SEVERAL performers who nabbed Emmy nominations Thursday had to dig deep into their psyche and emotions to connect to their characters. Then there were those who didn't have to stretch much; all they had to do was look in the mirror.
Being cast as yourself turned out to be a great career choice for Larry David, Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller and Kate Winslet, who all received Emmy nods for playing themselves on TV. David was nominated for his own show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," while Stewart, Stiller and Winslet got theirs for the BBC/HBO comedy "Extras."
Not surprisingly, both shows were about show business and celebrity (hence the need for real-life stars). And in both shows the nominated actors played versions of themselves that mocked their own characters -- self-centered, neurotic, vain. They made themselves look bad in good ways.
David, nominated for outstanding lead actor in a comedy, has been nominated twice before for playing the difficult, self-absorbed version of himself at the center of the HBO comedy. And apparently he's tired of talking about himself; he declined to discuss his nomination, as did the other nominees.
Stewart, Stiller and Winslet were nominated for different episodes of "Extras," which stars Ricky Gervais as one of the unknowns in the background of movies and TV shows. Stewart and Stiller will face off in the outstanding guest actor in a comedy series category, which also includes Martin Sheen in "Two and a Half Men," and Alec Baldwin and Leslie Jordan, both for "Will & Grace." Winslet is nominated as outstanding guest actress in a comedy series.
In the "Extras" episode featuring Stewart, the distinguished British actor gets down and dirty as he discusses his idea for a film that mostly consists of women disrobing in front of him. Stiller plays "director Ben Stiller," an egotistical tyrant who is filming a movie about a man whose wife was killed in Bosnia, while lecturing cast and crew about the finer points of his earlier (real) film "Dodgeball." Winslet played a crude version of herself, offering lessons on phone sex. Stiller has played himself before on TV, most notably in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Playing yourself is not a certain path to an Emmy nod. Several others who played themselves were overlooked in the nominations. Among the snubbed were James Cameron and Mandy Moore in "Entourage," as well as Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall in a Hollywood-themed episode of "The Sopranos." But Bacall had only limited duty: She got slugged in the face by a couple of mobsters who wanted a "goodie" bag given to her, naturally, at an awards show. Adding insult to injury: Michael Imperioli, who plays one of the thugs, walked off with a nomination.