First-time nominees awaken to a new reality

An Emmy nomination is a very big deal in the life of an actor; for a first-time nominee, it’s a particular achievement. The honor of being one of the very best can open doors in a career — and, for the lucky few, a hard-won Emmy signals industry acceptance and enduring prestige.

Yet it seems that the only first-timer who actually set her alarm to “early” on July 8 to pay attention to the nominations was Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family,” supporting actress, comedy) — and that’s because she and “Community’s” Joel McHale were the ones reading them on live TV.

“I was basically asleep,” admits Connie Britton (“Friday Night Lights,” lead actress, drama). “I thought it was strange that my cousin was calling me so early in the morning. She’s one of my biggest fans — and she was calling from New York literally in tears.”

But don’t be too hard on the late sleepers (Britton is just one of many). They’re far from blasé.

“I’m too easily obsessed,” says Ty Burrell (“Modern Family,” supporting actor, comedy), who was also in bed when he heard. “I had done a fairly successful job at denial that the nominations were even happening, so I was surprised when the phone rang. That’s how elaborate my neuroses are.”

First-time Emmy nominees are quaint in this way. They only know secondhand what to expect and have no idea how to proceed once their names are called. Those contacted for this article were still dazzled by being on the shortlist.

Some, like Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife,” supporting actress, drama), didn’t want to think too far ahead. “Opportunities like this are so rare that I’m happy to be enjoying the innocence of it all before dealing with the details that go along with it,” she says.

Lea Michele ( “Glee,” lead actress, comedy) also wants to savor the moment, doling out her congratulatory answering-machine messages a bit at a time. “When the excitement dies down, I’ll want to listen to them. That’s something I can hold in my back pocket for a rainy day.”

Others are learning how an Emmy nomination (or, in the case of Robert and Michelle King’s show “The Good Wife,” which earned nine nods) casts them in a new light. “Our 11-year-old daughter looks at us with a little more respect,” Robert says. “We keep telling her, ‘This is what we do!’”

Though returning to the set with a nomination when co-workers are bereft could be awkward, there seems to be little indication that actors are holding grudges. In the case of “Mad Men’s” Christina Hendricks, who will compete with costar Elisabeth Moss for supporting actress in a drama, they “rushed into work and gave each other big hugs,” she says. “It feels very natural to be in the category with her.”

Matthew Fox (“Lost,” lead actor, drama) may no longer have a show, but he agrees that Emmy-made rivalries are rare: “I have never noticed someone take it so seriously that they are bent out of shape if someone else gets nominated.”

Of course, once the “innocence” wears off, big moves have to be made — like deciding what to wear. Hendricks says she’ll consult for ideas; Julia Ormond (“Temple Grandin,” supporting actress, miniseries or movie) admits that since she’s “not a size zero” she’ll have to “grab the dress I can squeeze into.”

Michele, meanwhile, will attend on her birthday with her mother as her date. “My poor dad gets shafted,” she says with a laugh. “We’ll end up putting him at a party somewhere.”

Luxury problems, to be sure. But it goes to show that for first-time nominees, sifting through the nitty-gritty details is almost as hard as earning the nomination in the first place. Dennis Quaid, who received his first this year (“The Special Relationship,” lead actor, miniseries or movie), has it in perspective. “I certainly appreciate this more now than I would have 20 years ago, but I know how it works — don’t get carried away with it. It’s just very nice to be noticed.”

Even more hard-core advice comes from veteran nominees. John Goodman, who earned his 11th nomination (he has one win) this year (“You Don’t Know Jack,” supporting actor, miniseries or movie) offers this: “If you smoke, bring nicotine gum. Get to know your seat-filler. Have a strong bladder. And if you can get Novocain shots in your butt — get ‘em. Knock yourself out. Who knows if you’re gonna get back?”