Paula Bernstein is an AwardsLine contributor.

A look at the leading Emmys contenders for drama guest roles this season.

Nathan Lane
WHAT: The Good Wife
WHY: “Why would I joke?” asks Nathan Lane’s Clarke Hayden, the trustee brought in to oversee Lockhart/Gardner and get the firm back on track. It’s a fitting question for Lane, who is better known for his comic delivery than for his dramatic chops. But, as the levelheaded Hayden, Lane forgoes the over-the-top theatrics and delivers a quiet performance that could earn him his first Emmy nom in a drama category (he’s been nominated previously for comedy guest roles on Frasier, Mad About You and Modern Family).
ONE-LINER: “I don’t like people who quit.”

Ray Romano
WHAT: Parenthood
WHY: As Hank Rizzoli, the blunt, socially awkward wedding photographer who woos Sarah Braverman, Ray Romano creates a character that is both misanthropic and romantic—not an easy feat. His complex, restrained performance makes us root for Hank in spite of, or perhaps because of, his neuroses. Although Romano was nominated six times in the lead actor category for Everybody Loves Raymond and won once (in 2002), he has never been nominated in a drama category.
ONE-LINER: “You’re pretty. You’re nice, and I like talking to you.”

Richard Thomas
WHAT: The Americans
WHY: Up until now, Richard Thomas has been best known for his lead role as John-Boy on The Waltons (for which he won in 1973), but that could change with the actor’s role as sturdy Agent Frank Gaad on The Americans, a performance that escalates in intensity as the season progresses. On a show where nobody is who he or she seems to be, Gaad is a straight shooter who, thanks to Thomas’ performance, we can believe.
ONE-LINER: “They kill us, we kill them. It’s the world we live in. But even in this world, there are lines that can’t be crossed.”

Jane Fonda
WHAT: The Newsroom
WHY: Fonda has described her character on The Newsroom as “Rupert Murdoch marinated in a little Ted Turner.” Playing the steely CEO of Atlantis Media, Leona Lansing, the former Mrs. Ted Turner (who previously won an Emmy for The Dollmaker in 1984) gives a performance that is understated and scene-stealing.
ONE-LINER: “What happened to human interest stories? Obesity, breast cancer, hurricanes, older women having babies, iPhones?”

Shirley MacLaine
WHAT: Downton Abbey
WHY: When Shirley MacLaine’s Martha Levinson sweeps into Downton Abbey’s third season as Cora’s forward-thinking American mother, she provides the ideal foil for Dame Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess. Her showstopping performance could earn the veteran actress her first guest drama Emmy (she was nominated for a lead actress Emmy in 2009, for her portrayal of the title character in Lifetime’s TV movie Coco Chanel).
ONE-LINER: “It seems so strange to think of the English embracing change.”

Linda Cardellini
WHAT: Mad Men
WHY: When Cardellini appeared on Mad Men as Don Draper’s latest conquest, Twitter was abuzz. Could that really be fresh-faced Lindsay Weir from Freaks And Geeks? After we got over the initial surprise of seeing Lindsay/Linda all grown up, we marveled at her detailed portrayal of Sylvia Rosen, Don’s mystery neighbor-lover and Megan’s confidante. Cardellini’s coy performance added depth and intrigue to the role of the “other woman.”
ONE-LINER: “What do you want for this year?”

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