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Roundup of Emmy Contenders: Lead Actor in a Drama Series

For this installment of Roundup of Emmy Contenders, we’re giving you our top picks for the leading men of TV drama. The nominations for the 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced on July 13, but until then, check out our take on whose work should be recognized. Keep reading for a roundup of the names we think should make this year’s list of nominees for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.


Matthew Rhys for Perry Mason

Robert Downey Jr. was intended to star as the title role in the origin story series about the masterful defense attorney, and Raymond Burr originated the character in the long-running CBS series that spanned the 50s and 60s. In other words, Rhys had big shoes to fill, and he rose to the occasion. The HBO reboot is set in 1932 Los Angeles, a time when Perry was not yet the skilled criminal defense lawyer that he became. Rhys portrays the character when he’s still suffering from his experiences fighting in World War I and working as a low-rent private detective. Perry gets entangled with a complicated, grisly case, and IndieWire describes how the actor plays his role “with elastic, enamoring despondency.” Other fans of Rhys’ work in the series include none other than Downey Jr. and his wife Susan Downey, who both executive produced Perry Mason. “Robert marveled at Rhys’ performance,” Susan told the Los Angeles Times. Such a reaction is high praise, especially when coming from an A-lister working behind the camera on a series in which he’d almost starred. And we couldn’t agree more. 


Sterling K. Brown for This Is Us

We get it — Brown has already won an Emmy for his performance as Randall in This Is Us. Why not make room for someone who has yet to win that accolade for their current role? In response, let us direct you to TVLine’s assertion that in season five, “the actor wowed us like never before.” Throughout the series, Brown has consistently delivered powerful performances as Randall, one of the Pearson family’s “Big Three.” His work in this season of the NBC dramedy goes straight to the heart, though, and makes him an easy choice for our list of Emmy contenders.


Pedro Pascal for The Mandalorian 

If Pascal lands a nomination for his work in season two of the Disney+ series, it would be his first, a well-deserved recognition for the actor who plays the title character. Pascal manages to connect with viewers throughout the series, even though his face is most often covered by a helmet. It’s an impressive feat that does not require you to be a Star Wars fan in order to appreciate. The Guardian sums it up with recognition for how Pascal “continues to give his lead performance its nuance without the use of any facial expressions” in season two of The Mandalorian.


Josh O’Connor for The Crown 

When actors portray a public figure on screen, added scrutinization of their performance comes with the job. O’Connor rises to the challenge in the The Crown, utilizing its fourth season to deepen his depiction of Prince Charles by boldly leaning into the character’s flaws. “O’Connor is uncannily skilled at portraying the prince’s chimeric moods — the arrogance and entitlement, the hangdog malaise, the insecurity and yearning,” one Entertainment Weekly review reads. “Charles is a wretched beast, but your heart still breaks for him.” Lesser actors would have made the character completely unlikeable in this season, but O’Connor’s ability to still elicit viewers’ sympathy for Charles is the mark of masterful work. 


From replacing Downey Jr. in a series he executive produced to portraying the struggles of a royal family member as imagined by a narrative drama series, there were some high stakes surrounding Emmy contenders in this category. You’ll have to wait until July 13 to find out if Rhys, Brown, Pascal and O’Connor make this year’s list of nominees for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. But we have to say, they’re all already winners in our book. 

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