Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series


The award for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series has been one of the Emmys strongest in recent years. John Hamm finally got his due, Rami Malek burst onto the scene in a big way, Billy Porter wowed audiences, Sterling K. Brown broke hearts and Matthew Rhys got the recognition he and The Americans deserved since its first season. 

It’s fair to note there has been a cycle of new winners over the last five years; a trend that began after Bryan Cranston’s grip on the category for his performance in Breaking Bad came to an end. However, what those five winners have in common is that none of them came from shows that won the best drama series category. 

With Game of Thrones out of way, Succession is the favorite to take the crown given its impressive nomination haul. But could recent history in this category possibly hint at what direction the race is heading? 

Let’s take a look. 

Brian Cox – Succession

While the first season of Succession failed to garner any major acting nominations, the second season is a much different story. With six nominated actors and actresses (not including guests), there’s no denying the show’s strength and popularity. This puts beloved Scottish actor Brian Cox at the top of the pile, giving arguably his best screen performance as the patriarch of the Roy Family. The intensity from Cox as Logan throughout the season is unmatched, with his submitted episode “Hunting” featuring the infamous ‘Boar on the Floor’ dinner scene. 

Despite his tremendous performance, Cox has a wealth of industry respect and is a previous Emmy winner, picking up a prize for his performance in the limited series Nuremberg two decades ago. He also won the Golden Globe for his performance as Logan earlier in the year, and although a fairly unreliable precursor when it comes to television’s most prestigious night, it does prove that Cox’s performance has the gravitas to win.

Cox’s greatest hurdle to Emmy gold will be co-star Jeremy Strong. Sterling K. Brown proved in 2017 that he could win in the same category as a fellow co-star, but the only difference is that Milo Ventimiglia was never really standing in his way. Brown has always been considered the strongest part of This is Us, so you’ll have to look back at the late 1990s when Dennis Franz consistently bested NYPD Blue co-star Jimmy Smits. 

Jeremy Strong – Succession

This leads straight into our next contender, Strong himself. His character and performance is a lot different and often times more complex than Cox. Giving a much more vulnerable performance, Strong’s Kendall has a fascinating arc throughout the season that leads to a killer finale in “This is Not For Tears.” With the episode his Emmy submission, he steals every scene he’s in, and the final jaw-dropping moment was likely still fresh in the mind of voters. 

If that’s the case, Strong has to be considered the true favorite here. While Logan is the family patriarch, Succession truly feels like Kendall’s story.

With the strength of Succession’s nominated performances pointing toward either Cox or Strong to win, there is also the possibility neither gets the prize. In the event of a vote split, there is one actor who seems perfectly primed to snatch the prize from under their noses.

Jason Bateman – Ozark

While Succession led in nominations, Ozark performed wonderfully, which only strengthens Jason Bateman’s odds of winning. A mainstay in this category since the first season, Bateman’s performance as Marty Byrde continues to amaze. Much in the same vein as Cranston before taking the role of Walter White, Bateman is known for his comedy chops first and foremost. So to see him excel with such dark material is a testament to his talents. 

Bateman’s surprise directing win over three Game of Thrones episodes last year also puts him at a greater advantage. While a vote split win could be argued, could it also foreshadow his first acting Emmy? We’ll see, but it’s fair to note that Bateman has also been twice unsuccessful in the leading actor category. 

The Academy giving Rhys and Porter wins over Bateman shows that strength in other categories isn’t necessarily essential. Perhaps Bateman is destined to follow the same trajectory as Michael C. Hall in Dexter; a well-liked performance in a critically acclaimed show that ultimately results in consecutive nominations and no wins.

Billy Porter – Pose

The possibility Billy Porter becomes the first consecutive actor winner since Cranston should not be dismissed. Despite a poor showing in nominations over last year – including Pose missing in drama series this year – Porter’s return shows that there is still support for him. While shows like Better Call Saul outperformed Pose across the board, Bob Odenkirk’s performance was shockingly snubbed, which speaks volumes. 

The second season of the show received similar critical acclaim to the first, with Porter the centrepiece of any and all praise. His performance in the submitted episode “Love’s in Need of Love Today” is an emotional powerhouse that is enough to hold its own in the category. 

However, the strength of the Succession and the love for Ozark will make this a difficult award to retain. Not since Jeff Daniels won for The Newsroom in 2013 has an actor won this category without having their show in the best series line-up. Though that was a different voting system, now winners receive votes from every member of the Academy. This means widespread support may not result in anything when getting a nomination, but is integral to winning. 

Sterling K. Brown – This is Us

Brown has been a consistent nominee in this category since This is Us first aired, including a win for the first season back in 2017. Much like Porter, a win for Brown wouldn’t be completely out of the question given his previous success, however This is Us isn’t as strong with the Academy as it once was.

What was once an acting nomination magnet, Brown is now the sole representative in the major acting categories. This is also the first year Ventimiglia isn’t nominated alongside Brown. This could prove to be major strength for Brown, given that a possible vote split isn’t an option, though praise for both performances has been vastly different. While Brown continues to excel in his performance as Randall Pearson, there’s still a large swell of voters that hold the Pearson’s close to their hearts. 

Ultimately, it feels like the time for This is Us to win any major awards has long past. Brown’s inclusion is recognition from the Academy that they are still watching and enjoying the hit NBC series, but no longer has the passion for it they once did. 

Steve Carell – The Morning Show

Another actor known for his comedy chops, Carell finds himself in the thick of a drama actor race for the first time in his career, starring in Apple TV’s newsroom drama The Morning Show. Since his final appearances as Michael Scott, Carell has continued to push himself in dramatic roles, one of which earned him an Oscar nomination. 

While the reviews of The Morning Show were fairly mixed, with much of the show’s praise steered toward Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup. 

It’s often hard to gauge how well received a new series will be, but given that The Morning Show missed a drama series nomination, Carell’s nod appears one that takes notice of his range than love for the series itself. With a category stacked with past winners and the centrepieces of beloved shows, Carell’s nomination shouldn’t be considered a threat. 


  1. Jeremy Strong, Succession
  2. Jason Bateman, Ozark
  3. Brian Cox, Succession
  4. Billy Porter, Pose
  5. Sterling K. Brown, This is Us
  6. Steve Carell, The Morning Show


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Written by Bradley Weir

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