Standout Drama Guest Roles

Paula Bernstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.
The Good WifeNathan 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.”

Parenthood - Season 4Ray 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.”

The AmericansRichard 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.”

The NewsroomJane 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?”

Downton Abbey series 3.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.”

Mad MenLinda 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?”

Emmys Q&A: Monica Potter

Megan Masters is West Coast editor at TVLine. This story appeared in the June 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Monica Potter has a secret. Contrary to what the Parenthood actress’ drama-centric résumé—which includes big-screen offerings like Patch Adams and Along Came a Spider, and TV’s Boston Legal—might suggest, she’s actually quite funny. (“I am funny, thanks,” she insists with a laugh.) It’s that fact that makes her performance throughout the NBC drama’s fourth season all the more impressive. With ease and humility, Potter portrayed the highs and lows that come with battling breast cancer. After three seasons as a Parenthood standout, will Potter’s memorable turn (and her recent win at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards) garner her some Emmy love?

You’ve joked in the past about not being as classically trained as some of your costars—yet here we are.

(Laughs.) I’m just being tongue-in-cheek. I’ve been learning since I was in my teens, but I never went somewhere like NYU. Peter (Krause) and I joke that he went to all of these colleges and is so ‘theater,’ and I’m jealous because I’m not. (Laughs.) I’ve learned from life experiences. If you go through certain things, you’re able to pull from them.

Parenthood is no doubt an ensemble series, but Kristina’s breast cancer storyline really propelled you to the forefront.
I think the biggest reason for that is because (Parenthood executive producer) Jason Katims’ wife actually went through this. A lot of the stuff that (Peter and I) do in the show mirrors (Katims’) family; his son has Asperger’s, and his wife had breast cancer. I don’t know if this was an intentional thing, but it just took on a life of its own. It was a challenge—but I was so happy Jason gave me the work to do.

How did you prepare for this arc?
When I found out we were going to (tell this story), I wanted to ask my husband everything because he’s a cancer surgeon—but I didn’t. I didn’t ask him anything because I wanted to experience this first-hand with Kristina. Every woman’s experience is different. I’ve had close friends who had this disease and I (witnessed) what it did to their self-esteem, their family—I learned so much from just looking at it through their life and how they lived it.

Cancer storylines aren’t new to TV, but Parenthood was able to make it feel fresh—and you were able to humanize Kristina’s journey this season.
I worried about that a little bit. Women still, when they have breast cancer, go to work; they still lead their lives. They have to. But that (freshness) had a lot to do with the writing. I just did what I was supposed to do. I didn’t want to exploit it or be too “actory” about it, if that makes any sense. That’s also why I didn’t shave my head; I feel like you have to earn that. I applaud other actors who do that and I am not ripping on them, but to me, that’s a badge of honor if you’re fighting this disease.

How important was it to infuse humor into what could have been a mostly somber performance?
The women I know who have gone through breast cancer still laugh a lot. They’re not crying all day—even though Kristina did plenty of that this season. In moments throughout, we were able to make things lighter and change the tone because that’s life.

A lot of actors develop a real affinity for the characters they portray onscreen. Was it difficult for you to “watch” Kristina go through this?
Kristina actually bugged me the first couple of seasons. (Laughs.) I would think, “You need to freaking let loose!” But now I have grown to love her. This year, I really was pulling for her and just wanting her to be OK. It was one of those things where going through this with her (helped me) really love her. But the first two seasons, I was like, “Oh, boy.” (Laughs.)

Are there any  moments from the past season that really stand out in your mind?
Every single moment of every single scene that I had to do was so special for me. Nothing was ever glossed over. It was like going to the Super Bowl every day and putting your best foot forward. These little moments would just unfold and happen in the best ways because they were unplanned. With some of the stuff, we were not on script and that’s when all of this really great stuff would happen. I relied so heavily on Peter, who is the most awesome actor I have ever worked with. He’s just very calming when I’m not. Same thing with Max (Burkholder) and Sarah Ramos (who plays Haddie Braverman), my little TV family. I don’t even know how to explain this last season. It was messy, it was magical, it was honest, it was grounded, it was spiritual and it was profound. I really didn’t have anything to do with it—it just happened.

You had something to do with it.
(Laughs.) I would just light my candles in my trailer before I’d shoot—I’m surprised it didn’t burn down this year! I’d say a little prayer and go to work. I was trying to not control anything and just let go. When I did that, it was great.