On June 19, the Broadcast Television Journalists Assn. gave its Critics’ Choice Award for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress to newcomer Allison Tolman (“Fargo“) over Oscar-winning superstar Julia Roberts (“The Normal Heart“). But can Tolman repeat at the Emmys, where name-recognition often makes the difference?
When it comes to the acting categories for comedy and drama series, having a famous name can get you a nomination but not the win. Roberts learned this lesson when she was up for Best Drama Guest Actress in 1999 for “Law & Order.” She was the biggest star in that contest, but it was stage veteran Debra Monk who prevailed for a recurring role on “NYPD Blue.”
Among the other lesser known actors to have pulled off upsets over the years: pre-“Lost” Michael Emerson (2001 Drama Guest Actor, “The Practice”), Christian Clemenson (2006 Drama Guest Actor, “Boston Legal”), and Zeljko Ivanek (2008 Drama Supporting Actor, “Damages“).
Why did they win over much bigger names? Series races are decided by judging panels that view sample episodes; these level the playing field.
However, the panels that decide the movie/miniseries categories are supposed to watch the whole nominated performance, whether it’s a 90-minute movie or a nine-hour miniseries – so we often see big stars stomp on their less recognizable rivals.
That is what happened to “American Horror Story: Asylum” star Sarah Paulson last year: like Tolman, she had won Movie/Mini Supporting Actress at Critics’ Choice, but the TV academy went with Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn (“Political Animals“) instead. Heck, Burstyn is so beloved in the industry that in 2006 she infamously earned an Emmy nomination for her 15-second appearance in the telefilm “Mrs. Harris,” prompting a rule change that requires a minimum amount of screentime for eligible performances.
But it’s not hopeless for Tolman; after all, “Fargo” is the odds-on favorite to win Best Miniseries, and history has shown that if a project is popular enough with the academy overall, it can carry its actors to victory regardless of their previous industry stature.
In 2001, 24-year-old Tammy Blanchard swooped in and won Movie/Mini Supporting Actress as young Judy Garland in “Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows,” over stars Anne Bancroft (“Haven”), Brenda Blethyn (“Anne Frank”), Holly Hunter (“Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her”), and Audra McDonald (“Wit”).
In 2004, Emmy juggernaut “Angels in America” swept the acting prizes, including Movie/Mini Supporting Actress for Mary-Louise Parker, who was up against the likes of Julie Andrews (“Eloise at Christmastime”), Angelica Huston (“Iron Jawed Angels”), and Angela Lansbury (“The Blackwater Lightship”).
And in 2006, a relatively unknown Kelly Macdonald won the same category for “The Girl in the Cafe,” which ended up winning Best TV Movie. She was up against Oscar-champs Burstyn, Cloris Leachman (also for “Mrs. Harris”), and Shirley Jones (“Hidden Places”), as well as Emmy-magnet Alfre Woodard (“The Water is Wide”).
So Tolman should take heart; she could pull off an Emmy upset too. But it won’t be easy. In addition to Roberts, whose “Normal Heart” might be just as popular as “Fargo” with the TV academy, Tolman could find herself against a field full of veteran stars drawn from: Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett (“American Horror Story: Coven“), Kathy Baker (“Return to Zero“), Jacqueline Bisset (“Dancing on the Edge“), Janet McTeer (“The White Queen“), Audra McDonald (“The Sound of Music“) and yes, Ellen Burstyn yet again (“Flowers in the Attic“).
Currrently, Roberts leads our overall predictions with 10/3 odds, followed by Bates with 4/1 odds, and a surging Tolman a close third with 11/2 odds.
Do you think Tolman will turn her breakthrough role into Emmy gold? Make your predictions below, and discuss this heated contest in our forums.