The Best Drama Actor category at the Emmys has gone to many deserving men since 2010. After a decade of multiple victories for actors like James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), James Spader (“The Practice”/”Boston Legal”) and Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), the 2010s have thus far featured refreshing turnover, with only one repeat win in eight years. The decade began with Cranston accepting his third consecutive trophy for playing Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” That streak was broken when Kyle Chandler picked up his Emmy for playing Coach Eric Taylor in the final season of “Friday Night Lights.”
“Homeland” fever struck in 2012 as Damian Lewis won his Emmy for playing corrupt soldier Nicholas Brody on the Showtime drama. 2013 was a shocking year with buzz split between Lewis and splashy newcomer Kevin Spacey for the first season of “House of Cards.” The award went to neither — instead, Jeff Daniels surprised for his role as Will McAvoy in “The Newsroom.” 2014 was another competitive year, with Cranston taking on the men of “True Detective,” but Cranston pulled off one last victory for his iconic performance. After seven years of being the bridesmaid, Jon Hamm finally won in 2015 for his equally iconic role as Don Draper in “Mad Men.” In 2016, Rami Malek won for playing troubled hacker Elliot Anderson in “Mr. Robot.” Sterling K. Brown then prevailed this year for his emotional performance as Randall Pearson in “This Is Us.”
It is hard to argue with the strength of these seven actors, but which do you consider the best of the decade? Vote in our poll below, but first let’s dive deeper into each winning performance.
Bryan Cranston – “Breaking Bad” (2008-2010, 2014)
Few actors get a dream role like Walter White, and even fewer could have played the chemistry teacher turned meth mogul quite like Cranston. The Emmys took to his performance from the beginning, awarding him in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for the show’s first three seasons. He was nominated for each season subsequently but wasn’t rewarded again until the final season. Cranston’s performance largely speaks for itself, having crafted one of the most unique characters let alone antiheroes in television history.
Kyle Chandler – “Friday Night Lights” (2011)
Emmy voters finally woke up to the virtues of Chandler’s talents on “Friday Night Lights” in Season 4. Voters nominated Chandler for playing the tough yet lovable football coach Eric Taylor for the final two seasons of the show, giving him the win for Season 5. Chandler’s victory may have been slightly surprising considering he doesn’t give the most explosive performance, but “FNL” fans were elated to see recognition for the criminally under-appreciated show.
Damian Lewis – “Homeland” (2012)
Lewis’ victory in 2012 was part of “Homeland’s” big sweep, also picking up wins for Best Drama Series and Best Drama Actress for Claire Danes. Lewis’ performance as a conflicted soldier thought to be turned by al-Qaeda was a complicated one, having to portray a family man forever changed by the ravages of war. He earned another nomination for Season 2 but did not repeat his success.
Jeff Daniels – “The Newsroom” (2013)
Daniels proved the power of a well-delivered speech, with his epic opening about America on “The Newsroom” likely sealing up his Emmy win. Playing stubborn newscaster Will McAvoy in the series, Daniels was perfectly at home with creator Aaron Sorkin’s trademark whip-smart dialogue and helped create one of the more memorable characters in Sorkin’s repertoire. The actor was nominated for Seasons 2 and 3 as well.
Jon Hamm – “Mad Men” (2015)
Hamm’s ultimate victory is a prime example of how there’s always hope, even if you lose year after year. The actor, who played sleazy ad exec Don Draper, was nominated every single season of “Mad Men” from 2008 all the way through 2015 without a win, but the overdue buzz proved to do the trick as he finally won for the show’s last season. The acting on “Mad Men” was always more subtle, hence Hamm being the show’s only win for acting, but Hamm always portrayed Don as a tortured soul doomed to repeat the past, a perfect bookend with Cranston on the mantle of antiheroes of TV’s Golden Age.
Rami Malek – “Mr. Robot” (2016)
Malek’s performance as Elliot, a paranoid hacker responsible for an epic cyberattack, is a wholly unique one in the annals of TV and Emmy history. It’s a character that really wouldn’t have existed a decade or so prior, from a young star of Egyptian descent. While not as known as other nominees he was competing against, the new popular vote system likely helped Malek win out of pure passion, as opposed to the previous system of ranking all the nominees. The actor became the first Egyptian-American to win an acting award. He was dropped from the category in 2017, a year after winning.
Sterling K. Brown – “This Is Us” (2017)
The newest Drama Actor champ is Brown, playing loving father Randall in “This Is Us.” The actor had just won his first Emmy the previous year for playing Christopher Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” and his triumph for “This Is Us,” also overcoming potential vote-splitting with co-star Milo Ventimiglia, proved how much Hollywood has fallen in love with him. Brown’s victory also gave network TV a rare win in this category since the boom of cable and streaming. He became the first black actor to win this category since Andre Braugher in 1998.
Jump into the Golden Globes predictions center and let us know your choices today. You’ll be competing against thousands of others, including top TV experts who cover the television industry throughout the year plus our own Gold Derby editors. Hollywood insiders are desperate to see how their shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on December 11. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Golden Globes taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.