‘Hacks,’ ‘The Dropout’ and ‘The Conners’ Are Three Reminders of Why Laurie Metcalf Is an Emmy Favorite

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AWARDS CIRCUIT COLUMN LOGO
AWARDS CIRCUIT COLUMN LOGO

There you are, watching Season 2 of HBO Max’s Emmy-winning comedy “Hacks,” and delighting in the genius of American treasure Jean Smart and her worthy sparring partner, Hannah Einbinder.

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And then along comes Laurie Metcalf, playing a burned out tour manager named Weed.

Or there you are again, on a binge of Hulu’s limited series “The Dropout,” marveling at Amanda Seyfried’s spot-on portrayal of Theranos grifter Elizabeth Holmes. And then who pops up? Laurie Metcalf, playing Stanford professor Phyllis Gardner, who early on calls Holmes out on her lies (and later partners with another familiar TV face, William H. Macy as physician and inventor Richard Fuisz, another Holmes adversary).

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Perhaps you’re a theater fan, tuning into Arian Moayed’s independently-produced thriller “The Accidental Wolf,” on the streaming service Topic — when Metcalf pops up for a handful of episodes.

And of course, Metcalf continues to hold down the fort on ABC’s “The Conners” in her iconic role of Jackie Harris, a part that earned her Emmys in 1992, 1993 and 1994 as part of the “Roseanne” ensemble.

How much of an MVP is Metcalf? In 2016, she was nominated at the Emmys for three different shows: lead actress (for “Getting On”), comedy guest actress (“The Big Bang Theory”) and drama guest actress (“Horace and Pete”). She immediately went on after that to score Academy Award, Golden Globe and SAG Award noms for her role in “Lady Bird.”

The fact that she’s once again eligible for parts on four different series in the same year is, yes, partly a testament to the fact that multiple gigs are now a common occurrence in TV. But it’s also a reminder that casting people know how Metcalf can immediately elevate your project.

Take “Hacks.” It’s a small part, but Metcalf steals her scenes as Alice aka Weed — a nickname the character says she got from Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz — whose strict adherence to the schedule illustrates her blunt, straight-ahead personality (and penchant for conspiracy theories about the mattress industry).

“The Conners” executive producer Bruce Helford, who has been working with Metcalf since the days of the original “Roseanne,” calls her “the most transforming and surprising actor that maybe I’ve ever worked with. Her choices are never expected. She’s able to make everything incredibly honest, even when we give her the most outrageous things to do. And she finds ways to ground that.”

Helford recalls the episode from Season 1 of “The Conners” in which Jackie finally breaks down over her sister’s death. “[Metcalf] said to me, ‘I can’t do this in front of an audience. I can only do it once because I have to open up a vein.’ And that really struck me, because that’s the depth of where she goes as an actor. To give something real to the audience.”

Adds exec producer David Caplan: “When we wrote that scene, we thought, well, this is so complicated. … It was so multi-dimensional and so real and so stark, that it really just stopped everybody on the stage in their tracks.

And we all looked at each other and went, ‘Wow, we just watched something special.’”

Caplan lauds Metcalf for not only elevating the stage, but also lifting the writers’ room. “Knowing that she’s there, as writers, we can go to places that we wouldn’t ordinarily go. And we can take chances [knowing that] this is going to be fully realized on the stage.

“She’s so at the top of her craft, it seems like magic sometimes.” The kind of magic that makes you an all-time contender.

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