I have always appreciated the fact that the Emmy nominating ballot includes the head shots of actors submitted for consideration. And with the nomination of “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage, that appreciation was increased threefold. He is by no means a household name, but he is the kind of character actor who you would easily recognize even if you didn’t know his name. Whether he’s playing the short-tempered editorial guru opposite Will Ferrell (“Elf“), attending an old friend’s funeral (“Pete Smalls is Dead“), or bouncing around the room in a drug-fueled mania (“Death at a Funeral“), he has been turning in great work for years. So when I say that his performance as Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s hit series is arguably his best, that is certainly saying a lot. It is an example of the right role finding the right actor. It also, however, might have been the kind of performance that is loved by fans but ignored by voters. So one can imagine that, when he received a Best Supporting Drama Actor nomination last month, numerous online pundits were pleasantly surprised.
It is one thing to consider that this is Dinklage’s first nomination. It is another thing entirely when one realizes that, despite “Game of Thrones” receiving an unexpected thirteen nominations – which include bids for writing, directing, and Best Drama Series – Dinklage is the show’s only acting nomination. What is it about his performance that allows him to stand out? Why was he alone singled out from the 162 actors with speaking parts in the show’s first season? It could be that his character injects welcome humor into an otherwise very dark drama. It could also be that his performance brought to the role a magnetism that voters could not resist. Maybe it’s a little of both.
But no matter the reasoning behind Dinklage’s well-deserved Emmy nod, the toughest challenge is still ahead. Those who follow the Emmys here at Gold Derby know that while being nominated is itself a hurdle, one of the greatest challenges is choosing the right episode to submit to Emmy judges as an example of your work. Some actors are so mindful of this process that they’ve sometimes turned to Gold Derby for advice; Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon credited us with helping to select their winning episodes for the last season of “Sex and the City.” When forum members at Gold Derby discussed Dinklage’s potential submissions, two episodes received the most mentions: “A Golden Crown” and “Baelor.”
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“Baelor” was considered by many to be the strongest episode of “Game of Thrones” last season, and indeed Emmy voters seem to agree, nominated it for Best Drama Writing. It includes one of the most shocking episode endings in recent memory. But Dinklage’s screentime is limited. In fact, those who suggested “Baelor” as his tape could cite one scene, in which Tyrion claims to be able to determine a person’s life story simply by reading his face, only to find himself completely mistaken about the childhood of his latest paramour. The scene concludes with Dinklage recounting a story from his youth, when he fell madly in love with a woman, only to discover that she was a prostitute paid off by his father and brother. In a season chock full of exposition-laden monologues, it was one of the few with emotional resonance. It is the kind of sentimental speech that Emmy voters often love. Just ask James Spader, who won three Emmys for “The Practice” and “Boston Legal” because he always made sure to submit episodes in which his character, Alan Shore, gave inspiring closing arguments. But will Dinklage’s speech be nearly as effective to someone who hasn’t seen the entire season, as many Emmy judges might not have? “Baelor” is an episode large in scope, involving the entire sprawling mythology of the series. Since voters will be watching the entire episode and not simply Dinklage’s scenes, it may be unlikely that his monologue will stand out in their minds by episode’s end.
In contrast, “A Golden Crown” features some of Tyrion’s funniest moments. In the most entertaining scene, he confesses his sins while on trial for attempted murder, but instead of confessing to the crime he describes his most prurient and childish indiscretions. It is a bold performance by Dinklage, who commands the scene with comic aplomb while exhibiting near-suicidal arrogance. Though he is in dire straits at the start of the episode, he leaves a free man due to his cunning and quick wit. The strength of the episode is that his scenes would be accessible even to those unfamiliar with the series. Also, he has a good deal more screentime and spends most of it as the center of attention.
Last month, it was confirmed that Peter Dinklage chose “Baelor” as his submission to Emmy voters. It is a choice that I understand, even if I don’t necessarily agree. But the fact that he is the show’s sole acting nomination means voters are obviously paying him some level of attention. Perhaps fondness for the actor’s work throughout the season, as well as the considerable buzz surrounding both the performance and the series, will be enough to win over Emmy judges. Will his sentimental monologue sway voters more than his showmanship at trial would have? We’ll find out next month.