Actors over 50 walked away with 37 Emmy nominations Thursday — less than last year's bumper crop of 58 yet still a respectable one-third of the total nominations — proving once again that on television, experience matters.
Among the nominees are deserving veterans (Ted Danson, 70, Allison Janney, 58), some welcome comebacks (Laurie Metcalf, 63) and a few surprises (Larry David, 71). Here are the six performers we would particularly like to see give a winner's speech at the 70th Emmy Awards ceremony to be telecast Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Adlon, 52, who produces, writes, directs and stars in Better Things, has struck a blow against Hollywood's obsession with youth in a show that delivers an authentic portrait of a grownup actress — inspired by her real life. Like her character, Sam, she's a single mom with three daughters and a British-born mother (played by Best Exotic Marigold Hotel star Celia Imrie, 65) who lives on the same street. Adlon's had more success than Sam — one voice-acting Emmy and seven Emmy nominations, including two consecutive Better Things nominations for best actress in a comedy — and her mature emotional realism is just what TV needs. Few shows have ever shown more boldly, honestly and entertainingly what it's like to be sandwiched between youngsters and the caregiving needs of an aging parent, a resonant topic with grownup viewers. The scary part about getting older isn't death, Sam says. It’s “young people. It’s like we’re the Indians, and they’re the white settlers. And they keep coming, and they take all our resources, and all we’re left with is diseased blankets." But the real Adlon's success has disrupted Hollywood's age prejudice. “We’re hardwired as actors to hide our age," she told AARP. "When I turned 50, I wasn’t even sure how old I was because I had been lying to myself so long. Now I’m fine with all of it. It's awesome." So is Adlon, who deserves to win this time.
Her scary high-profile roles (True Detective, The Leftovers) have earned Dowd, 62, a reputation as the most terrifying person on TV. She proves grownups can be iconic on-screen, not relegated to tertiary parts — and her growing power empowers other actors over 50. But her Aunt Lydia character on The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t a clichéd villain who cackles evilly. She believes her girls won’t survive a harsh world without her tough-love lessons. When Lydia tells the women she tyrannizes, “You know I do my very best to protect you,” the tears in her eyes are sincere. Dowd's performance is inspired partly by the stern nuns who educated her, giving her the gumption to persevere as a low-profile actor until she got noticed at 56 for Compliance, which earned her an AARP Movies for Grownups nomination. Last year, playing Lydia earned her a surprise Emmy, and now she’s the front-runner for supporting actress in a drama. We hope she wins, partly because she told one young journalist: “You don’t know this yet, honey, but aging is underrated. It’s perspective. You can land on your feet and just say, ‘Yep, it’s gonna be messy, but it’s all right.’ ”
Rigg's comeback role as adder-tongued Olenna on Game of Thrones doesn't occupy much screen time, but every second is searingly memorable, and this is her last chance for recognition on the most Emmy-nominated show of 2018. Her win is overdue. Famous overnight at 27, in 1965, as Mrs. Peel on The Avengers, this Royal Shakespeare Company veteran had to wait three decades to win an Emmy (for the miniseries Rebecca). And despite multiple recent Emmy nominations, she kept losing to actors such as Allison Janney in Masters of Sex and Margo Martindale, 66, in The Americans. (Grownups often beat youngsters at the Emmys.) But on her eighth nomination in 51 years, she deserves to win best guest actress in a drama — at age 80 — for Olenna’s amazing death scene, where she calmly turns the tables on her poisoner (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s character Jaime Lannister) by telling him she was the one who had poisoned his son. Nobody on TV was as daring and classy as Rigg in the 1960s, and she's subtler and sharper now. Nobody could deliver Olenna’s vicious farewell with grownup Rigg’s polished, caustic wit. She recently told CBS News that her spate of major awards “just hit me at a very late age — one after the other, wham, wham, wham! And I'm just sitting there saying to myself, 'Well, thank you very much. What kept you?' "
Dern should win because she's welcome proof that growing up can be a good thing for a star, and she's at the center of the most important movement in Hollywood: the rise of mature women to positions of power. When she turned 50 in 2017, Hollywood site The Wrap called it “The Year of Laura Dern” — she won her first Emmy as the angriest woman in the smash series Big Little Lies, and also appeared in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and TV's Twin Peaks: The Return. Big Little Lies was an influential Emmy magnet that made grownup stars more bankable and gave its stars Dern and Nicole Kidman the clout to launch production companies that will make more grownup-pleasing, female-starring hits. At 51, Dern is having an even better year than the last. Just as the power of the #MeToo movement is transforming the industry (and America), she stars in The Tale, about the childhood sexual abuse of its award-winning writer-director, Jennifer Fox, 59. The perfect timing of the show means she may win the Emmy for best movie or miniseries actress. Her back-to-back Emmys would recognize excellence and help make TV better.
At 63, Daniels broke out of the pack as an actor, scoring two Emmy nominations in one year. He won his first Emmy by turning Aaron Sorkin’s monologues into exhilarating arias in 2012’s The Newsroom, but only now has he joined the A-list — for two good reasons. As a one-armed gunman in the very wild West in Godless, Daniels totally outperforms Kevin Costner in the actor's big new TV western Yellowstone, and deserves the Emmy for supporting actor in a drama more than his rivals do. For playing the hard-drinking, womanizing yet heroic FBI counterterrorism chief in Hulu’s fact-based 9/11 drama The Looming Tower, based on a Pulitzer-winning book every American should know about, Daniels should win the Emmy for best actor in a movie or miniseries. Both shows boast performances few can equal, including Daniels' own when he was young and promising. As he told AARP, “You look at athletes, and when their bodies can’t do what they used to do at the age of 35 or 40, depending on the sport, they are done. But actors, we get better. We get smarter.” If the Emmys are smart, he’ll win twice this year.
The oldest person ever cast on Saturday Night Live, Jones, 50, was advised by mentor Jamie Foxx to get some experience to root her comedy in real life, and her hard-won wisdom and comedy chops warrant an award — she raised SNL's game in a way nobody has, not even Tracy Morgan. “Get your heart broken, have some bad jobs,” Foxx said. So she worked for years at a restaurant (where she once served fellow future SNL castmate Mikey Day, 38, who was then 6) and finally broke through with an Emmy nomination last year. She respects her younger colleagues, but experience has given her depths they don’t yet possess. As she’s said of Jay Pharoah, 30: “I love Jay to death, but he’s like a toddler.” Now she’s become the funniest Olympics commentator in history and brings a touch of skillful anarchy that keeps SNL young. Will Ferrell, 50, can imitate everyone from George H.W. Bush to Alex Trebek, but on SNL, Jones inimitably imitated Ferrell imitating them. This time, she shouldn’t just get a nomination; she should win for best supporting actress in a comedy. She's happy she didn't get this opportunity in her youth, when she feels she would've blown it. “I was a less confident person back then," she told the New Yorker. "And damn sure not as funny."