WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Ali kept the HBO anthology’s streak of stellar lead performances going with a mesmerizing, decades-spanning turn as Arkansas detective Wayne Hays. His powerful work as a young Hays investigating the case of two missing kids, and then reopening the case a decade later, would’ve been strong enough to secure a nomination. But it’s his poignant scenes as an elderly, dementia-addled Hays — still haunted by the case and fighting off the demons in his own mind — that cinched our vote.
BENICIO DEL TORO, ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: The Oscar winner has specialized in playing charming rogues throughout his career, and he added a new one with smooth-talking prison inmate Richard Matt. Flashing an impish smile that concealed a frightening violent streak, Del Toro let us see why prison employee Tilly might fall under his spell… and also let us see why he got locked up in the first place. We wouldn’t want to share a cell with him, but viewed from a safe distance, he was utterly fascinating.
JHARREL JEROME, WHEN THEY SEE US
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: Delivering a standout performance in a miniseries full of them is not easy, but Jerome’s versatility allowed him to do that with his layered portrayal of Korey Wise. As Korey transitioned from childhood to adulthood, Jerome deftly turned his endearing charm into painful vulnerability, showcasing shock, anger, fear, depression, madness, hope. The actor truly explored every facet of Korey’s humanity in a way that police and prosecutors failed to do.
IAN MCSHANE, DEADWOOD: THE MOVIE
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: As delightful as it was to see Al Swearengen cussing up a storm and cutting people down again, the hard truth is that the decade gone by did a number on him. But as the salty saloon owner’s body got bested by his hard-living ways, McShane mined those quieter moments, such as when counseling Trixie about her secret-spilling ways. Maybe Emmy will raise a glass once more to the portrayer of this iconic antihero?
SAM ROCKWELL, FOSSE/VERDON
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: It’s appropriate that Rockwell played a famed choreographer in FX’s miniseries, seeing as his portrayal of Bob Fosse was a delicate dance, indeed. Fosse had a laundry list of flaws and vices, to be sure — but he was also a tortured man attempting to outrun (or outdance) his own demons. No matter how much success Bob was enjoying, Rockwell maintained an undercurrent of pain and self-loathing, turning the showbiz legend into a richly realized human being.
DAVID TENNANT, GOOD OMENS
WHY HE DESERVES A NOD: It’s almost sinful, how an actor so skilled at playing heavy drama (see also: Broadchurch) and campy sci-fi (Doctor Who) also can bring a bubbly, buddy sensibility to an outlandish morality tale about the end of the world. But such is Tennant’s talent, which is on preening, strutting display as the devil Crowley in Amazon’s Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett adaptation. Tennant conveys the demon’s lust for life (and love for angel bestie Aziraphale) in one hell of a performance. And if he doesn’t get a nom? Well, that would be downright evil.