Do this year’s Emmy nominees have their speeches prepared? I’m not just talking about the ones they’ll deliver when accepting their awards in August. If they hope to prevail, they would be well advised to have speeches ready in the sample episodes they submit to Emmy judges: preferably lengthy monologues delivered with scorched-earth passion about grave injustices.
If there was a lesson to be learned from last year’s numerous Emmy upsets, it might have been that we shouldn’t underestimate the Big Speech. That’s probably how Jeff Daniels pulled off his surprise Best Drama Actor win for “The Newsroom.” His character is prickly and dismissive of his coworkers, but in the pilot episode, which he submitted to Emmy judges, he opened with a long, fiery monologue about the decline of American society.
Bobby Cannavale also took us by surprise. He won Best Drama Supporting Actor for “Boardwalk Empire” even though he only had a couple of scenes in his episode submission, “Sunday Best.” But one of those scenes showed him in a church on Easter Sunday, screaming at God before robbing the place.
David E. Kelley is the undisputed king of Emmy speeches. His shows won Emmys for 38 actors, and it’s no wonder: he wrote legal dramas full of closing-argument oratories about truth and justice. That’s probably how James Spader kept winning Best Drama Actor over the likes of James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”) and Hugh Laurie (“House“), first for “The Practice” (2004), then for “Boston Legal” (2005, 2007).
The Speech Factor was probably also responsible for one of the most shocking upsets of the last 15 years: Allison Janney‘s Best Drama Actress win for the “West Wing” episode “The Women of Qumar.” She had precious little screentime, but she did get a furious outburst denouncing the treatment of women in the Middle East.
Then again, even a great speech isn’t foolproof. Just ask Martin Sheen, who screamed at God – in Latin! – in the “West Wing” episode “Two Cathedrals” after the death of his beloved secretary Mrs. Landingham. He still couldn’t win Best Drama Actor. Voters picked “Sopranos” star Gandolfini for “Amour Fou”; maybe they weren’t fans of dead languages.
So which actors could benefit from the Speech Factor this year?
Start with almost the entire cast of “The Normal Heart,” HBO’s searing adaptation of Larry Kramer‘s play about the AIDS crisis. Movie/Mini Actor nominee Mark Ruffalo‘s performance comprises a string of indignant speeches against the political establishment. Movie/Mini Supporting Actress contender Julia Roberts rails against the bureaucrats who reject her request for funding. Two of its four Movie/Mini Supporting Actor nominees deliver speeches: Jim Parsons gives a despairing eulogy newly written for the film, and Joe Mantello‘s role hinges on a lengthy emotional breakdown where he admits to thoughts of suicide.
A speech about lost love helped Peter Dinklage win Drama Supporting Actor for the “Game of Thrones” episode “Baelor” in 2011, and he’s got another speech this year in “The Laws of God and Man.” This time, he’s on trial for regicide and shouting down the hypocrites of King’s Landing, who have turned their backs on him after he saved their lives. If David E. Kelley wrote epic fantasy, it might have sounded something like that.
Drama Actor contender Matthew McConaughey submitted the “True Detective” season finale, “Form and Void,” which ends with his contemplative speech about a near-death experience, during which he finally saw the light.
What other actors have showstopping speeches this year that we should take seriously when making our predictions? Our posters are discussing this year’s formidable orators right now in our forums.