10 Drama Actors That Deserve An Emmy Nomination In 2015

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Emmy season is almost here and we know that we couldn’t be more excited. The Emmy is arguably the most prestigious award a television actor or actress can earn, which is why the nominations and the ceremony are such a big deal. There have been a number of standout actors this year in a number of different drama series, which makes the whole predicting process a little tough, but we think we can handle it. We’ve picked 10 actors who we think deserve an Outstanding Lead Actor nomination this year for the work that they have done in a drama series.

Disclaimer: Many of these entries include mild spoilers, so if you are not caught up, you may want be careful navigating certain entries.

Bonus: James Spader – The Blacklist

While Stephen Colbert may have made “gravitas” a pop culture word, it’s been James Spader who has been living it on screen for decades. The ultra-talented actor was primarily a film star until David E. Kelley lured him to TV as the morally ambiguous Alan Shore on The Practice. The next year, he moved over to spin-off Boston Legal where alongside William Shatner the two were a power team that consistently earned praise and Emmy recognition for their roles.

With The Blacklist, it was immediately clear only Spader could play the equally morally ambiguous Raymond “Red” Reddington and, given his past Emmy prowess, many thought he’d be a shoo-in for a nomination. Yet it was not to be as Spader was slighted…the hope is that it  is rectified this year as here’s an actor that embodies the series and it would not be as successful without him in that lead role.

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10. Kyle Chandler –Bloodlines

The very likeable Kyle Chandler won a Emmy for his role as Coach Eric Taylor on the brilliant series Friday Night Lights but, on Netflix’s Bloodlines, he certainly showed off his full range. While his John Rayburn character started off as virtuous as Coach, he slowly unraveled as the season went along.

Bloodlines is a intense family drama with a top notch cast that plays well off each other and Chandler is the focal point of that group. Given his success with Emmy voters, it seems likely he’ll be at the top of their minds when casting this year’s ballots. Regardless of if he gets a nomination, if you’re a fan of Chandler’s make sure to stream this series before its second season premieres in 2016.

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9. Dominic West – The Affair

When a TV character cheats on their significant other, it’s hard to like them but it’s even rarer to understand their side of the story. That’s what is so interesting about The Affair in that you see things from two different angles, which includes Dominic West’s Noah Solloway.

Of West and co-star Ruth Wilson, Wilson seems in better position to get a nomination (as her character is way more emotionally scarred), but you can’t rule out West who still has a following from his days on HBO’s The Wire. Granted those same fans will be the first tell you how ticked they are he got snubbed then as well. Here’s to hoping history doesn’t repeat itself as West does an amazing job in this series that also snagged him a Golden Globe nod back in January.

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8. Timothy Olyphant- Justified

The truly frustrating thing about this situation is that Emmy voters nominated Timothy Olyphant back in 2011 for the show’s second season…but snubbed him and the majority of the cast since then. Yet Olyphant only got better as the series went on because he felt more in tune with the character, so it stands to reason that progression would be recognized and rewarded…right? Of course that would imply logic plays a role in the nomination process and longtime viewers know that’s not the case.

Olyphant doesn’t phone in anything he does and he helped make Justified into the hit it became, especially after the passing of creator Elmore Leonard. Listen to any interview about the show and it becomes clear that Olyphant took great pride in this character and it would be nice to see him get one final nod before the series rides off into the sunset.

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7. Matthew Rhys – The Americans

Here’s thing with The Americans, it’s a great show, but it’s a slow burn and often times that is a turn-off to voters. Yet slow burn series often lead to some truly amazing performances by its series stars at key pivotal moments, which has proven true in the case of Matthew Rhys.

As a Russian spy embedded in America during the Cold War, Rhys’ character must play both sides as he and his wife raise their American kids. Incidentally, it’s because of those kids that Rhys gets to show off his best acting chops. So far in the series, it’s been that relationship that brings out the best in Rhys, but he still gets overlooked. Here’s hoping this year is different for him and on-screen wife Keri Russell.

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6. Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom

You could hear a pin drop when Jeff Daniels won the Emmy two years in a row for the HBO series The Newsroom. It was a shock during a telecast that usually produces few surprises. And keep in mind it’s not because Daniels was bad (he was actually amazing), it’s just because the competition was so fierce and many thought it was a dead heat between Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston and House of Cards’ Kevin Spacey.

What actually happened was that voters fell back on one of their old favorites for choosing a winner…whoever makes the best on-camera speech. Remember some of the best winners in the acting categories have gone off for minutes at a time with memorable soap box style monologues and that’s EXACTLY how Aaron Sorkin opened Newsroom. It was a long, drawn out boisterous speech about why America isn’t the greatest country in the world and Daniels nailed it! Don’t be shocked if the actor pulls out another surprise win especially for “Oh Shenandoah” where he gives a truly memorable performance.

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5. Hugh Bonneville –Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey has always been an ensemble series, but its incredible cast usually always gets singled out in the same way. Chief among those is the show’s patriarch played by Hugh Bonneville who has consistently been one of the most nominated among all the award shows.

Yet last year, the influx of HBO’s True Detective knocked him out of the race, but with Detective and last year’s winner Bryan Cranston ineligible this year, three slots open back up and it’s hard to not see a scenario where he (deservedly) gets back into the race. Being the focal point of an ensemble is hard in and of itself, but Bonneville brings a sense of professionalism and poise to the role that really sells him to audiences as a British aristocrat. The actor also had a strong storyline to work with, which should dovetail nicely into the show’s final batch of episodes slated to air Stateside in 2016.

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4. Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul

This was an unenviable role for Bob Odenkirk to step into as Breaking Bad was a seminal series for AMC and cable TV in general. In total, there were so many different ways for this to have gone wrong, but it didn’t and a lot of that credit goes to Odenkrik.

The actor brought all of the charm, humor and even sliminess of his Saul Goodman persona over to the spin-off and kept him just as likeable as he was despite his ambulance chasing ways. It would be a remarkable moment if Odenkirk is able to take the award the year after his friend and former co-star Bryan Cranston won it for the Bad’s final season. Regardless of how he does this year, Odenkirk should have no problem staying in the race for years to come (along with the equally talented Jonathan Banks).

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3. Terrence Howard – Empire

Every year, at least one series surprises critics and audiences alike, but it is rare for it to land with this big of a boom. Empire hit a high note with the ratings and a large part of its success is the show’s two leads…Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson.

It’s fair to say this would be a career-defining role, but Howard already had a solid career entering the series and all this is doing is amplifying the skills viewers already knew he had in his wheelhouse. Watching Howard’s character successfully navigate his way through the business and then fail so spectacularly in his home life is amazing. Granted pulling a “King Lear-esque” move in general and making your kids compete to be heir to the throne is a slimeball move in the first place, but watching Howard try to maneuver the pitfalls is what drives this series…well that and his ex-wife Cookie, but that’s for another list.

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2. Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

Let’s just be clear…whoever was able to convince Kevin Spacey to come to television deserves whatever type of bonus they probably received.

The man is a two-time Oscar winning genius and having him headline House of Cards was a brilliant move. Yet, Spacey’s series came into power at a time where AMC’s Breaking Bad was exiting, which siphoned off votes and, now that Bad is gone, he’s got a clearer road to adding Emmy winner to his resume. As Francis “Frank” Underwood, Spacey is a evil political mastermind who will stop at nothing to get his way and in season three that took him all the way to the White House. Watching him pull the string from the Oval Office as the most powerful man in the country proved to be just as exciting, which isn’t something that will be lost on Emmy voters.

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1. Jon Hamm – Mad Men

For as game-changing of a series as Mad Men was, it has yet to overcome one glaring detail…it’s never won an acting Emmy.

It’s actually quite remarkable that a show that won the Best Drama Emmy for four consecutive years has never seen any of its actors (lead, supporting or guest) take home an acting prize…and they’ve certainly had their chances over the years.

For awhile it looked like that streak would continue, but the final episodes of the series gave lead actor Jon Hamm material to work with that finally gave his character some level of real growth. With how well received the finale was, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Emmys finally reward the drama’s talented lead with a prize that is more than well-deserved. Between Hamm and the series itself, AMC could be looking at a nice swan song for its one-time flagship series.

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Jack Grant