Last Year’s Winner: Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: This is more of a cold streak, but a good one: Kevin Spacey will likely never win an Emmy. Despite 12 nominations overall and five nods in this category alone, the two-time Oscar winning actor — who now stands indicted for sexual assault — never won the TV Academy’s highest honor. Only three other lead actors have been nominated more without winning (and their odds of landing a trophy before it’s all said and done are much better than Spacey’s): Michael C. Hall, Hugh Laurie, and Martin Sheen all have been nominated as lead drama actors six times. (Sheen did win an Emmy for Guest Actor in 1994, though.)
Fun Fact: Only Robert Young has won multiple Emmys as a lead actor in a drama series for two different roles. He won in 1956 and 1957 for playing insurance agent Jim Anderson in NBC’s “Father Knows Best,” before winning again in 1970 for the eponymous role of Dr. Marcus Welby in “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Young, however, is not the only actor to win lead actor Emmys for two different shows: James Spader won in 2004 and 2005 for “The Practice” and “Boston Legal,” respectively, but he played attorney Alan Shore in both the original and its spinoff.
Notable Ineligible Series: Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright, “Westworld” (returns in 2020); Rami Malek, “Mr. Robot”; Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards” (fired from the series); Matthew Rhys, “The Americans” (ended)
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series (listed in alphabetical order). This article will be updated throughout the season, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for all the latest buzz from the 2019 race, and read predictions in the rest of the categories, as well. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15. The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, September 22. Fox is broadcasting the ceremony.
The State of the Race
This year might be the year that TV critics lose their collective minds. After seeing their passionate arguments in support of “The Americans” come to fruition in Matthew Rhys’ victory last year, this year sees yet another perennial also-ran with their best shot yet of taking home the trophy: Bob Odenkirk. The “Breaking Bad” favorite has been nominated for each season of the AMC spinoff “Better Call Saul,” and so far he’s lost to Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”), and Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”). Only Brown remains eligible in 2019, so perhaps it’s finally Odenkirk’s turn to take the stage?
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Nominations have to be secured first, and while Brown and Odenkirk are in great shape, there are plenty of other lead actors competing for slots. Richard Madden (“Bodyguard”) and Billy Porter (“Pose”) are looking to ride the wave started from their Golden Globe nominations all the way to the Emmys — and they can do it. “Bodyguard” is one of the more popular dramas in awards competition, and Ryan Murphy’s sway on voters should help “Pose” be well-represented. Of course, Brown’s “This Is Us” co-star Milo Ventimiglia looks to make it three years running nominated alongside the former winner, while Jason Bateman aims for his second consecutive drama nod in “Ozark.”
Threatening that NBC double bill is 2019’s biggest drama behemoth, “Game of Thrones.” Perhaps this is the year Kit Harington nabs his first lead actor nod. (He was up for supporting actor in 2016, before HBO made some category maneuvers with the cast.) The premium cable giant also has “Succession” to think about, as Brian Cox looks for his first nomination since 2002 (when he guested on “Frasier”). Other newcomers include Stephan James in Amazon’s “Homecoming,” John Krasinski in the action-drama “Jack Ryan,” Kevin Costner in Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone,” and, in the longest of long shot positions, Sean Penn in Hulu’s (excellent) axed drama, “The First.”
There are a few more threats lurking, too. Freddie Highmore missed the boat in 2018 for “The Good Doctor,” but ABC will undoubtedly keep pushing the well-rated series. Liev Schreiber also failed to make the short list last year, but he’s got three nominations already for “Ray Donovan” — he could always sneak back in for one more. Showtime also has Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti in “Billions” (which has yet to make much of a dent with the TV Academy), and Jason Mitchell in “The Chi” (which is gearing up for a better sophomore effort). Former nominee Bill Pullman is moving to the drama side of things after qualifying for limited series in “The Sinner”‘s first season, and J.K. Simmons looks to represent “Counterpart” just one time before the Starz drama fades into oblivion.
- Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
- Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
- Richard Madden, “Bodyguard”
- Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
- Billy Porter, “Pose”
- Milo Ventimiglia, “This Is Us”
Spoilers: Kit Harington, “Game of Thrones”; Brian Cox, “Succession”; Liev Schreiber, “Ray Donovan”; Stephan James, “Homecoming”; Freddie Highmore, “The Good Doctor”; Kevin Costner, “Yellowstone”
In a Perfect World: James Franco, “The Deuce”; Sean Penn, “The First”; Jason Mitchell, “The Chi”