This is a category that could go in any direction given the talented caliber of its nominees. It’s becoming more likely that the contest is between Bryan Cranston for his performance as President Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way and Courtney B. Vance for his role as Johnnie Cochran in The People Versus O.J. Simpson. In that regard, both of these actors deserve this Emmy win with a bow tied around it. Cranston originated his performance on the Broadway stage and has already won a Tony for his portrayal of President Johnson. The HBO adaption didn’t shy away from Cranston at all and put a direct spotlight on his magnetic performance, depicting the president immersed in the middle of social and political conflicts and seeking to appease all while ensuring the rights of a community that had long been discriminated against. It’s an incredible performance and Bryan Cranston should be commended for it.
Yet Courtney B. Vance gave the performance of a lifetime in The People Versus O.J. Simpson. Bluntly put, Vance IS Johnnie Cochran in this miniseries to the point that one must remind themselves that they are not watching the actual individual but rather an actor portraying him. It’s transformative acting at its finest. Vance was able to convey in his acting how Cochran was able to sway the public and how effective he was at manipulating damning evidence against his client. Vance additionally added a level of determination into his performance, portraying Cochran as a person who saw the O.J. Simpson case as an opportunity to force much-needed change for a community that had long been discriminated against. While Cranston is very worthy of a win in this category, he simply doesn’t match the caliber of acting Courtney Vance provided to his role.
However, it is VERY possible that Cranston and Vance could cancel each other out and allow another nominee to win. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened. In such a scenario, Tom Hiddleston who perfectly carried the narrative of the espionage miniseries The Night Manager forward, could walk away with a win. Hiddleston is effective, stunning, and quite brilliant as the show’s protagonist. This performance shouldn’t be underestimated at all.
Both Idris Elba and Benedict Cumberbatch shouldn’t be underestimated either. Elba has been consistent and incredible in Luther, with his role as a cop who is brilliant but consumed by utter obsession with his work. Elba was also recently unfairly snubbed at the Oscars earlier this year for his magnificent (and frightening) performance in Beasts of No Nation, and the Emmys may award Elba in an effort to show solidarity for that unfortunate incident. Cumberbatch is beloved by fans of Sherlock and voters awarded him an Emmy for the show’s third season, which was a surprise win at the time. There is enough popularity with Sherlock and Cumberbatch that he could easily grab another Emmy win for his contemporary performance as the eccentric Sherlock Holmes.
This leaves the surprise nominee in this category, Cuba Gooding Jr. for his performance as O.J. Simpson in The People Versus O.J. Simpson. Gooding Jr. is at a slight disadvantage in comparison to his fellow nominees because his performance was more supporting than lead acting. Nonetheless, the opening episodes of the miniseries showcased his performance, most specifically the episode that was dedicated to the infamous Bronco highway case. Cuba Gooding Jr. was exceedingly smart in playing the role ambiguously enough that it never confirms nor denies whether O.J. Simpson was guilty. Yet Gooding Jr. truly shines in his scenes where he portrays O.J. Simpson on a personal level, to which he framed him as a narcissist, paranoid, and arrogant. Gooding Jr. played the role carefully and it worked as a result. If The People Versus O.J. Simpson gets the Emmy push that it’s expected to get, Cuba Gooding Jr. could walk away with an Emmy win if Bryan Cranston and Courtney B. Vance cancel each other out.
Bryan Cranston – All the Way
Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock: The Abominable Bride
Idris Elba – Luther
Cuba Gooding Jr. – The People Versus O.J. Simpson
Tom Hiddleston – The Night Manager
Courtney B. Vance – The People Versus O.J. Simpson
Will Win: Courtney B. Vance – The People Versus O.J. Simpson
Could Win: Bryan Cranston – All the Way
Should Win: Courtney B. Vance – The People Versus O.J. Simpson