Emmys inside track: Who’ll win Best Guest Drama Actor?

Guest acting contenders at the Emmys are usually either big-name celebrities, character actors in memorable one-off roles, or beloved actors playing familiar recurring characters who are not billed as regular cast members.

This year, all six actors nominated for Best Drama Guest Actor are of the recurring variety, and two of this year’s crop return to the lineup after multiple nominations for the same roles.

Emmy veteran Michael J. Fox earns his third consecutive Emmy bid for playing slimy lawyer Louis Canning on “The Good Wife.” He has not won yet for this character, but does have five Emmy wins out of 16 career nominations to date, including in this category in 2009 for his role on “Rescue Me.”

In “Boom De Ya Dah,” Fox’s character goes head to head with leading lady Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), stonewalling her efforts to cross-examine his client in a multi-million dollar negligence suit. Fox seems at ease with this character after three seasons, and to his credit has turned a guy who was originally introduced as a semi-villainous foil for the Lockhart Gardner team into a more complex character with his own motivations for wanting to defeat his opponents.

It certainly bodes well for Fox that he has managed to stake a claim for himself in this category three years in a row, and a sixth win is a real possibility. We all know how much Emmy loves lawyers, especially in the Drama Guest Actor race, where four winners in the last 10 years could be found in TV courtrooms (William Shatner for “The Practice” in 2004, Christian Clemenson for “Boston Legal” in 2006, John Goodman for “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” in 2007 and Paul McCrane for “Harry’s Law” in 2010).

Nathan Lane is also nominated for “The Good Wife” this year, and it seems that voters were so impressed with Lane that they also nodded him as a comedy guest star on “Modern Family,” which brings his career total to five Emmy nominations, with no wins to date. Lane is introduced in the fourth season opener, “I Fought the Law,” as the diminutive Clarke Hayden, the court-appointed trustee tasked with slashing the law firm’s budget in the wake of their impending bankruptcy. Lane brings a more nuanced take to a character that could have been a standard season-long threat to the firm. However, Lane has somewhat less screentime in his episode than Fox has in “Boom De Ya Dah,” which may affect his chances with voters watching the reels submitted for consideration.

This year, both Fox and Lane could be strong contenders, since no clear frontrunner seems to have emerged. They might also capitalize on the strong showing that “Good Wife” actors have made at the Emmys over the last four years, during which time actors including Dylan Baker (nominated in 2010 and 2012), Alan Cumming (nominated in 2010), and Martha Plimpton (a winner in 2012) have contributed to the show’s impressive total of nine nominations and one win in the guest acting categories.

Like Fox, Robert Morse is a returning nominee, garnering his fourth Emmy nomination in this race for playing Bertram Cooper on “Mad Men.” Morse has a career total of six nominations with one win so far, and this year he has submitted “For Immediate Release,” in which Sterling Cooper, the advertising firm of which his character is a senior partner, is in the running to score a major new client. Usually, Morse’s character is known to pop in and out of episodes each season, delivering a stinging one-liner here and there. This year is no different, as Morse has just a few minutes to make an impact.

Although Morse has yet to win for playing Bertram Cooper, that he continues to feature in the category with limited material suggests that there is some real affection for him amongst Emmy’s rank and file. However, whether he can win is hard to say, given that over the last 10 years winners in this category have typically had showier roles with episodes that spotlight their performances more prominently (such as John Lithgow in “Dexter,” McCrane in “Harry’s Law,” and Glynn Turman in “In Treatment.”

Joining those three Emmy stalwarts are three relative Emmy newcomers.

After years of missing out on nominations for his work on Emmy fave “L.A. Law”, Harry Hamlin finally earned his first career Emmy nod as Jim Cutler on “Mad Men.” Like his co-star Morse, Hamlin does not have a major role on the show, but still managed to leave a lasting impression by season’s end. In his submitted episode, “A Tale of Two Cities,” Hamlin’s character gets some great lines around the boardroom table and with up and comer Bob Benson (James Wolk).

Emmy voters might be inclined to throw some votes Hamlin’s way to atone for their years of neglect when he was a primetime TV mainstay. Voters have done that in the past in this category, honoring an actor who was never recognised for a previous, better-known role. For example, last year’s winner, Jeremy Davies, was never nominated for “Lost” but won for his smaller role on “Justified,” and McCrane was never nominated for his long-running supporting work on “ER” but won in 2011 for “Harry’s Law.”

Dan Bucatinsky, a previous two-time Emmy nominee as a producer (for the Showtime broadband series “Web Therapy” and the NBC reality series “Who Do You Think You Are?”) is recognized for the first time as an actor, for his role on ABC’s sudsy melodrama “Scandal.”

Bucatinsky plays James Novak, the journalist husband of the White House Chief of Staff (Jeff Perry), and in the episode “Nobody Likes Babies,” he is caught between his allegiance to his spouse and the threat of incarceration if he lies at a Grand Jury hearing. His scenes with Perry especially show his difficult situation and his character’s internal struggle. Towards the front end of the episode, he is showcased in a long, uninterrupted two-man scene with his on-screen spouse where they play out an emotional confrontation about their next course of action. And they do so in the nude!

With significant screen time and impact in his favor, Bucatinsky’s main obstacle to possible Emmy glory may be that “Scandal” was largely ignored by Emmy voters in other categories, except Kerry Washington‘s bid for Best Drama Actress, and that lack of overall love for the show may hurt him when voters with little knowledge of or affection for the show fill out their ballots. Still, based on episode alone, Bucatinsky does enough to suggest that he is near the front of this pack.

English actor Rupert Friend, the lone non-American in the mix, picked up his first ever Emmy nomination for playing shadowy CIA operative and part-time assassin Peter Quinn on “Homeland.” Friend also appears in much of his episode (“Q&A”), in which his character interrogates congressman Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), held for questioning over damning evidence that he is indeed a terrorist. In one of the highlights of the sophomore season of “Homeland,” Quinn brutally stabs the congressman in the hand in an attempt to rattle a confession out of him. It proves to be a change of pace from his ordinarily understated and mysterious demeanor.

Friend is fortunate to have enough screen time and impact in his episode to potentially give him the edge for a win off his first nomination. Emmy voters obviously adore the show, showering it with even more nominations for its second season, particularly for its actors. In a category without an obvious frontrunner, Friend stands a very good chance of adding to the impressive tally of Emmy wins that “Homeland” has already amassed and may add to this year.

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