After this year’s one last hurrah, say goodbye to the longform supporting actor categories at the Emmys. The Board of Governors of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voted to do away with the categories and “merge” them with the lead actor and actress contests in a bid to reduce some of the primetime categories and save time on the telecast. So, for the last time, here is a rundown of the chances for this year’s nominees:
TOM BERENGER (Hatfields & McCoys, History)
Emmy Pedigree: Chicago-born Tom Berenger’s credits go back to the mid-’70s–dozens of TV shows and movies (from Platoon to Inception)–but he’s received just one previous Emmy nomination for a guest-starring role on Cheers in 1993.
What We Say: As Devil Anse Hatfield’s Uncle Jim Vance, Berenger is almost unrecognizable in his gruff get-up and is authentic throughout. However, the role doesn’t stand out as much of some of the others in this category so he’s only got a small chance to actually win over flashier competing roles in the category.
MARTIN FREEMAN (Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia, PBS)
Emmy Pedigree: It’s the first Emmy nomination for British-born Freeman, but the role is iconic. Freeman plays Dr. Watson, friend and assistant to super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes.
What We Say: Already the winner of a 2011 BAFTA TV award for the same role, Martin Freeman has a field day playing one of literature’s most delicious roles. He could be a sleeper here and a possible upset winner if the frontrunners collide.
ED HARRIS (Game Change, HBO)
Emmy Pedigree: This is Harris’ second Emmy nomination in a long and highly praised acting career concentrated mainly in feature films. His previous Emmy nomination was also in the movie/mini category and it was also for a production on HBO–2005’s Empire Falls.
What We Say: He nails not only the look and body language of John McCain here, he also is highly convincing with the voice, and that’s a tough thing when you are playing someone so famous and recognizable. Because awards voters can’t resist this kind of smart impersonation, Harris is the frontrunner here.
Related: EMMYS: Jay Roach On ‘Game Change’
DENIS O’HARE (American Horror Story, FX)
Emmy Pedigree: This is the first Emmy nomination for O’Hare, who plays the juicy role of Larry Harvey, another unhinged resident of the American Horror Story neighborhood.
What We Say: Larry is one of the most manipulative and fascinating characters on television this season, a guy who knows how to get what he wants. Just for the look O’Hare creates he would merit Emmy attention–he is a real contender to take it all.
DAVID STRATHAIRN (Hemingway & Gellhorn, HBO)
Emmy Pedigree: David Strathairn is now two for two, earning his second Emmy nomination for an HBO movie. His first was also a supporting actor nom, for the 2010 HBO movie Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes. Strathairn won that year, for playing the mentor who encouraged the autistic title character to pursue an education and a career in science.
What We Say: As John Dos Passos, the American writer and confidante of Ernest Hemingway, Strathairn delivers his customary all-pro performance but is overshadowed by the two stars, Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman. His role, while effective, doesn’t really have those key scenes necessary to make Emmy voters stand up and take notice beyond this well-deserved nomination. A real dark horse.
FRANCES CONROY (American Horror Story, FX)
Emmy Pedigree: She’s best known as the matriarch of a funeral-home family–the Fishers of Six Feet Under– earning four Emmy nominations for the role of Ruth, though she never won for that HBO series.
What We Say: Conroy plays ghostly maid Moira O’Hara of the creepy manor in the FX horror miniseries. But the un-nominated Alexandra Breckinridge also plays the same role as the younger, sexier Moira. Both actresses pull this sight gag off with surprising depth, but it is the veteran Conroy who nabbed Emmy’s attention. Because the role is split and because she is opposite another high-profile cast member, Jessica Lange, her chances of pulling off an Emmy upset are fairly slim.
JUDY DAVIS (Page Eight, Masterpiece Contemporary, PBS)
Emmy Pedigree: Davis been nominated for 11 Emmys and has won three. Her wins were for Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, The Starter Wife, and NBC’s Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story.
What We Say: It seems voters see Davis’ name on the ballot and just check it off. Davis, like Mare Winningham, has strong credentials and clear love from the TV Academy. However her turn in David Hare’s British spy thriller, Page Eight, is not as splashy as her previous winning roles and might be too limiting to bring her back into the winners’ circle this year. A long shot.
JESSICA LANGE (American Horror Story, FX)
Emmy Pedigree: Known for most of her career as an A-list movie star, Lange has been nominated for Emmys four times, starting in 1996 with a lead-actress nom for playing Blanche DuBois in a CBS production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Her second nomination came in 2003 for playing the role of a wife whose husband undergoes a sex-change operation in the HBO movie Normal. She finally won her first Emmy on her third try–for another HBO movie in 2009, Grey Gardens.
What We Say: Lange makes the most of another scenery chewing role in the FX horror miniseries. As a bigger-than-life woman filled with regrets about the life she never got to lead, Lange brings a certain Southern gothic tone to the role that makes it sing. She’s the frontrunner in the category just because, well, she’s Jessica Lange, and that will be irresistible to Emmy voters this time around.
SARAH PAULSON (Game Change, HBO)
Emmy Pedigree: At 36, she’s the youngest of the movie/mini supporting actress nominees, but she’s a TV veteran who’s been on the small screen for two decades. Nevertheless, this is her first Emmy nom.
What We Say: As the Republican political operative Nicolle Wallace in Game Change, Paulson got to go toe-to-toe with Julianne Moore’s Sarah Palin and held her own. Paulson is very credible in the few scenes she is in, but the part might not be big enough to overcome Jessica Lange’s dominance in the category.
MARE WINNINGHAM (Hatfields & McCoys, History)
Emmy Pedigree: Winningham won her first Emmy 32 years ago when she was 21–a supporting actress award for a TV movie called Amber Waves. That nomination in 1980 was the first of seven for Winningham, who won her second Emmy in 1998–for supporting actress for the role of Lurleen Wallace, wife of Alabama Gov. George Wallace (played by Gary Sinise) in a TNT movie titled George Wallace. And she was nominated just last year in the supporting actress category for the role of Ida in HBO’s Mildred Pierce.
What We Say: As one of a handful of female characters in a miniseries dominated by the men, Winningham shined as the tragic and long-suffering matriarch of the McCoy clan. It’s a rich role even if it doesn’t involve a lot of the histrionics that the boys get. Emmy voters love her, so don’t discount her chances as a dark-horse victor.
Adam Buckman contributed to this analysis.