Emmy spotlight: Tony champ Nathan Lane shines in ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’

Like the real-life lawyer he portrays, F. Lee Bailey, Nathan Lane brings gravitas to “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” Bailey was a celebrated attorney who successfully defended Dr. Sam Sheppard (whose case was the basis of “The Fugitive”) and also represented Albert DeSalvo (the “Boston Strangler”) and kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst.

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By the time we meet Bailey on this new FX limited series, he’s coasting on his legacy. Then when Robert Shapiro (John Travolta) brings him on board the Simpson defense team do we see his legal genius.

Lane portrays Bailey as a savviest strategist. He convinces Shapiro to hire Alan Dershowitz (Evan Handler), helps acquire the explosive Mark Fuhrman (Steven Pasquale) tapes and assists Johnnie Cochran (Courtney B. Vance) in his quest to take over as lead attorney.

Lane particularly shines in the sixth episode, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” as he reveals to Cochran his plan to destroy Fuhrman, the lead detective on the case. He is going to ask him about his past use of the “N-word.” When the time comes to cross-examine Fuhrman, Bailey seems like he’s drunk and doesn’t know what he’s doing. After taking a moment to compose himself, he goes right for the jugular in demanding to know if Fuhrman ever used the racial epithet. Lane says the word several times, as Bailey did in court. Each utterance cracks like a bullet wound to Fuhrman. Those proved key to Simpson’s eventual acquittal.

Will Lane garner a Movie/Mini Supporting Actor nomination at the Emmys? Lets review the pros and cons of this veteran breaking into this crowded field. 

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Lane gets to show off his dramatic chops which makes his performance stand out even more as he’s mainly thought of for his musical and comedic acting skills.

Lane is no stranger to awards. He’s been nominated for six Emmys: five times for Comedy Guest Actor (“Frasier” in 1995, “Mad About You” in 1998 and “Modern Family” in 2011, 2013 and 2014) and once for Drama Guest Actor (“The Good Wife” in 2013). He’s won two Daytime Emmys for Animated Program Performer (“Timon & Pumbaa” in 1996 and “Teacher’s Pet” in 2001) and two Tony Awards for Musical Actor (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in 1996 and “The Producers” in 2001).

Several of those six Emmy nominations have been for roles with much less screen time, a testament to how much the actors branch of the TV academy adores him. 

This is one of the most competitive categories at this year’s Emmys. Lane’s rivals include four of his co-stars — Sterling K. Brown, Christian ClemensonDavid Schwimmer and John Travolta — as well as four of the fellows from “Fargo” ( Jeffrey Donovan, Nick OffermanJesse Plemons, Bokeem Woodbine) and featured players on two high-profile HBO telefilms – “All the Way” (Anthony Mackie, Bradley Whitford) and “Confirmation” (Wendell Pierce).

Lane’s best episode is also a showcase for Sarah Paulson‘s performance as prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark. It’s quite possible that voters will overlook his standout moments.

His is not always the showiest and bombastic performance and in a field this crowded, that could hurt him.

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Photo: FX

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