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Emmy suspense over race for supporting drama actor

September 16, 2011 | 10:00 am

John-Slattery-as-Roger-Sterling

The Emmy race for best supporting drama actor may be too close to call. It's a category that favors variety; there have been no repeat winners since 1996, and there will be no repeat victor this year either. Last year's champ Aaron Paul is sitting out this race because "Breaking Bad" didn't air new episodes during the eligibility period, and none of this year's six nominees has won this category in the past. Most of them submitted strong sample episodes, but none is decisively out front.

Nevertheless, Josh Charles ("The Good Wife") may have a slim lead thanks to the episode "Closing Arguments," the second-season finale, in which his character, hotshot attorney Will Gardner, creatively maneuvers in court to extend jury deliberations while new evidence is sought out. He's more prominently featured in his episode than any other actor in this category and has a steamy closing scene with Julianna Margulies that was the talk of the television season.

But Charles faces stiff competition from John Slattery ('"Mad Men"), who is nominated for the fourth time without a win. This year, however, he has his best chance ever because the actor, who is rarely given powerful performance showcases on the understated AMC drama, finally got some juicy material in "Hands and Knees," in which he learns that his former mistress Joan (Christina Hendricks) is pregnant, and then loses an important advertising account.

Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones") has a big emotional scene in his episode, "Baelor," in which he delivers a speech about a humiliating experience: When he was younger he married a woman only to discover that she was a prostitute paid for by his father and brother. The scene has strong emotional impact, but Dinklage's biggest problem is that he doesn't even appear in the episode until halfway in.  Split between multiple storylines and ending with a shocking cliffhanger that has nothing to do with his character, "Baelor" may be too diffuse for the actor to stand out.

Critics rejoiced when Walton Goggins received his nomination, the actor's first. He was repeatedly snubbed for his performance on "The Shield," but finally broke through this year for playing an outlaw on "Justified." In his episode, "The I of the Storm," he lashes out against co-workers who want to pull him back into a life of crime, ending with a scene where he angrily drags a man along the road in his pickup truck. It's a strong ending to an otherwise very subdued performance.

Also understated is the performance by Alan Cumming, Josh Charles' co-star on "The Good Wife," who was nominated in the guest-acting race last year but received a promotion to series regular this season and received a nomination in the supporting race. The Tony-winning actor submitted "Silver Bullet," in which he must decide whether to ruin an illegal immigrant (America Ferrera) in order to gain a political advantage.

The only previous Emmy-winner in this race is Andre Braugher ("Men of a Certain Age"), who won lead drama actor for "Homicide" in 1998 and best movie/miniseries actor in 2006 for "Thief." This year marks his second nomination for his role on TNT's "Men," which was recently canceled after two seasons. He submitted "Let the Sunshine In," in which he and his friends (played by Ray Romano and Scott Bakula) go on a retreat to get colonoscopies. It's a strong, character-driven episode, but it's more of an ensemble piece than an individual showcase for Braugher.

Predictions at Gold Derby are split. Slattery gets a slight edge, but close behind are Charles, Dinklage and Goggins. Only Cumming and Braugher seem to be out of contention.

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-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: John Slattery in "Mad Men." Credit: AMC

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