WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Freeman’s Sherlock role is often a thankless one, with his soft-spoken John Watson taking a backseat to Sherlock Holmes’ crime-solving theatrics. But this season, Freeman got a chance to plumb the depths of John’s immense grief in the wake of his wife Mary’s death. When John exploded on Sherlock, blaming him for Mary’s demise, the fury Freeman unleashed was downright scary, not to mention heart-wrenching. For once, Watson took center stage… and Freeman took full advantage.
BENITO MARTINEZ, AMERICAN CRIME
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: As undocumented immigrant Luis Salazar, Martinez delivered one of American Crime‘s most understated performances ever. Forced into North Carolina’s oppressive work conditions, Luis maintained a constant poker face as he attempted to find his missing son, requiring Martinez to communicate his character’s fear, anger and grief with the subtlest of facial expressions. By the time Luis returned to Veracruz, having gunned down his son’s killer, he was a changed man — and we were changed, too, by Martinez’s powerful, nuanced performance.
ALFRED MOLINA, FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: We’re not throwing our support behind Molina so enthusiastically merely because he made us hate Bob Aldrich, the producer/director who deftly, if reluctantly, manipulated the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? leading ladies that he alternately loved and loathed (yet always needed). No, we’re backing him as a contender because he also made us see that, beneath the ego, the spineless philanderer detested himself as much as we did.
ALEXANDER SKARSGARD, BIG LITTLE LIES
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Yep, no way to sugarcoat this: Celeste’s abusive, controlling husband Perry was a real piece of s—t. But that just speaks to how masterful Skarsgard’s performance was. He channeled Perry’s frightening sadistic streak, and also his genuine remorse when he realized he’d gone too far. In a way, it was as brave a performance as his co-star Nicole Kidman’s — portraying the ugly truth of domestic violence without making excuses or tacking on a fake happy ending — and just as deserving of recognition.
MICHAEL STUHLBARG, FARGO
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: A vastly underrated actor since his days on Boardwalk Empire, Stuhlbarg outdid himself as Fargo‘s hilarious (and ultimately heartbreaking) number-cruncher Sy Feltz. Stuhlbarg brought to life Sy’s good old-fashioned Midwestern values — he nailed the accent, by the way — and his spitting-with-rage outbursts were some of Season 3’s funniest moments. Plus, he was touchingly vulnerable when the world’s injustices became too much for poor Sy. In a cast packed with great actors, did Stuhlbarg stand out? You betcha.
DAVID THEWLIS, FARGO
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: It’s fitting that Fargo‘s third season took place at Christmas, because Thewlis’ oily antagonist V.M. Varga was like the human embodiment of the Grinch. With gnarled teeth and a haughty British accent dripping with condescension, Varga would talk your ear off spinning lies, distracting you just enough so you wouldn’t notice him picking your pocket. And Thewlis, somehow still charming while never betraying an ounce of real human emotion, meticulously molded Varga into a truly detestable — and truly fascinating — villain.