Over the years the Drama Actor field in the Primetime Emmy Awards has been an especially difficult one, and with an exponential increase in impressive drama series over the past decade, it is now more difficult than ever. Trying to narrow down our personal field to just six names was an almost-impossible task and the staff at CarterMatt debated this one for hours over many pots of coffee. There are at least two names we had to leave off of our list below that are causing us a lot of grief, just because we really wish we could include all eight. It’s a testament to the outstanding work that is being done out there, and the range of leading men who now exist. It’s more than just your cookie-cutter hero or your mustache-twirling villain.
Check out our field below along with explanations as to why they are worthy. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments, and of course you can vote for your personal favorite in the attached poll. As mentioned yesterday in our Outstanding Drama Series piece, the poll will be open until July 13, a day before nominations are announced, at 12:00 p.m. Pacific time. At that point we’ll announce who our readers feel are the winners.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Hugh Dancy, “Hannibal“ (NBC) – Go watch “Digestivo” again if you question for a second his inclusion on this list. His scenes at the episode’s end with Mads Mikkelsen are wonderfully complicated, painful, and a reflection of the relationship these two men have where there is love trapped within a bubble of rage, set adrift on an ocean of reality. Will knows that he shouldn’t be like Hannibal, and that if anyone can bring him to justice, it is him. That’s the truth of the matter; however, what his heart tells him may deviate from what his head says. Update June 14: We’re aware that Hugh submitted for “Path” and not “Hannibal” this year; however, this list contains who we feel are the most Emmy-worthy roles, and we stand by this being one of the best of the year.
Omari Hardwick, “Power“ (Starz) – One of TV’s most-commanding presences comes via a show that the Academy is grossly overlooking — and the same goes for many critics. Hardwick effectively is playing two different men in Jamie and Ghost trapped within a single person, and he brings gravity to both. Identity is a crisis for many leads across TV in the 2015-16 season, but we don’t think anyone played the struggle better than Omari as he balanced what Jamie loved with what Ghost felt responsibility for.
Sam Heughan, “Outlander“ (Starz) – Sam is the only Best Actor candidate who is returning from last year’s list, and there are two reasons for it: The overall quality of work across leading men on TV, and specifically the power, pain, and humor he brings to this role. Jamie Fraser is a man wholly unique to not just the world of “Outlander,” but also period drama on TV: He is smart, passionate, determined, and yet also haunted. He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and the power within his flaws only serves to aid his relatability to everyone watching. Heughan’s performance is one that you could watch a million times over, and still find new things to appreciate.
Lee Pace, “Halt and Catch Fire“ (AMC) – There is no Jon Hamm to vote for with “Mad Men” off the air this year; however, if you look at Pace’s work in “Halt and Catch Fire,” you could argue that Joe MacMillan is a spiritual successor to Don Draper, whether it be his addiction to ambition and his flawed understanding of love. Yet in spite of the similarities, Pace brings something completely unto himself with this performance; there is an inherent likability to Joe that attracts us to him, and helps to mask those flaws to the point where you almost ignore them. This is not easy for a character to pull off, let alone an actor behind the role to portray.
James Spader, “The Blacklist“ (NBC) – Sometimes, actors on network TV adhere almost to a one-and-done rule where they can get some attention for the first season, and alas never again. Spader broke that rule with his take on Raymond Reddington in the second half of season 3, especially in the wake of what he thought happened to Liz. “Digestivo” is to Dancy what the episode “Cape May” is to Spader, a fantastic character showcase of pain and grave reflection. We’ve been in the era of the “likable bad boy” for several years now, and the Reddington character has become a microcosm of much of this.
Aidan Turner, “Poldark“ (PBS) – There is a little bit of confusion out there regarding where is the right spot for Turner to submit this year. It’s possible that he could be included in the Limited Series category since this is the first season of the show; however, we think he’s a better fit here since “Poldark” is a continuous story, and he is also incredibly deserving of the honor for bringing a gripping, nuanced take on the Ross Poldark character that is at times determined, and at others heartbreaking.
This is where we turn things over to you in the poll! Be sure to also head over here to see the rest of our Emmy coverage, and sign up over here to get some other TV news on all we cover, sent right over to you via our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: Emmys.)