No Emmys for young men? Freddie Highmore, Kit Harington and Jonathan Groff fight bias against whippersnappers

What do Freddie Highmore, Kit Harington and Jonathan Groff have in common? They’re all on the Emmy ballot for Best Drama Actor, and they’re all among the top 10 contenders for nominations according to our racetrack odds. One more thing: they’re all under the age of 35, which might be a disadvantage. No man in his 20s and hardly anyone in their early 30s have been nominated for Best Drama Actor in the 21st century. The youngest man nominated since 2000 was Michael C. Hall for “Six Feet Under” in 2002. He was 31.

As we see at the Oscars, where only one man in his 20s has ever won Best Actor (“The Pianist” star Adrien Brody, who was literally 22 days shy of his 30th birthday), Emmy voters don’t usually recognize whippersnappers. The youngest winner of the 21st century was Rami Malek, who was 35 when he won for “Mr. Robot” in 2016. Besides him only three other winners this century were under 40: James Gandolfini for “The Sopranos” (2000), Michael Chiklis for “The Shield” (2002) and Kiefer Sutherland for “24” (2006), who were all 39.

So Highmore, Harington and Groff would be the youngest nominees in 16 years. Several other actors contended in this category while they were 30-somethings, like Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under”), Rob Lowe (“The West Wing”), Andre Braugher (“Gideon’s Crossing”) and Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”), but they were all at least old enough to run for president — 35 and up.

It’s ironic, then, that the most likely of those three young’uns to be nominated this year is the youngest among them: Highmore ranks fourth in our predictions with 8/1 odds for playing the title character, an autistic savant working as a surgeon at a San Jose hospital. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance earlier this year, but he’s only 26, so will Emmy voters rally around him too or dismiss him for his age?

Well, they couldn’t fault Highmore for inexperience. He has a resume that would be the envy of an actor twice his age. His career spans nearly 20 years. In addition to his recent Golden Globe bid he’s a two-time SAG Award nominee and a two-time Critics’ Choice Award winner. He wrote and directed episodes of his previous series, “Bates Motel.” And he’s writing the upcoming season-two premiere of “The Good Doctor,” a show he also produces.

So the actor seems as much a prodigy as the character he plays. But it would still be a historic nom. No actor in his 20s has been nominated for Best Drama Actor since Rob Morrow, who was 29 when he first contended for “Northern Exposure” in 1992.

A Best Drama Actor nomination certainly wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for Harington. Of these three young stars jockeying for position this year, he’s the only one who has been nominated before. He earned a bid for Best Drama Supporting Actor in 2016 for his role as Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones” when he was 29. Now at the ripe old age of 31 he has gotten a promotion to the lead category, where he’s on the bubble for a nomination, ranked eighth with 22/1 odds.

As for Groff, he might actually be the perfect age to earn an Emmy nomination for his role as an obsessive FBI agent in “Mindhunter.” At age 33 he slots in right in-between Kyle MacLachlan, who was 31 when he was first nominated as Agent Dale Cooper in “Twin Peaks” (1990), and David Duchovny, who was 37 on his first nomination as Agent Fox Mulder in “The X-Files” (1997). But he might have the steepest climb for a nomination: he ranks 10th in our predictions with 66/1 odds.

Besides Highmore, the other five men we’re currently predicting for Emmy nominations for Best Drama Actor are all north of 40. Defending champ and current front-runner Sterling K. Brown (“This is Us”) is 42. His on-screen dad Milo Ventimiglia turns 41 four days before nominations are announced on July 12. Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”) is 43. Jason Bateman (“Ozark”) is 49. And Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan”) is the elder statesman of the bunch at age 50.

So will the up-and-coming generation of leading men break through, or will they keep getting shut out?

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before nominees are announced on July 12. And join in the fun debate over the 2018 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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