TV Latecomers to Season Still Have a Shot at SAG Awards

Rob Owen
Variety

TV series are premiering with such frequency nowadays that there’s a whole raft of shows that debuted after the Emmy eligibility period that could prove to be disruptors in the upcoming SAG Awards. With May 31 being the cut-off for Emmy Awards, that left months of new shows that could still make the SAG Awards’ Oct. 24 deadline.

HBO’s “The Night Of,” “Insecure,” “Westworld,” and “Divorce”; FX’s “Atlanta” and “Better Things”; Netflix’s “The Crown” and “Stranger Things”; plus NBC’s “This Is Us” could all be in the running for SAG Awards.

“I hope we shake shit up as much as possible because that means people are paying attention,” says “Atlanta” actor Brian Tyree Henry, who plays Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles on the comedy. He says award nominations would be icing on the cake of his “Atlanta” experience. “I don’t say I’m going to work, I say I’m going to play with my friends. It’s like an evening at Chuck E Cheese as an adult.”

Henry says he was drawn to “Atlanta” for many reasons, including recognizing others in his character. “Everyone has an Alfred somewhere, right? I wanted to make sure I portrayed that as close as I could,” he says, never referring to the character by his rapper name, Paper Boi. “Paper Boi is the public persona. I feel like Alfred doesn’t want to get those two confused.”

John Turturro says viewer reaction to “The Night Of” included people asking him about his character, John Stone, and Stone’s eczema, or what would happen to Stone’s cat, as much as fans inquired about the whodunit aspects of the series.

“I think one of the interesting things about the writing is that you see someone who has all the potential to be a great lawyer but he doesn’t have the constitution or the stomach to carry a man’s life in his hands before a jury,” Turturro says.

“Westworld” star Evan Rachel Wood says she signed onto the HBO drama knowing her character, wholesome prairie girl robot “host” Dolores, would have an arc but she didn’t know specifics until each episode’s script arrived.

“I don’t think I realized how meta and intellectual the show was, while also being a thriller and a drama,” she says. “I don’t think I realized the weight my character held and what she means for women and our roles in the world.”

Matthew Modine says there wasn’t one scene that was more difficult than others when playing the heavy, Dr. Martin Brenner, in Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”

“Those who’ve seen the show know how specific Dr. Martin Brenner is,” Modine says. “There could be no wasted gestures. No random movements. Breathing and blinking were all conscious acts.”

Regarding the potential for “Stranger Things” to disrupt the SAG Awards, Modine says he wishes all actors well as awards season warms up.
“Those of us who do it know that every show, play, or film requires an ensemble. No actor acts alone,” he says. “I wish the highest-earning actors were more conscious of this and helped to make the lives of the least-earning actors more manageable. That was the spirit and foundation of why the Screen Actors Guild was founded.”

For Pamela Adlon, creator and star of “Better Things,” this latest role proved particularly difficult because it’s based, loosely, on her own life.
“It was almost harder to create this character because she is so based on me, but it’s not me,” she says. “How do I make a person and create a life and story for them and find her voice? The daughters are based on my girls and the mother on my mother and the friends on my friends, but they’re all quite different. And when I hired the actors, they were fleshing them out in ways that made me go, ‘Oh my god, I have to write to this strength of this person.’”

Adlon says she tries not to consider awards when in the throes of working. “I think that would be poison for anybody to think about doing their work to get an award at the end,” she says. “What am I, in an ice skating competition where everybody gets an award for stepping on the ice and running away like when you’re a kid? That would be way too greedy and it would fuck with my head if I thought it even for a heartbeat.”

But she won’t turn any awards down. “I would like any kind of recognition,” Adlon says. “I owe it to all the people who are in my employ now and my wonderful network how they went so far out on a limb for me. The reward for me is the response we are getting. It’s everything.”
Turturro says he hopes “The Night Of,” which ended its run in August, will be remembered come awards time.

“It’s certainly in the zeitgeist and people are all talking about it,” he says. “It would be great if people keep discovering it. … We are really appreciative of how well the show is doing with people, to the deep response we get to the series, and I think this is the most meaningful thing. Anything else that comes after is the cherry on top of the cake, but we’ll take that, too!”

Wood says she’s hopeful about the potential for “Westworld” to score nominations in the SAG Awards.

“I think the SAG Awards, in general, always hold a special place in every actor’s heart because it’s your peers, actors paying tribute to other actors,” she says. “For me, that’s always been something special about them and makes them stand out from other awards shows.”
Ensemble acting awards, which are unique to the SAGs among the largest American awards shows, serve a special purpose, Modine says, as he witnessed after making Robert Altman’s 1993 “Short Cuts.”

“ ‘Short Cuts’ received a best ensemble award from the Venice Film Festival and a [special] Golden Globe. These awards were very important for Altman because ensemble acting was the nature of most of his films,” Modine says. “I think the Duffer brothers would be very honored that they, like Altman, were recognized for putting a terrific group of actors together to tell their tale.”

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