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Emmy Essays: Predicting the Best Supporting Actor and Actress in a Movie or Miniseries Winners

Best Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries

Murray Bartlett, The White Lotus 
Jake Lacy, The White Lotus 
Will Poulter, Dopesick
Seth Rogen, Pam & Tommy
Peter Sarsgaard, Dopesick
Michael Stuhlbarg, Dopesick
Steve Zahn, The White Lotus

I sort of get why people love Seth Rogen, though he’s never really done it for me. There are other actors I’ll write about in the coming days who also fall into that category, but Rogen has always struck me as a bit of a schmuck. Maybe it’s because of that feeling that I actually liked him in Pam & Tommy, because that’s exactly the role he played. Just a big, stupid schmuck who ends up in a situation bigger than he is. I mean, he’s not going to win this award, but the fact that he was recognized for his work is nice. Also, for what I believe is the first time in his career, he did something I genuinely enjoyed.

So, take him out of the equation, and just like in the Supporting Actress category, it’s The White Lotus versus Dopesick. From the former, there’s Murray Bartlett, Jake Lacy and Steve Zahn. From the latter, Will Poulter, Peter Sarsgaaed and Michael Stuhlbarg. All of them excellent actors who did splendid work. So let’s take a deeper dive into the lot of them.

Zahn’s beleaguered husband and father is funny and sad, and Lacy’s newlywed is annoying and darkly comedic, but neither really hold a candle to Bartlett’s resort manager, who throws away years of sobriety and enters into an absurd downward spiral because of just how awful his guests are. I had never really seen the Aussie actor before, but wow, did he make an impression here. Bartlett owns the screen whenever he’s on it, and that’s really saying something, when you consider the caliber of the talent that surrounds him on this show. To steal a scene from Steve Zahn? One of the all-time great scene stealers? That’s prettay, prettay, prettay good.

On the other side of it, part of the brilliance of Dopesick is that it gives us various insights into the opioid epidemic from a bunch of different perspectives. I’ll get to one of them in the Best Actor category, but the three we see here are all equally powerful in their own way. Poulter’s drug salesman starts off thinking he’s got a fantastic job, then he sees what his product does to people, and we see his heart break and his tangible disgust about it. Sarsgaard is his usual excellent self as a U.S. attorney building a case against the people who make the drugs, while Stuhlbarg is haunting as the devious Richard Sackler, who pushes his family’s business to the hilt, indifferent to the human consequences.

Just as Bartlett outshines his costars, so does Stuhlbarg with his. The evil that seems to just ooze out of him makes it both hard to watch and completely magnetic. Stuhlbarg is a wonderful actor who does evil better than most, and that’s perfectly evident here.

That said, I think Bartlett takes this. There’s just so much going on with his performance, so many levels and facets, that even the darkness that Stuhlbarg brings to the screen can’t eclipse it. There’s a slim chance he pulls an upset, but I think it’s really, really slim.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Murray Bartlett
WHO WILL WIN: Murray Bartlett

Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Miniseries

Connie Britton, The White Lotus 
Jennifer Coolidge, The White Lotus
Alexandra Daddario, The White Lotus
Kaitlyn Dever, Dopesick
Natasha Rothwell, The White Lotus
Sydney Sweeney, The White Lotus 
Mare Winningham, Dopesick 

It’s kind of scary how focused this category is. All seven nominees are from two shows, which really couldn’t be more different. The White Lotus was a darkly funny resort show that never delved too deeply into the darkness, focusing instead on the absurdity of the situation.
Dopesick, on the other hand, was nothing but darkness, delving as deeply as it did into the opioid crisis. So it’s sort of funny that we’re supposed to judge the merits of a deeply dark and somewhat depressing performance against something meant to be much funnier. And yet, that’s the whole gist of awards shows, so onward we press.

I’m not sure if one miniseries having five nominees in a single category is a record, but if it’s not, it should be. Four of these actresses are going to go home empty-handed, and I think they probably all know which of them is going to get the gold. I think you probably do, too, even if you haven’t seen the show, because all anyone’s been talking about since the show hit HBO was how brilliant Jennifer Coolidge is in it.

To be fair, she’s pretty spectacular in everything she does, but then, so is Connie Britton, whom I have admired for more than a quarter century. But as good as Britton is — and, of course, she is very, very good — there is something special about Coolidge’s work here that transcends anything she’s done before. She is hilarious one moment and heartbreaking the next, while also somehow being both irritating and sympathetic at the same time. The thing about a sad sack is that we partly pity them and partly want to drop kick them into next week. But to make that watchable? To make us not only not hate that character, but also sort of get them and wish them well? That’s just a slice of fried gold, right there.

So as good as Britton and the other three, younger actresses — Alexandra Daddario, Natasha Rothwell and Sydney Sweeney — are, and they are also all very, very good, it doesn’t matter, because none of them were as show-stopping as Coolidge.

This leaves us with two other actresses, Mare Winningham and Kaitlyn Dever from Dopesick, playing a mother and daughter, respectively. I have long enjoyed Winningham’s work, all the way back to the 1980s, and it’s nice to see her be recognized here, but the only person I can see who could even remotely take this away from Coolidge is Dever. A former child actress who has matured into a dynamite performer as an adult, she also raises the level of everything she does, and her tragic storyline in a devastating miniseries hits all the right notes.

From the moment she appears, you know she is doomed, and yet her performance makes us want something good to happen for and to her. Anything, really, and that’s not just good writing, it’s a wonderful performance, to bring humanity to a role that could have been one dimensional in lesser hands. She really is dynamite, it’s just a shame that the performance happened the same year Coolidge gave us hers.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Jennifer Coolidge
WHO WILL WIN: Jennifer Coolidge

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