Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

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The award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series is one that has been dominated over the years by two performances – Peter Dinklage in Game of Thrones and Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad. While there have been other winners besides those two – John Lithgow and Ben Mendelsohn to name a few – this is the first year where the category is wide open to welcome a brand new actor to the winners circle. 

Made up of three actors from Succession and a number of well-respected character actors doing some of their career-best work, the category is sure to be one of the most exciting come Sept. 20. As we dive into this extremely strong category, here is an actor-by-actor analysis to help determine who our frontrunner is. 

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Billy Crudup – The Morning Show

Widely regarded as the strongest performance in The Morning Show, Billy Crudup is undeniably a top tier contender in this category, with Apple TV likely regarding him as its biggest chance to bring home an Emmy. The advantage Crudup has over the others here is the SAG nomination he received earlier this year. Although not exactly the same voting pool, Crudup’s inclusion among leading performances proves his strength and popularity. 

While the The Morning Show picked up four acting nominations, it didn’t receive a best series nod, suggesting the Academy isn’t completely in love with the show and could look to reward an actor from a more beloved show. (More on the Succession men in a moment.) Co-star Mark Duplass also joins Crudup in this category, but if voters are going to reward somebody from The Morning Show then Crudup is the likely contender. 


Kieran Culkin – Succession

While there’s a case to be made for all three Succession contenders, it’s best to start with the presumed frontrunner of the three. Kieran Culkin plays Roman Roy, a stand out character that’s sympathetic, detestable, incredibly complex and undeniably hilarious. While Culkin received a nomination at the Golden Globes, the buzz surrounding his performance has been strong since the series’ start. 

The challenge Culkin faces winning his first Emmy is the fact that all three nominated Succession stars are all worthy contenders, which make vote-splitting a very real possibility. Although a vote-split never affected Peter Dinklage when he was nominated with his Game of Thrones co-stars, there’s no real standout between Culkin and Matthew Macfayden, which makes the circumstances different. 

Nevertheless, Culkin is easily the top contender of the bunch.


Matthew Macfadyen – Succession

Another contender in this wide-open category, English actor Matthew Macfadyen is incredibly entertaining in his role as Tom, especially when performing alongside fellow nominee Nicholas Braun. With his first Emmy nomination, Macfadyen’s steady and captivating roles over the years may culminate in major awards recognition if the cards fall his way.

It’s obvious that voters watch the show given its huge nomination haul, and there’s no denying that Tom is a brilliant character that manages to stand out. The aforementioned vote splitting is a big factor here for Macfadyen, as well as the strength of Culkin in this category. His Golden Globe win puts him ahead of his Succession co-stars, but voters may just love Tom enough to give him the win.


Giancarlo Esposito – Better Call Saul

Many were surprised when Giancarlo Esposito was nominated for his performance in Better Call Saul. Despite an incredibly strong fifth season, there were snubs aplenty, with Jonathan Banks robbed and Bob Odenkirk shockingly missing out in the main acting category after receiving consecutive nominations over the years. While Rhea Seehorn has yet to receive recognition for her near-perfect work as Kim Wexler, her exclusion garnered even more disappointment. 

Better Call Saul still landed a drama series nomination, but it was expected given the buzz surrounding the latest season. However, now it appears it was lucky to have made the cut. With this said, Esposito is the show’s sole acting representative, which acts as both a pro and a con. If the Academy is starting to feel remorse for the series’ poor performance, then perhaps Esposito will receive the goodwill vote as a way to give the show at least some recognition for a strong season.

More likely, Esposito’s nomination is a simple nod to a memorable television character that doesn’t pose a threat to win. With Succession and The Morning Show much newer shows, Esposito faces incredible competition, and a win here would be a big surprise.


Jeffrey Wright – Westworld

Every year Jeffrey Wright’s category placement shifts positions from supporting to lead and back again. Two years ago when Westworld was last eligible, Wright made his way into the leading actor line-up as a sign of the show’s strength and the power of his performance.

This time around Westworld is a much weaker performer across the board. In a similar vein to Better Call Saul, Westworld feels like it’s been cast aside by the Academy, with Wright and Newton the show’s only major nominations. However, Wright’s performance is as brilliant as ever, but while there will be supporters, the strength of Crudup and the Succession men will result in an uphill battle for Wright to overcome. 


Nicholas Braun – Succession

As the show’s most sympathetic and likeable character, this gives Braun a slight edge in a category that could see a possible upset. He plays the awkward cousin perfectly and is often the character used to diffuse the tension in and around some of the more intense scenes. In some ways, Braun’s Greg represents the viewer in Succession. We are introduced to the dysfunctional Roy family at the same time Greg is, and this point-of-view type character could sway voters.

The biggest obstacle for Braun is the buzz surrounding his nominated co-stars, particularly Culkin. And while Braun is fantastic, it’s unlikely he will win as his nomination is just a factor of the shows strength. 


Bradley Whitford – The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale hasn’t been an Emmy juggernaut since its first season, but it doesn’t mean Whitford should be written-off. A versatile and beloved actor, Whitford is perhaps the most established of the eight nominees, which can only work in his favor.

However much like Wright and Esposito, Whitford is competing against much newer shows and characters that voters have clearly gravitated toward. His chances are extremely slim.

Apple TV+

Mark Duplass – The Morning Show

Mark Duplass has a strong character arc in the first season of The Morning Show, and without a doubt gives one of his strongest performances to date. A character actor for a number of years, it’s fantastic to see Duplass garner the recognition he deserves. But competing against co-star Crudup puts his chances too low on the scale. While not a coattail nomination given his strong performance, Duplass’ nomination doesn’t feel like it has the strength to win.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to imagine the prize going to anybody outside of Crudup or the three nominated men from Succession. A potential vote split gives Crudup the advantage here, but watch out for Culkin and especially Macfadyen, who could quite easily ride the Succession wave.

Billy Crudup

Matthew MacFadyen


  1. Billy Crudup: The Morning Show
  2. Kieran Culkin: Succession
  3. Matthew Macfadyen: Succession
  4. Giancarlo Esposito: Better Call Saul
  5. Nicholas Braun: Succession
  6. Jeffrey Wright: Westworld
  7. Bradley Whitford: The Handmaid’s Tale
  8. Mark Duplass: The Morning Show


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Written by Bradley Weir

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