Why Sarah Snook shifting to supporting for ‘Succession’ at the Emmys is a killer winning move

After entering in Best Drama Actress last year, “Succession” star Sarah Snook is now moving down to supporting for the second season of the HBO hit. (Insert all your jokes about Shiv coming up short for the Waystar Royco CEO gig here.) It’s ostensibly a demotion, but, really, it’s a strategic move that would make Logan Roy proud.

Since Shiv is the only daughter in the Roy clan, Snook is the de facto female lead, and the second season focused on Shiv as Logan’s (Brian Cox) possible successor — in line with the popular fan theory that each season will spotlight one sibling (Season 1 was Jeremy Strong‘s Kendall, and the assumption is that Kieran Culkin‘s Roman is next in the delayed third season). So it is not totally left field for Snook to shoot her shot in lead.

But that was and still is a risky endeavor. “Succession” is an ensemble show, and the only lead everyone and their mother would agree on is Cox. Strong, who won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Drama Actor, would be next, as, despite Shiv coming to the forefront in the sophomore installment, Kendall looms large, and the aftermath of his deadly Season 1 actions continue to percolate. Season 2 also concluded with Kendall turning into the (figurative) killer their father claimed he wasn’t.

SEE ‘Succession’s’ Jeremy Strong: ‘All you want to feel as an actor is wrung out completely’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Shiv is a borderline lead/supporting character and neither category would be fraudulent, but she arguably has always been secondary to Logan Roy and his Number One Boy. (And yes, it’s ironic that Snook went lead last year when she was more supporting and is going supporting this year when she was more of a lead.) Snook is not a clear solo lead or a half of a two-hander like the women she would’ve faced in drama actress: Olivia Colman (“The Crown”), Laura Linney (“Ozark”), Jennifer Aniston (“The Morning Show”), Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”), Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Nicole Kidman (“Big Little Lies”) are our predicted top six, and all are the focus of and drive the bulk of the action on their shows in a way Snook isn’t and does not. (“Big Little Lies” is also an ensemble show, but Kidman’s storyline has dominated both seasons.)

In other words, it would’ve been difficult for her to break in — not the least of which because “Succession” has yet to receive an acting nomination from the Emmys or the Screen Actors Guild Awards, so its standing among actors is still a question mark. But that doesn’t mean Best Drama Supporting Actress is the easier category. In reality, it’s a lateral move in the nomination phase for Snook because the supporting field is just as competitive, if not more, than lead since she’s dealing with proven Emmy shows with multiple contenders (“Big Little Lies” has Laura Dern and Meryl Streep; “Ozark” has Julia Garner and Janet McTeer; “The Handmaid’s Tale” has Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley and Madeline Brewer), some of whom have previously won for their roles, and the unlimited nominating slots allow voters to check of as many stars from their favorite shows as they can.

The difference is, though, if Snook does the hard part and makes the cut, she would be competitive for the win in supporting, which she arguably would not be in drama actress against those “face of the show” leads. The actress turned in an exceptional performance as Shiv experienced a lightning quick rise and fall from the pole position for the Waystar throne. She has a standout hour with the penultimate episode, “D.C.,” in which she (and the writers) shrewdly weaponize our affection for Shiv as the comparatively “good one” to show the person she truly is.

Tasked with convincing Kira (Sally Murphy), a victim of Waystar’s cruise ship abuse scandal, not to testify in Congress, Shiv puts her Machiavellian ways on display, swinging between compassion and ruthlessness with crafty precision. She sympathizes with Kira because she, too, has been screwed over by her dad, because he strung her along for the CEO job, a comparison that is definitely a choice. She warns of the “other side” that will doubt her and the craziness that could arise and upend her life (a la Christine Blasey Ford) if she testifies. She promises to “destroy the men who ran that dirty operation.”

SEE Emmys Experts’ predictions: ‘Succession’ leads Best Drama Series odds, but watch out for ‘Better Call Saul,’ ‘The Crown’

When Kira asks if she can trust Shiv, instead of the performative “yes” everyone expects (which probably would not have swayed Kira to back out or done so as effectively), Snook, in a flash, looks away and back, morphing her tone from a reassuring coo to a blunt snap. “No. No, actually, no,” she says matter-of-factly. “You can’t trust anyone. You just have to be smart. So, listen to everyone and make an assessment. Because, frankly, I want what’s best for me. … You have to think about what’s best for you, huh?” It’s a deftly handled honest appraisal and a moment for a fan-favorite character in a show full of fan-favorite characters that sticks with you.

And while it’s more common for actors to do the supporting-to-lead upgrade, the downgrade has had winning returns. Anna Gunn made the exact same move for “Breaking Bad,” on which she, like Snook, was the de facto female lead as the show was not primarily about Skyler. Gunn submitted in lead for the third season, when Skyler discovers Walt’s (Bryan Cranston) meth business and then joins it to launder money, but wasn’t nominated. The next season, she went supporting, earning her first nomination and then won in 2013 and ’14 for the series’ final two outings — the last time this category had a back-to-back winner.

Since Snook switched to supporting, she’s jumped all the way to eighth place in our odds, behind Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”), reigning champ Garner, Streep, Dern, 2018 champ Thandie Newton (“Westworld”), McTeer and Rhea Seehorn (“Better Call Saul”).

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