Chicago actors poised to claim lots of Emmy gold

Written By By LORI RACKL TV Critic Posted: 08/21/2014, 05:50pm
Array LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07: Producer Steven Levitan arrives at the 13th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball in Los Angeles on June 7th, 2014. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Chrysalis) ORG XMIT: 496327509

Emmy nominees with ties to Chicago are positioned to take home more hardware than usual this year — even if some of these strong contenders don’t think they stand a chance.

“I’m gonna lose to somebody; I just don’t know who it’s going to be,” said former West Sider Andre Braugher, whose stereotype-upending turn as police Capt. Ray Holt, a gay straight man on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” makes him a front-runner in the race for best supporting actor in a comedy series.

The St. Ignatius College Prep grad already has a pair of Emmy bookends for previous roles in police dramas (“Homicide: Life on the Street” and the FX miniseries “Thief”). A nod for comedy chops is a first for Braugher, a one-time engineering student who spent a summer interning at Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont.

“Comedy’s more difficult,” Braugher said during an interview this summer on the set of Fox’s freshman sitcom. “You can pretend to be dramatic but you can’t pretend to be funny. I watch these guys like a hawk and learn from them. I study the script. I try to understand the art of comedy. It’s based on the same things as drama, there’s just a spiritual twist somewhere inside.”

Another police performance that captivated Television Academy voters comes from Emmy rookie Allison Tolman, 32, who was working as an office administrator for a small IT firm in River North not that long ago.

Tolman nailed it as Bemidji, Minnesota’s salt-of-the-earth, savvy detective Molly Solverson in “Fargo,” the FX miniseries that gleaned an impressive 18 Emmy noms. That’s one shy of this year’s leader, “Game of Thrones.”

Tolman’s universally praised performance — one that landed her a Critics’ Choice Award — put the previously unknown actress on the map.

It’s also the impetus for her planned relocation next month to Los Angeles from Chicago, where the Texas-born thespian moved in 2009. She made her way through Second City’s conservatory program and performed with several Chicago sketch comedy groups before beating out more than 600 women for the role of Molly.

The smart money is on a couple of other Chicago-trained actresses — both former theater students at Northwestern University — to repeat last year’s wins.

It would be a felony if Anna Gunn didn’t score another Emmy for her swan song as the morally complex, emotionally drained wife of Walter White in “Breaking Bad.” She’s up for best supporting actress in the AMC drama, whose 16 Emmy nods this year are a record high for the lauded series.

The 1990 Northwestern grad’s first professional role was Lucy Lockit in “The Beggar’s Opera” at Hyde Park’s Court Theatre. Gunn took part in a few other local plays before leaving the city to pursue her career.

“I cleaned houses and apartments over a blazing hot Chicago summer,” Gunn told me during an interview last year, shortly before “Breaking Bad” began its final batch of eight episodes. “My roommates and I escaped the heat by putting up a little sign by the lake saying we wanted to volunteer to crew on a boat. None of us knew anything about sailing but it worked. We did it every weekend.”

Fellow Wildcat theater student Julia Louis-Dreyfus could easily three-peat in the comedy lead actress category for her role as self-absorbed Selina Meyer, the nation’s second-in-command on HBO’s “Veep.” Louis-Dreyfus was part of the Northwestern-rooted Practical Theater Company before joining the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in 1982.

It’s safe to say the Television Academy likes her. They really like her. And there’s no reason to think she won’t add to her four-Emmy collection Monday, despite going up against other talented actresses with Chicago roots: Plainfield native Melissa McCarthy (“Mike and Molly”) and Emmy’s always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride Amy Poehler. This marks the iO-trained actress’ fifth shot at a win for playing the lovably earnest, optimistic bureaucrat in “Parks and Recreation.”

Odds are good that Chicago comedy veteran and Northwestern alum Stephen Colbert could experience déjà vu with another “Colbert Report” win for best variety series.

The Comedy Central program last year snapped the decade-long winning streak of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and it won top honors in the variety series writing race last weekend at the creative arts Emmys ceremony.

Emmy voters are famous for being creatures of habit, which bodes well for “Modern Family” co-creator Steven Levitan, a 1980 grad of Glenbrook South High School in Glenview.

Levitan bailed on his advertising job at Chicago’s Leo Burnett to find work in California as a comedy writer. He got a gig on “Wings” in 1991. Now, his ABC sitcom — admittedly more vulnerable to a loss than ever — is poised to tie “Frasier’s” record for five best comedy series wins.


Twitter: @lorirackl

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