Clash of the Emmy titans: ‘Billions’ stars Paul Giamatti & Damian Lewis headed for Best Actor face-off

On the Showtime drama “Billions,” Paul Giamatti and Damian Lewis play bitter enemies locked in a high-stakes battle that’s both business and personal. Now, it appears the two Emmy Awards winners may end up as opponents in this year’s race for Best Drama Actor. Showtime is pushing both actors for that category — view the Emmy ballot by visiting our forums.

Giamatti has won critical praise for playing obsessive U.S. Attorney Chuck Rhoades in the first season of “Billions.” Hank Stuever (Washington Post) raves, “If he wasn’t already on your list of people you’d listen to read pages from the phone book, add Giamatti.” Lewis also has earned accolades for his equally significant role on “Billions.” He plays Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, the charming but devious hedge fund tycoon Rhoades is determined to lock up. Heather Havrilesky (New York Times) writes, “Mr. Lewis pulls ‘Billions’…  back from the brink of macho outlandishness with his natural gravitas.”

Discuss ‘Billions’ with fans in our notorious TV forums

The fireworks the two leads generated the few times they shared the screen this past season — most memorably in the season finale, “The Conversation”  — has critics itching for an Emmy face-off. Mary McNamara (Los Angeles Times) declares, “Lewis and Giamatti are two of the best actors working — no doubt they will soon be battling each other for an Emmy.”

Both Giamatti and Lewis are Emmy vets. Giamatti won Best Movie/Mini Actor in 2008 for playing the title role in HBO’s historical drama “John Adams.” He has three other nominations: Supporting Movie/Mini Actor for “Too Big to Fail” in 2011, Drama Guest Actor for “Downton Abbey” in 2014, and Comedy Guest Actor last year for his role on “Inside Amy Schumer.”

Lewis’ Emmy win was for his best-known role: Nicholas Brody on “Homeland.” He won Best Drama Actor in 2012 for “Homeland’s” first season and was nominated for the role again the following year. Like Giamatti, Lewis also was a nominee last year: Movie/Mini Supporting Actor for “Wolf Hall.”

Showtime at Emmy Awards: Biggest haul yet thanks to ‘Homeland,’ ‘Billions’ …

Two Emmy-winning co-stars from the same show facing off for Best Drama Actor certainly would be exciting. After all, it’s been 17 years since this category last had such a race.

“NYPD Blue” co-stars Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits were nominated opposite each other in 1999 for the fifth and final time. Smits, who was up for his heartbreaking final episode as Detective Bobby Simone, was a 1990 Drama Supporting Actor winner for “L.A. Law.” His co-star and awards competitor Franz had beaten Smits in two of their previous Emmy match-ups for his now-classic role as Detective Andy Sipowicz (Franz had scored an additional win for “NYPD Blue” before Smits joined the cast). That 1999 clash of the Emmy winners ended the usual way: with Franz defeating Smits for the third time. Thus, Smits ended his run on “NYPD Blue” Emmy-less.

So are Lewis and Giamatti headed for a similar clash of the Emmy winners? Most of Gold Derby experts, 16 out of 20, expect someone from “Billions” will be nominated for Best Drama Actor. But only two — Anne Thompson (Indiewire) and Adnan Virk (ESPN) — think the TV academy will nominate both Lewis and Giamatti.

Eleven of our experts give the edge to Giamatti by saying he’ll be the only “Billions” lead actor nomination: Debra Birnbaum (Variety), Eric Deggans (NPR), Joyce Eng (TV Guide), Matthew Jacobs (HuffPo), Don Kaplan (NY Daily News), Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair), Tom O’Neil (Gold Derby), Robert Rorke (New York Post), Paul Sheehan (Gold Derby), Ken Tucker (Yahoo) and Glenn Whipp (LA Times).

Maggie Siff teases ‘Billions’ finale and dishes working with Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti (Video)

Meanwhile, three of Gold Derby’s experts — Robert Bianco (USA Today), Lynn Elber (Associated Press) and Matt Roush (TV Guide Magazine) — expect the show’s sole lead actor nominee will be Lewis.

Another “Billions” cast member is getting some serious Emmy buzz as well. Maggie Siff — who plays Wendy Rhoades, the wife of Giamatti’s character and the close friend/employee of Lewis’ character  — is a possible Best Supporting Actress contender. Many critics consider her “Billions'” secret weapon. Daniel Fienberg (Hollywood Reporter) writes, “Siff will walk into a room and, with just a look, take everyone’s measure — and find them all wanting. Hers is a riveting performance.”

Four of our experts — Birnbaum, Deggans, Rorke and Virk — expect Siff will get her first-ever Emmy nom for this show. If you saw her fiery performance in the season finale, in which Wendy finally tires of Rhoades’ and Axe’s mind games and leaves them both, you might agree. Indeed, it would be a twist worthy of “Billions” if it were Siff, instead of her veteran costars, who makes the big Emmy splash this year.

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