Which actors will win, and which should win, at the 2020 Emmys?

From left to right, it’s an honor just to be nominated: Kerry Washington (Photo: Erin Simkin/Hulu), Uzo Aduba (Sabrina Lantos/FX), Olivia Colman (Photo: Sophie Mutevelian/Netflix), Kieran Culkin (Photo: Peter Kramer/HBO), and Hugh Jackman (Photo: Jojo Whilden/HBO)
From left to right, it’s an honor just to be nominated: Kerry Washington (Photo: Erin Simkin/Hulu), Uzo Aduba (Sabrina Lantos/FX), Olivia Colman (Photo: Sophie Mutevelian/Netflix), Kieran Culkin (Photo: Peter Kramer/HBO), and Hugh Jackman (Photo: Jojo Whilden/HBO)
Graphic: Rebecca Fassola

The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards will take place on Sunday, September 20, but instead of gathering at the Microsoft Theater or a similar venue, nominees will have to pick a Zoom background and film their reaction shots from the comfort of their own homes. Which, when you think about it, means they’ll be watching the ceremony in the same fashion we are (albeit with a much higher probability of having a delivery truck show up with a statuette.) The following are A.V. Club TV editor Danette Chavez’s predictions for the winners of the acting awards. Be sure to tune in Sunday night for our liveblog and news coverage.

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Outstanding lead actress in a drama series

Outstanding lead actress in a drama series

Jennifer Aniston
Jennifer Aniston
Photo: Apple TV+

Nominees: Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show; Olivia Colman, The Crown; Jodie Comer, Killing Eve; Laura Linney, Ozark; Sandra Oh, Killing Eve; Zendaya, Euphoria

Prediction: Laura Linney made the most of the showcase afforded to Wendy Byrde in Ozark season three, and, as a six-time nominee and three-time winner, is a safe bet. But though Jennifer Aniston hasn’t walked the dais nearly as many times as her competitor, she’s well known to Academy voters, and offered the most talked-about performance on a show that generated a ton of buzz. The Morning Show also garnered more cast nominations than Ozark. Last year’s winner Jodie Comer is still very much in the running and Olivia Colman casts a long, regal shadow, but the biggest upset could come from Zendaya. HBO hasn’t had a great showing in this category in recent years, but Zendaya’s performance as a conflicted teen was memorable enough for voters to nominate her a year after Euphoria ended.

Preference: Jodie Comer’s Villanelle got a great spotlight episode in an otherwise middling third season of Killing Eve. It’s great to see Sandra Oh in the mix, and Eve did have slightly more of a chance to break out this season, but the show is running on fumes at this point. While I personally found The Morning Show overwrought and overlong, Jennifer Aniston provided great center for the media maelstrom.

Overlooked: It remains a travesty that Rhea Seehorn wasn’t nominated.

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Outstanding lead actor in a drama series

Outstanding lead actor in a drama series

Nominees: Jason Bateman, Ozark; Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us; Steve Carell, The Morning Show; Brian Cox, Succession; Billy Porter, Pose; Jeremy Strong, Succession

Prediction: After a respectable showing at the 72nd Emmys, Succession returned in force this year, picking up 18 nominations—including a much-deserved nod for Brian Cox. His portrayal of Logan Roy as the lion in winter is both frightening and awe-inspiring, and always perfectly calibrated. Ozark’s Jason Bateman could give Cox a run for his money; he’s nominated along with his co-stars Laura Linney and Julia Garner, so clearly enough people in the TV Academy have figured out how to adjust their screen brightness to watch the show. Pose’s Billy Porter is a dream and the incumbent, but it’s been 10 years since an actor won this award in back-to-back years (that was Bryan Cranston, who won in 2008, 2009, and 2010.)

Preference: Cox is deserving, but a win for Porter would take some of the sting out of Pose not being nominated for outstanding drama.

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Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series

Outstanding lead actress in a comedy series

Catherine O’Hara in Schitt’s Creek
Catherine O’Hara in Schitt’s Creek
Photo: Pop TV

Nominees: Christina Applegate, Dead To Me; Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Linda Cardellini, Dead To Me; Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek; Issa Rae, Insecure; Tracee Ellis Ross, Black-ish

Prediction: As Midge Maisel, Rachel Brosnahan has been collecting lead actress in a comedy nominations like a pastel-swathed Julia Louis-Dreyfus; she even nabbed her first award in 2018. It took the singular talents of Phoebe Waller-Bridge to derail The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star’s momentum, but with no Fleabag in the running, Academy voters could swing back to Brosnahan. But if Moira Rose were here (and not a fictional character), she’d probably share some arcane word for “destined,” because Catherine O’Hara has this contest all but wrapped up. During the pandemic-related shutdowns, Schitt’s Creek has emerged as one of the shows many wish they’d caught on to sooner; if voters are anything like us, they’ll want to reward O’Hara for her dazzling yet humanistic portrayal. Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini aren’t Dead To Me; either could deliver an upset in this race. So could Tracee Ellis Ross, who continues to shine as Bow on Black-ish. But this one really feels like it’s going to come down to Brosnahan and O’Hara.

Preference: Issa Rae has proven herself as consummate a talent as fellow nominees like Ramy Youssef and Daniel Levy, who have been recognized for their writing and directing shows on their respective series. But in taking her Insecure character Issa Dean through personal and professional heartbreak over the last four years, she stands above them as a performer.

Overlooked: As long as Emmy voters continue to ignore One Day At A Time, I’m going to keep asking for #JusticeForJustinaMachado.

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Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series

Outstanding lead actor in a comedy series

Nominees: Anthony Anderson, Black-ish; Don Cheadle, Black Monday; Ted Danson, The Good Place; Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method; Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek; Ramy Youssef, Ramy

Prediction: This award will almost certainly go to a veteran performer of a recently concluded series who hasn’t received much Emmy recognition, but which one? Will it be Ted Danson, whose portrayal of Michael has made The Good Place a heavenly and life-affirming treat? Or will it be Eugene Levy, who, as Johnny Rose, has been a huge part of the appeal and success of Schitt’s Creek? Eugene Levy seems more likely to accept the award on Sunday; The Good Place just doesn’t seem to have remained in the conversation as prominently as Schitt’s Creek. But we can’t discount Ramy Youssef, who won the Golden Globe earlier this year.

Preference: I’m having a devil of a time picking a favorite, as Anthony Anderson’s work on Black-ish was also top-notch (he could very well surprise us, too.) I’ll let my love of Cheers make up my mind and go with Ted Danson.

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Outstanding supporting actress in a drama series

Outstanding supporting actress in a drama series

Nominees: Helena Bonham Carter, The Crown; Laura Dern, Big Little Lies; Julia Garner, Ozark; Thandie Newton, Westworld; Fiona Shaw, Killing Eve; Sarah Snook, Succession; Meryl Streep, Big Little Lies; Samira Wiley, The Handmaid’s Tale

Prediction: Ozark hasn’t lost any of its luster with the TV Academy, which makes last year’s winner, Julia Garner, a prime candidate once again. Samira Wiley has already won an Emmy for playing Moira on The Handmaid’s Tale, but that was in the outstanding guest actress category. Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep, Columbo-inspired affectations and all, so she has the edge on her Big Little Lies co-star and competitor Laura Dern. And Thandie Newton was the best thing about Westworld season three. But Helena Bonham Carter’s moving turn as The Crown’s Princess Margaret is going to prove difficult to beat. In a series with a revolving cast, Bonham Carter made an indelible impression as the flawed royal.

Preference: I say again: Thandie Newton was the best thing about Westworld season three, the silver lining in another repetitive outing for HBO’s sci-fi drama. Maeve’s story might not have been handled as well as Princess Margaret’s, so let’s consider this more of a legacy award for her ongoing work.

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Outstanding supporting actor in a drama series

Outstanding supporting actor in a drama series

Nominees: Nicholas Braun, Succession; Billy Crudup, The Morning Show; Kieran Culkin, Succession; Mark Duplass, The Morning Show; Giancarlo Esposito, Better Call Saul; Matthew Macfadyen, Succession; Bradley Whitford, The Handmaid’s Tale; Jeffrey Wright, Westworld

Prediction: Like his Handmaid’s Tale co-star, Bradley Whitford already won an outstanding guest actor Emmy for the same role that’s earned him an outstanding supporting actor nomination this year. But his inebriated Commander is best dealt in small doses; the bump up to series regular isn’t likely to do him any favors here. Jeffrey Wright is reliably excellent, but Westworld just didn’t set the world on fire this season the way Dolores did. All three Succession actors are well deserving, but Kieran Culkin upped his (if not Roman’s) game significantly in season two of the HBO drama. Vote-splitting is always a concern, but if anyone’s going to benefit from Succession’s strong overall showing here, it’s going to be Culkin.

Preference: Kieran Culkin’s performance is one of my favorites in this race, but I’d be just as happy to see Giancarlo Esposito take home the Emmy (although he does have another shot in the outstanding guest actor contest.)

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Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series

Outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series

Alex Borstein
Alex Borstein
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Nominees: Alex Borstein, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; D’Arcy Carden, The Good Place; Betty Gilpin, GLOW; Marin Hinkle, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live; Annie Murphy, Schitt’s Creek; Yvonne Orji, Insecure; Cecily Strong, Saturday Night Live

Prediction: A triple consecutive win isn’t unheard of in this category—Rhea Perlman’s winning streak for her work on Cheers extended from 1984 through 1986, and Roseanne’s Laurie Metcalf won in 1992, 1993, and 1994. Two-time winner Alex Borstein is in a good position to join their ranks, bringing the same verve to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Susie in season three. There’s strong competition from her Maisel co-star Marin Hinkle, as well as Insecure’s Yvonne Orji, who made us love Molly even as Molly made us want to rip our hair out at times. The Good Place’s D’Arcy Carden gave us more Janets to love. And the Schitt’s Creek love could also lead Annie Murphy to victory… it’s a crowded field, is what I’m getting at.

Preference: Even so, Betty Gilpin owned this season of GLOW. As Debbie, Gilpin weaponized Debbie’s looks and smarts—and the false sense of superiority of businessmen who want to relegate beautiful women to trophy wives—to secure her future.

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9 / 14

Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series

Outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series

Nominees: Mahershala Ali, Ramy; Alan Arkin, The Kominsky Method; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Sterling K. Brown, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; William Jackson Harper, The Good Place; Daniel Levy, Schitt’s Creek; Tony Shalhoub, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; Kenan Thompson, Saturday Night Live

Prediction: As has been the case in the comedy acting categories, Schitt’s Creek and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are going head to head. Tony Shalhoub remains effortlessly charming as Abe Weissman, but as a multiple nominee, Daniel Levy’s profile is just higher. The younger Levy’s work onscreen has been just as key to the ongoing success of Schitt’s Creek; David’s experienced as much, if not more, growth than his family members. Mahershala Ali is still very much in the running, though—his portrayal of Sheik Ali Malik rightly earned him the “Hot Sheik” moniker, but he also radiated goodness at a time when we most needed it. That’s not easy to do in a supporting role, let alone jumping into an established ensemble.

Preference: William Jackson Harper hasn’t gotten nearly enough credit for his work on The Good Place. Chidi could easily be a drag or a nag, but instead, he inspires others to be better. That generosity starts with Jackson Harper’s performance.

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Outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie

Outstanding lead actress in a limited series or movie

Nominees: Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America; Shira Haas, Unorthodox; Regina King, Watchmen; Octavia Spencer, Self Made: Inspired By The Life Of Madam C.J. Walker; Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere

Prediction: It’s been a while since I wrote about Watchmen—at least 24 hours. But Regina King’s status as frontrunner hasn’t diminished at any point in the lead up to the ceremony. Like her Mrs. America character Phyllis Schlafly, Cate Blanchett is a formidable opponent, but Watchmen was the show of 2019, a fact that becomes clearer every time it comes up in conversation about this year’s best shows. And it all starts with King, who sells every moment of Angela’s pain, every bit of her resilience, while still displaying ample charm and humor. As impeccable as Blanchett’s work is, King’s portrayal is just undeniable. Unorthodox’s Shira Haas is quietly great, and with all the extra time to catch up on submissions, the Academy could very well single out her transformation. But King’s won enough Emmys to always be on voters’ minds. Don’t worry about five-time nominee Kerry Washington; this week, she won a Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special for her role as executive producer on Live In Front Of A Studio Audience: All In The Family And Good Times, and still has two more chances to win another Emmy on Sunday.

Preference: Considering I’m prepared to listen to Louis Gossett Jr. read the phone book with her, it’s Regina King all day.

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11 / 14

Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie

Outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie

Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman
Photo: Courtesy of HBO

Nominees: Jeremy Irons, Watchmen; Hugh Jackman, Bad Education; Paul Mescal, Normal People; Jeremy Pope, Hollywood; Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True

Prediction: There are a few factors to consider here, including the Academy’s record for rewarding breakout stars like Riz Ahmed and Jharrel Jerome in this category, and the fact that the runtime of a TV movie only offers so many opportunities for voters to come around to your character. Paul Mescal and Jeremy Pope are both excellent in Normal People and Hollywood, respectively, even though the shows surrounding them leave something to be desired (surprising, given all the sex in Normal People). Mark Ruffalo is impressive in I Know This Much Is True, but I don’t know many people who finished that limited series. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, led one of the most trenchant features of the year. As Frank Tassone, Jackman plumbed the depths of insecurity and resentment against the backdrop of Bad Education’s commentary on the educational system and the private interests that all too often embed themselves within it.

Preference: Hugh Jackman, not least of which for the strut turned walk of shame in Bad Education’s final act.

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Outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or movie

Outstanding supporting actress in a limited series or movie

Nominees: Uzo Aduba, Mrs. America; Toni Collette, Unbelievable; Margo Martindale, Mrs. America; Jean Smart, Watchmen; Holland Taylor, Hollywood; Tracey Ullman, Mrs. America

Prediction: That Toni Collette isn’t joined in this category by either of her Unbelievable co-stars, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever, is… difficult to comprehend. But that might be its own commendation, as she managed to stand out among a trio of exceptional performers. But Uzo Aduba, who won the statuette in 2014 and 2015 for Orange Is The New Black, was part of an even more extensive ensemble of dramatic heavy hitters—including beloved character actress Margo Martindale—on Mrs. America. Dahvi Waller’s limited series offered episodic spotlights for most of its feminist icons, but Aduba imbued “Shirley” with greater urgency. Like the rest of the limited series/movie categories, this is a tight race, thanks in no small part to Aduba’s co-stars.

Preference: “Shirley” was one of the best episodes of Mrs. America, and that’s in large part due to Uzo Aduba’s embodiment of the bravery of Shirley Chisholm.

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Outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie

Outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie

Nominees: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Watchmen; Jovan Adepo, Watchmen; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy Vs. The Reverend; Louis Gossett Jr. Watchmen; Jim Parsons, Hollywood

Prediction: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II was supposed to fade into the background as Watchmen’s Cal Abar, but as we’ve already established, even his more understated presence proved impossible to ignore. When Cal reverts to his god-like state as Dr. Manhattan, Abdul-Mateen II retains his serenity, a serenity born of a life lived with Regina King—sorry, Angela Abar. Watchmen has enough momentum to clean up across categories, so a win here for Abdul-Mateen II is likely. There’s also a chance the award will go to one of his co-stars; Jovan Adepo is quite powerful in “This Extraordinary Being,” and Louis Gossett Jr. did an exceptional job of laying the groundwork for the Hooded Justice reveal. As the lone comedy entrant, Tituss Burgess could surprise us all. Jim Parsons made a splash in Hollywood, but his character is abusive in a way that may make him too unpalatable for voters.

Preference: Same as my prediction—Yahya Abdul-Mateen II.

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