The Emmy winners for Best Miniseries/Movie Actor have been diverse and wide-ranging, from acting legends like Al Pacino and Michael Douglas to newer stars like Benedict Cumberbatch and Riz Ahmed. Many actors have won for playing real people, while others have brought characters to life from the world of fiction.
HBO has largely dominated this Emmy category, netting wins for Pacino in “You Don’t Know Jack,” Douglas in “Behind the Candelabra,” Richard Jenkins in “Olive Kitteridge,” and Ahmed in “The Night Of.” Then there’s Barry Pepper in “The Kennedys,” Kevin Costner in “Hatfields & McCoys,” and Courtney B. Vance in “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” all winning for playing characters from noteworthy points in American history. And finally, Cumberbatch won for “Sherlock’s” third season after earning multiple Emmy nominations as the title character.
So which Emmy winner is the best of the decade? Vote in our poll below after taking a look back on this recent group of winners.
Al Pacino — “You Don’t Know Jack” (2010)
Pacino has fallen into an interesting niche in his career, playing controversial larger-than-life figures in HBO productions. Playing “Dr. Death” Jack Kevorkian in “You Don’t Know Jack” was one of those figures, and he earned his second Emmy for it, having previously won for playing Roy Cohn in “Angels in America.” Pacino brings his usual gravitas and charisma to the role, with plenty of grandstanding monologues the actor has become known for.
Barry Pepper — “The Kennedys” (2011)
Pepper’s win for “The Kennedys” was a huge surprise at the time, considering the Reelz miniseries was mocked and maligned by critics. Regardless, the series did well at the Emmys, and Pepper’s performance as Bobby Kennedy overcame vote-splitting with Greg Kinnear as JFK in the same category. Pepper invested heavily in the role, sporting a prosthetic nose, dentures and blue contact lenses to transform into JFK’s charming brother.
Kevin Costner — “Hatfields & McCoys” (2012)
Costner also overcame vote-splitting when he beat his “Hatfields & McCoys” co-star and onscreen rival Bill Paxton. The actor prevailed for playing Hatfield patriarch Devil Anse in the History miniseries, a performance that required him to be both a heroic leader and an antihero doing some truly despicable things. This was Costner’s first major foray into television.
Michael Douglas — “Behind the Candelabra” (2013)
Douglas swept the awards circuit for his bravura performance as Liberace in “Behind the Candelabra,” winning the Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG Award and Critics’ Choice Award. Douglas excelled in portraying both the glitzy showbiz side of Liberace and the hidden desires and shame he felt behind closed doors. This also continued the trend of an actor prevailing over his co-star, defeating Matt Damon in the same category.
Benedict Cumberbatch — “Sherlock: His Last Vow” (2014)
Cumberbatch has racked up five nominations for playing Sherlock Holmes in PBS drama “Sherlock,” with its 90-minute episodes able to be submitted as TV movies. Cumberbatch took home the trophy for “His Last Vow,” the final episode of Season 3, beating the likes of buzzy newer contenders like Mark Ruffalo in “The Normal Heart” and Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton in “Fargo.” “His Last Vow” is some of Cumberbatch’s most impressive work to date, with Sherlock going against a powerful media mogul, getting shot, and resorting to violence himself.
Richard Jenkins — “Olive Kitteridge” (2015)
Jenkins’ Emmy victory was his first major award in his lengthy career. Winning for playing Henry, patient and kind husband to Olive (Frances McDormand), this performance is more subtle than most of the other winners here, though he inhabits the character like few others could. This was part of a big sweep for “Olive Kitteridge,” winning two other acting prizes, Directing, Writing and Best Limited Series.
Courtney B. Vance — “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (2016)
Much like Jenkins, Vance’s win was a culmination of the career of an under-appreciated actor. He won for playing one of the more polarizing figures in American history, defense lawyer Johnnie Cochran in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Vance portrays all of the fury and passion we saw from Cochran during the real O.J. Simpson trial, as well as his calculating side. Vance too was part of a big sweep, with “People v. O.J.” taking home awards for Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Writing, and Best Limited Series.
Riz Ahmed — “The Night Of” (2017)
Ahmed became the first South Asian male actor to win an acting award at the Emmys this year. In “The Night Of,” Ahmed plays Nazir Khan, a young Muslim man accused of murder who deals with prejudice and the criminal justice system. At 34, Ahmed also became one of the youngest Emmy winners in this category, and continuing with the theme of vote-splitting, he won over his co-star in this category, John Turturro.
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