This category is an absolute lock for David Oyelowo and his stunning one-man show in the HBO film Nightingale. Oyelowo took on a role of a mentally ill individual and crafted a performance that was both appalling and pitiful to watch. Nightingale is a film that solely stars Oyelowo, therefore the film had a tremendous dependency upon his performance. Oyelowo had to be sure his performance had a proper foundation of accuracy for someone who clearly suffers from PTSD which has evolved into undiagnosed manic-depressive syndrome. Oyelowo’s delivery was done with such disturbing accuracy that his performance transcended beyond acting and became almost shockingly real, thereby uncomfortable to watch. Oyelowo perfected the mannerisms, attitudes, and reactionary behavior to his role so much so that it can be argued it is not only one of the best performances of the year, but also a career-defining performance for David Oyelowo (whose career is only beginning to take off).
For the most part, Oyelowo’s competition isn’t too daunting for him. Ricky Gervais’ nomination for Derek: The Special is a sentimental nomination and serves as more of a nomination that honors the short-lived television show. Gervais is well-liked by Emmy voters and his nomination last year in the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series category for Derek was considered by many to be a surprise. While Gervais’ performance is a proper mixture of sweet and humorous, it is doubtful Emmy voters will veer in his direction. The same can be said for Timothy Hutton and his subtle performance in American Crime. Hutton was outstanding as a grieving father, whose determination to hold his family together only mentally separates him from them. The majority of Hutton’s performance was one-note, yet it was the finale that truly allowed for his acting to shine when he physically reacts to his grief. If voters judge Hutton’s performance based upon the limited series’ finale, he could stand a good chance of winning. Adrien Brody defied all pundits’ nomination predictions by sneaking into this category with his own nomination as real-life illusionist Harry Houdini in Houdini. Brody’s performance has been relatively well-received but ultimately marred by a limited series that was considered by many as being substandard and lacking any subtlety. Yet Brody is the standout as the legendary illusionist and gave it his all, which gave viewers a visually astounding representation of Harry Houdini’s life, his achievements, and his vulnerabilities.
However the two nominated in this category who have the best chances of pulling an upset are both Mark Rylance and Richard Jenkins. In this category Richard Jenkins has both the momentum and sentimental angle with voters. For the most part, Jenkins has always been considered to be an overall under-appreciated actor, which is ironic considering he has starred in a wide body of work in his lengthy career. More notably, most pundits and critics have often cried foul that Jenkins was never guest nominated for his impressive body of work in HBO’s Six Feet Under in a performance that was astonishing, to say the least. Jenkins’ nomination for Olive Kitteridge is his first Emmy nomination, which is also shocking to most. However, this could also be used to his advantage with Emmy voters deciding to vote for Jenkins’ beautifully touching performance as the loving husband who never has any love reciprocated back to him. His performance was the genuine heart of the limited series and that will be tough for Emmy voters to miss. What also aids Jenkins is the expectation that Olive Kitteridge will sweep in all the limited series categories it is nominated for, which may further boost his chances with voters.
Mark Rylance is the true threat to David Oyelowo in this category and justifiably so. Rylance is a classically trained Shakespearean actor, and given the dynamic of how PBS’ Wolf Hall was written and directed, this limited series was made for Rylance to excel in. His performance as Thomas Cromwell is nothing short of acting brilliance. Rylance convincingly embodied the real-life Henry Cromwell, who was chief counsel to Henry VIII during the English Reformation. Rylance conveyed both the extraordinary political maneuvering Cromwell is famous for, such as arranging the marriage of Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII, and consolidating the king’s power in England by diminishing church influence. Rylance also showed restraint in his acting, especially in his scenes with Damian Lewis (Henry VIII), whose mood swings provided for an unpredictable atmosphere of either good-will or violence. Rylance should be commended for an extraordinary performance that channeled both historical accuracy and a renewed interest in the Reformation England era. What could ultimately help Rylance is the traditional Emmy trend of voters typically leaning in the favor of historical dramas. Mark Rylance could potentially benefit from this trend, which puts him in a good position to achieve an upset in this category.
Adrien Brody – Houdini
Ricky Gervais – Derek: The Special
Timothy Hutton – American Crime
Richard Jenkins – Olive Kitteridge
David Oyelowo – Nightingale
Mark Rylance – Wolf Hall
Will Win: David Oyelowo
Could Win: Richard Jenkins
Should Win: Mark Rylance
Could Upset: Mark Rylance