‘It really is all about them’
OF all the categories in the Emmy Awards, the ones for acting seem to me the most arbitrary, if for no other reason than that there are so many actors on television. Every series, TV movie or miniseries has its cast, every episode its guest stars -- most of them are good, many of them are great, and many of those are great in ways that don’t necessarily attract awards.
Who gets nominated largely reflects what shows the electorate is already watching, or at any rate has heard good things about, with the important addition that actors are loved for all the roles they’ve ever played and for the real people we imagine they are. (Who doesn’t want to see Helen Mirren get up to accept an award, just to see Helen Mirren get up?) All those layers are on view at the Emmys.
You cannot really tease them apart. Minus her various paddings and appliances, America Ferrera still seemed the sweet soul of Betty Suarez as she accepted her award. James Spader’s win over James Gandolfini and Hugh Laurie was unexpected (by me), but he sits inside his role as though in a big soft chair, and people respond to that easiness, even when the character is strange. (You can say the same for winner Terry O’Quinn and his work on “Lost.”) And though I was surprised again to see Katherine Heigl trump cast-mates Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson, it may have to do with how I feel about the parts they play, as to any quantifiable difference in their “acting.” (Indeed, Heigl may have just played her part too well.)
They are at the center of all things television, the actors. It is by nature a close-up, character-driven medium. (The Emmy broadcast itself is a parade of players.) “It really is all about them,” David Chase said of his “Sopranos” cast, which was brought on en masse (en mob?) for a curtain call; “Roots” was also honored, in its 30th anniversary year, through its cast.
It’s not to scant the people who make up these characters in the first place to say that a role is not really created until an actor acts it; the marvelous thing about television is that the process is circular: Writers write to what the players play. Acceptance speeches from all sides acknowledge this.
As to exactly who wins these things, that is always a crap shoot, or there would be no reason to put these things on in the first place.