Will Billy Bob Thornton (‘Goliath’) be 31st performer to win Emmy for a David E. Kelley series?

If Billy Bob Thornton wins an Emmy Award for Amazon’s legal drama “Goliath,” he will be the 31st performer to claim victory for a David E. Kelley-produced series. In other words, having Kelley’s magic touch behind an actor’s performance could be the quickest way to snagging that coveted trophy. Thornton has already prevailed at the Golden Globes for his role as Billy McBride, a disgraced attorney who seeks redemption in a wrongful death case against his former partner Donald Cooperman (William Hurt). Might an Emmy be next for Thornton?

To date, 30 actors — ranging from Hollywood legends like Charles S. Dutton and Alfre Woodard to veteran character actors like Michael Emerson and Paul McCrane — have won a combined 38 Emmys for their work on TV series produced and/or written by Kelley. While Thornton is the most likely nominee for “Goliath,” Kelley’s “Big Little Lies” could also earn multiple acting nominations this year for HBO.

Thornton is no stranger to awards shows, winning an Oscar for adapting the “Sling Blade” (1996) screenplay and earning an Emmy nomination for Best Movie/Mini Actor for the first season of FX’s “Fargo” (2014). But “Goliath” is Thornton’s first regular gig since the sitcom “Hearts Afire” (1992-1995), so a nomination for playing McBride would be the TV academy’s way of welcoming him back to the small screen.

“Anytime you win an award for a movie or a show, it gives it more visibility. It’s a very good thing,” Thornton told Gold Derby’s Zach Laws in our one-on-one interview last week. In Thornton’s favor is the fact that his character goes through a notable journey of self-discovery in the eight-episode Amazon drama, with emotional lows and triumphant highs. It’s the kind of role that evokes immense empathy from viewers, and that’s a key factor in how to prevail at the Emmy Awards.

Should Thornton earn a Best Drama Actor Emmy nomination he’ll have to choose a single episode to submit for awards consideration, and a good option might be the pilot, titled “Of Mice and Men.” Pilots are always great submissions for Emmy consideration as they don’t require the voters to have any prior knowledge of the stories and characters. In the episode, written by Kelley & Jonathan Shapiro and directed by Lawrence Trilling, McBride’s alcohol problem is a source of dramatic tension with his daughter and even leads to him fighting with a police officer. Talk about a juicy role!

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