Torvwatch," please stop tearing down other actors just to build up your favorite. It's really tiresome and weird.

    (Anna Torv is just fine as an actress, but I find the obsessive girl-cult worship surrounding her to be rather inexplicable...)

  • TorvWatch | July 5, 2012 9:38 PM

    Anna Torv is awesome, and hs been from the start. She finally got the material she should have gotten from the start, in season 3.
    Anna Torv should have been on the Emmy lists since season 1, playing a character like Olivia Dunham, with so littke material, is so much more difficult than the Overwritten and Overacted Walter by Overrated Noble.

  • jonathan | July 5, 2012 3:58 PM

    Yup, scrolled down to type exactly that. John Noble has been the greatest thing on tv for years, but doesn't get the credit. Also Jason Isaacs was awesome on Awake. And I wish that Isaacs's character from Awake could join the Fringe Division, because that would be amazing.

  • Rich | July 5, 2012 1:25 PM

    The same goes for Anna Torv, the lead on FRINGE. She has showed incredible range, including playing Leonard Nimoy's character William Bell, with all of his vocal intonations. the show has been completely ignored by the Emmys in the past.

  • MissJinx | July 5, 2012 12:30 PMReply

    I agree with a lot of these... but I would like to add Nelsen Ellis as Lafayette Reynolds on True Blood. He has some great lines and portrays such power and loss all at the same time. He is a wonderful actor and I want to see him in many more seasons of the show and to see him in many other roles in tv and film.

  • Someome | July 5, 2012 12:24 PMReply

    Hello Jason Isaacs.

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 12:16 PMReply

    Some that I'd like to see but probably won't:
    -Jack Huston and Gretchen Mol in "Boardwalk Empire"
    -Andrew Scott in "Sherlock"
    -Raymond J. Barry in "Justified" (he's done a similar thing to Headey in terms of abruptly, subtly stealing several scenes)
    -Pretty much everyone in "Game of Thrones" who's not Peter Dinklage

  • E | July 5, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    Anna Chancellor? Ew, it's Romola Garai who should get recognition for The Hour!

  • Zack | July 5, 2012 12:11 PM

    I imagine they left her out because she was nominated for a Golden Globe, and therefore is less of a long shot.

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