AwardsLine Editor Christy Grosz, Managing Editor Anthony D’Alessandro and contributors Paul Brownfield and Thomas J. McLean assist with Deadline’s TV coverage.
Four of the lead acting drama series hopefuls Kevin Spacey (House Of Cards), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Kerry Washington (Scandal) and Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) share thoughts on their characters, shows and nominations.
AwardsLine: What is it about your character, U.S. Representative Francis Underwood, that translates to audiences? He can be so evil.
Spacey: It’s incredibly fun to play someone who doesn’t have any allegiances. He doesn’t care if he’s ideological or conservative. Francis sees opportunity and wants to get shit done. He wants progress and isn’t bound by labels. People view him as diabolical, but he’s very effective. To have our government in stalemate and in gridlock—it’s conceivable that this world is exciting for the audience.
Related: EMMYS: Drama Series Overview
AwardsLine: Did you see Netflix’s plan to release all episodes of House Of Cards at the same time as risky?
Spacey: I wasn’t concerned upfront. Netflix might have been. If you look back at the last five years, and you ask people what they did on the weekend, they’ll say, “I watched three seasons of Breaking Bad.” This is how people have been consuming their shows. House of Cards was just the first originally produced series to drop all the episodes at once in its first season. It doesn’t mean that everyone is binge-watching. Some people approach me and exclaim, “Hey, thanks for sucking three days out of my life,” while others will say that they watched three episodes then waited to watch another two. We’ve given the audience the freedom to watch their shows when they want them. Do you know why Game of Thrones is the most pirated series? Because people can’t get it fast enough.
AwardsLine: Do you think that the Netflix model hurt Arrested Development in the end at the Emmys?
Spacey: I do believe that if you look at Netflix’s 14 nominations, I don’t think it’s about anyone not breaking through—it’s a pretty historical moment. You can talk about individuals being overlooked, but you can’t ignore the fact that the paradigm has shifted.
Related: EMMYS: Drama Lead Acting Handicap
AwardsLine: With so many top-notch actors in your category, doesn’t the cliché hold that the nom is the win?
Lewis: I’ve always felt that, yeah. I felt that until I won last year. And then I (thought), “Oh, no. It’s actually a pretty good thing to win it.” You know, how do you judge art, and call out a winner, in any artistic endeavor? It’s kind of not possible to do. For whatever reason, people chose my performance last year. This year, just to be included with those actors, who I admire and have watched and loved their work over the years, is a thrill.
AwardsLine: I read your Homeland character Brody as having post-traumatic stress disorder. How did you assess his psychology?
Lewis: A lot more was concealed in Season 1. One of the big early shocks of Season 2 was how quickly it was discovered what Brody had attempted to do. By the end of Episode 2, Saul (Mandy Patinkin) had the evidence. So he was exposed much quicker. Some people wondered how that would affect the series. I think you need to play the same things with Brody. He continues to have PTSD, and he continues to be everybody’s pawn, which is kind of Brody’s story.
AwardsLine: The show is a lot about reading faces. You’re often shot in tight closeup. What effect does that have on an actor?
Lewis: I have been in that position many times. It’s very focusing. When you are in closeup like that, it becomes a sort of comfort to you. And if they don’t come close, it can make you feel a little disoriented. It’s a good thing. I like the camera close.
AwardsLine: What are your thoughts on being the first black actress in close to 20 years nominated in this category?
Washington: While I don’t have a specific answer in terms of why it has taken the TV Academy so long to nominate a black actress, I will say that Scandal prioritizes inclusiveness and diversity. Not just in terms of race, but if you look at Jeff Perry’s character (Cyrus Beene) and Dan Bucatinsky’s character (James Novak), if you look at the world of the show, it prioritizes race, gender, age and sexual orientation. So the fact that a show like this and these two nominated characters (mine and Dan’s) can be celebrated, I’m really proud of that. I’m excited to live in a world where these stories can flourish.
AwardsLine: Why do you think Olivia Pope resonates with audiences?
Washington: She’s so human. It’s what Shonda Rhimes does best. It’s true of the central characters on the show—they’re so complex and three-dimensional. There are things that these characters do that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s that complexity that draws audiences.
AwardsLine: What’s your take on the whole award campaigning process?
Washington: I feel really grateful for the experience. The acting work has to come first. That has to be my focus. You can never control how people respond to work. You can only control your own work ethic. I take it as such a compliment that ABC chose to prioritize the show.
AwardsLine: Of all the characters in the best drama actress category, yours is the only one who exists in another period entirely. Lady Mary is surrounded by modern-day women.
Dockery: I don’t really think about the actual period, it’s more about the story and what is actually happening to the character as I’m playing her each year. And with Julian Fellowes’ writing, it has a slightly modern narrative. It’s not as alienating as some period dramas can be. I think that Mary comes up against similar dilemmas that a modern woman could have. And when it comes to love, not really much has changed. I feel very much that I’m part of a special time in television with these great roles being written for women. For me, even in Mad Men, it’s more about the women than it is about the male characters.
AwardsLine: A lot happened to Lady Mary at the climax of Season 3. She gives birth to a son, and her husband, Matthew (Dan Stevens), is killed, practically in the same cinematic instant. When did you know that was going to happen?
Dockery: We knew that Dan Stevens was leaving, so it was inevitable really that the character had to be killed off, because Matthew was the heir to Downton Abbey. So he couldn’t very well just disappear, never to be seen again. I think it had to be that final, which seems very brutal, I think, to the audience, but it had to be that way. But it opened up opportunities for Julian to write such a great storyline, a kind of next chapter for Mary. The fourth series begins six months on from Matthew’s death. There isn’t a scene where she finds out; it just jumps ahead.
AwardsLine: Is there anyone you’d really like to talk to at the Emmys?
Dockery: I love Nurse Jackie, and I really admire Edie Falco. So I wouldn’t mind an encounter with her at some point this year. I think she’s wonderful.