Uh oh, ‘Downton Abbey’ cast: Foreigners don’t fare well at Emmys

If you want to win an Emmy for acting and you’re not American then you better be in a TV movie or miniseries or guesting on a regular series. Performers from other countries have a terrible track record when it comes to claiming Emmys in the regular drama or comedy categories.


British born Angela Lansbury lost Drama Actress for 12 years running for “Murder She Wrote.” More recently Australia’s Rachel Griffiths and Anthony LaPaglia, Ireland’s Gabriel Byrne, Englishmen Hugh Laurie and Ian McShane and New Zealander Anna Paquin have all been snubbed.

This year, nine Brits are contending in the drama races. Six are from “Downton Abbey”: leads Hugh Bonneville and Michelle Dockery as well as supporting players Jim Carter, Brendan Coyle, Joanne Froggatt and Maggie Smith. (Smith won over in movie/miniseries last year where foreign talent does much better.)

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Damian Lewis (“Homeland”) is up for Drama Actor while Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) contends in supporting. Archie Panjabi won Drama Supporting Actress two years ago for “The Good Wife” and contends again. She was the first foreigner to win this category as we currently know it. 

Only six other non-Americans have won for performances in regularly scheduled drama series. Two Canadians won Drama Actor — Raymond Burr (“Perry Mason,” 1959, 1961) and Kiefer Sutherland (“24,” 2006). Briton Jean Marsh (“Upstairs Downstairs,” 1974) is the only foreign Drama Actress champ. 

Canadian William Shatner (“Boston Legal,” 2005) and Slovenian born Zeljko Ivanek (“Damages,” 2008), both won Supporting Actor while Jamaican Madge Sinclair (“Gabriel’s Fire,” 1991)  took Supporting Actress. 

Three non-Americans have won Comedy Actor: Canadians Michael J. Fox — who prevailed three times for “Family Ties” (1986-1988) and in 2000 for “Spin City” — and Eric McCormack (“Will & Grace,” 2002) and Brit Ricky Gervais (“Extras,” 2007).

Australian Toni Collette (“United States of Tara,” 2009) is the only foreigner to win Comedy Actress. German Werner Klemperer won Comedy Supporting Actor twice for “Hogan’s Heroes” (1968, 1969). For the third year in a row, Colombian Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”) is hoping to be the first foreign woman to win Comedy Supporting Actress. 

While the Emmy database lists other non-American winners, these were for roles in specials or mini series. Though included in the Best Drama Actress roster, both of Susan Hampshire‘s wins came for miniseries — “The Forsyte Saga” (1970) and “The First Churchills” (1971) — as did Glenda Jackson for “Elizabeth R” the following year.

Others wins were for single performances in anthology series: Ecuadorian Albert Paulsen prevailed for his featured role in “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” a 1964 episode of “Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre” while “Hallmark Hall of Fame” episodes were responsible for British actresses Pamela Brown (“Victoria Regina,” 1962), Margaret Leighton (“Hamlet,” 1971) and Jenny Agutter (“The Snow Goose,” 1972) claiming supporting trophies.


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