Matthew Rhys joined his off-screen partner Keri Russell as first-time Emmy nominees last year for their critically acclaimed performances on “The Americans.” Rhys plays Phillip Jennings on the FX drama, who poses as a travel agent in the suburbs of Washington D.C. but is really a covert KGB spy along with his wife Elizabeth (Russell) in a 1980s America paralyzed by the Cold War. According to Gold Derby’s Emmy experts that are derived from major media outlets, Rhys is likely to be back for another nom, especially now that we know the TV academy is finally paying attention to the show. After last year’s breakthrough, the signs are looking good for Rhys to go one better and take home the trophy this year. Here are four reasons why Rhys could win.
1. Season 5 has been a showcase for Rhys
Unlike Russell’s character, whose quietly steely exterior belies a fiery internal resolve to serve her mission, Rhys’ Phillip tends to wear his heart on his sleeve. Their actions as spies often have consequences, many of which seem to weigh more heavily on Phillip. Espionage does not come as easy to Phillip as it seems to do for Elizabeth. In Episode 3 for example, he is forced to brutally break a lab technician’s back, as Phillip is led to believe that the technician is working to contaminate Russia’s agricultural food supplies. Later this season, after he learns that the technician was not working for nefarious reasons at all, a distressed Phillip is deeply troubled by what he has done. He is a spy with heart. He develops feelings for the innocent targets he lures into KGB-masterminded traps. He is tormented by his difficult past in Russia. and he often thinks about the long lost son that he left behind. This character is complicated, and Rhys brings so much subtlety and nuance to the role. Emmy voters watching the show will find this difficult to ignore.
2. Россия (Russia) is “yuge” right now
There may not be a more timely drama series on air right now than “The Americans.” A day rarely goes by without seeing headlines about the ongoing scandal about Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and the alleged collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and the Russian government. As we noted when “The Americans” premiered in March, as that real-life controversy unfolds, this series about Soviet spies “undermining the United States from within once seemed like a throwback to the conflicts of yesteryear, it now feels like an eerie prequel to our 21st century reality.” There’s a good chance that real-life current events might bring the show even more attention and recognition this year.
3. “The Americans” is peaking at the Emmys
According to our combined racetrack odds, “The Americans” is in third place to win Best Drama Series (behind “The Crown” and “Stranger Things”) with 6/1 odds. That kind of heat would have been unheard of even a couple of years ago, so the show is definitely on the ascendancy. After making little impact for its first three seasons, “The Americans” finally broke through at the Emmys last year by scoring surprise nominations in the big three categories: Best Drama Series, Best Drama Actress (Russell) and Best Drama Actor (Rhys). The show also scored a second consecutive nom for Best Drama Writing (“Persona Non Grata”) and a fourth bid for TV academy favorite Margo Martindale in Drama Guest Actress, who won that category again. (For Season 5, Martindale will be jumping up to the supporting race.)
Although Emmy voters are often savvy when it comes to recognizing critical darlings, sometimes they are a little late to the party. But there is precedent for big breakthrough wins for fifth seasons. For example, NBC/DirecTV’s “Friday Night Lights” enjoyed similarly gushing reviews from critics, but only managed a paltry five nominations over its first three seasons (including one win for Best Casting in its first year) before breaking through with four noms for its penultimate fourth season (Best Drama Actor for Kyle Chandler, Best Drama Actress for Connie Britton, Best Drama Writing and Best Casting). Then for its fifth and final season, the show garnered its first Best Drama Series bid, nominations for Britton and its casting, and wins for leading man Chandler and Best Drama Writing. So Rhys might therefore benefit from increased buzz for the show, much like Chandler did in 2011.
4. Emmy voters love actors playing multiple roles
Rhys’ character Phillip is an undercover spy, which means that not only is he playing a tough Russian operative hiding in plain sight as a gentle beer-swilling American suburban dad, but he is also always on deep cover missions playing a variety of other characters from episode to episode. Rhys and Russell are often in disparate locations across the country wearing a variety of wigs and costumes while advancing the cause of mother Russia. Emmy voters gravitate to showy roles like this one, and often honor actors who are seen as stretching their craft by playing a variety of personalities.
Two famous upsets in Emmy history can be chalked to this love of multiple roles. In 1977, Sally Field won Best Movie/Mini Actress for “Sybil” (in which her character had 16 personalities) over sure-thing Jane Alexander (“Eleanor & Franklin: The White House Years”). In that same year, Lindsay Wagner (“The Bionic Woman”) upset frontrunner Sada Thompson (“Family”) as Best Drama Actress for an episode where she played good and evil twin versions of her role.
More recently, Cynthia Nixon won Best Drama Guest Actress in 2008 for “Law & Order: SVU” and Toni Collette won Best Comedy Actress in 2009 for “United States of Tara,” both of whom played women with multiple personalities. Last year, fan favorite Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”) prevailed for playing multiple clones of the same person, with different looks, different accents and different personalities. Do you agree that Matthew Rhys has a real shot to win the Emmy for Best Drama Actor? Sound off down in the comments section.
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