“For him not to be nominated is a crime — I don’t know how that happens,” says “Ozark” director Alik Sakharov about the Best Drama Supporting Actor snub of Tom Pelphrey at the Emmys. He laughs, “I feel pretty upset, I have to say.” Sakharov’s Best Drama Directing nomination, which numbers among the 18 for “Ozark” this year, recognizes his work specifically on the penultimate episode, which hinges on Pelphrey’s “superb” and “choke-inducing” performance as the bipolar Ben Davis. Sakharov continues, “It was a compendium on acting, on the ability to inhabit the character so, so well — so deeply, you just don’t feel like the person is acting. You feel like he’s living the role and you feel like he is that person.”
After guest-directing a pair of episodes last season, Sakharov returned to “Ozark” to direct the last four episodes of the third season, with an additional credit as a consulting producer. After the “second season got under scrutiny” for the “critique of it being very dark” in a literal sense, “Ozark” employed a brighter esthetic this year, beginning with the premiere under the series’ lead director Jason Bateman. (“It’s new technology and it was shot with a different camera,” Sakharov qualifies about the reasons behind the shift.)
Sakharov admits to preferring the former visual style, likening light overexposure to expository dialogue. He references a similar “magnetic effect that is very, very important” in other under-lit works, like the painting “Aristotle with a Bust of Homer” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and the film “The Godfather” by Francis Ford Coppola. “The second season of ‘Ozark’ had that — that very interesting, dark pool and it just kept me going like this towards the screen, closer and closer and I just wanted to dissect everything and really understand,” explains Sakharov.
This “Ozark” bid represents Sakharov’s first Emmy nomination as a director, following a storied career as a director of photography. The American Society of Cinematographers nominated him for “The Sopranos,” on which he worked from its pilot to its finale; Sakharov was also the original cinematographer of “Game of Thrones,” before returning as a director in subsequent seasons. He recounts being asleep at home in 2007 when he won his Emmy for the cinematography of “Rome.” He laughs about not having campaigned, “I was so sure that I wasn’t going to win and I was on the east coast — it’s on the west coast; I had a small child, so I decided to stay home.”
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