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Grownups Take 23 Emmy Acting Nominations

'They always need older actors — you can act until you're 100,' says Jean Smart

Gillian Anderson, Jean Smart and Anthony Anderson

Des Willie/Netflix; HBO Max; Richard Cartwright/ABC

(Left to right) Gillian Anderson in "The Crown," Jean Smart in "Hacks" and Anthony Anderson in "Black-ish."

Actors over 50 earned 23 nominations on July 13, in the 2021 Emmy Award race — and will learn whether they'll snag a coveted golden statuette when the winners are announced Sunday, Sept. 19, in the telecast on CBS and Paramount+. Men dominated the nominations in both the categories of limited series, movie or anthology (WandaVision's Paul Bettany, 50, The Undoing's Hugh Grant, 60, and Halston's Ewan McGregor, 50) and lead actor (The Kominsky Method's Michael Douglas, 76, Shameless’ William H. Macy, 71, and Black-ish's Anthony Anderson, 50). Black-ish was the only broadcast-network comedy nominated — increasingly, most TV hits are on streaming services.

TV women often face ageism when men do not, but change may be coming: This year, the Emmys recognized 12 male actors and 10 female actors. Half the supporting-actress nominees in both drama and limited series/movie/anthology were over 50 — including Gillian Anderson, 52, and Helena Bonham Carter, 55, in The Crown, about the British royal family. Their show, much beloved by the AARP generations, tied with The Mandalorian for the most Emmy nominations of the year: a whopping 24.

The star who arguably shone brightest was Jean Smart, 69. Never nominated in her younger years for her breakout hit Designing Women, she won her first Emmy at 49 (as a guest actress on Frasier) and generated increasing buzz as a nominee for Fargo (2014) and Watchmen (2019). But she knocked it out of the park this year with her 10th and 11th Emmy noms, as Kate Winslet's sardonic mom in the smash mystery Mare of Easttown — she and costar Julianne Nicholson, 50, were both nominated for supporting actress — and a lead comedy actress nomination in Hacks, a delightful intergenerational hit about an aging stand-up comic who refuses to be washed up and her messed-up young comedy protégée (Hannah Einbinder, who also got an Emmy nomination — no doubt pleasing her mom, Television Academy Hall of Fame inductee Laraine Newman, 69).

Why on earth is Smart's career hotter than ever when she's pushing 70? “I guess it's the reward for just sticking around the longest!” Smart told AARP. “I don't feel like I'm any better now than I was when I was 20, but certainly the opportunities I'm being given the last 20 years have become more and more gratifying and challenging. It's a sweet spot in my life, compared to what culturally is going on. I'm not going to question it."

Just as the growth of streaming is changing the face of TV, it may be that Hollywood is beginning to recognize that older audiences want to see faces that resemble our own.

"That's the good thing about being an actor,” says Smart. “They always need older actors. You can act until you are 100."

Here are the nominees for the 2021 Emmy Awards:

Lead Actress, Comedy

  • Jean Smart, 69 (Hacks)
  • Aidy Bryant (Shrill)
  • Kaley Cuoco (The Flight Attendant)
  • Allison Janney, 61 (Mom)
  • Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish)

Lead Actor, Comedy

  • Anthony Anderson, 50 (Black-ish)
  • Michael Douglas, 76 (The Kominsky Method)
  • William H. Macy, 71 (Shameless)
  • Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso)
  • Kenan Thompson (Kenan)

Lead Actor, Limited Series, Movie or Anthology

  • Paul Bettany, 50 (WandaVision)
  • Hugh Grant, 60 (The Undoing)
  • Ewan McGregor, 50 (Halston)
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton)
  • Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton)

Lead Actress, Limited Series, Movie or Anthology

  • Michaela Coel (I May Destroy You)
  • Cynthia Erivo (Genius: Aretha)
  • Elizabeth Olsen (WandaVision)
  • Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen's Gambit)
  • Kate Winslet (Mare of Easttown)

Supporting Actress, Limited Series, Movie or Anthology

  • Renée Elise Goldsberry, 50 (Hamilton)
  • Kathryn Hahn (WandaVision)
  • Moses Ingram (The Queen's Gambit)
  • Julianne Nicholson, 50 (Mare of Easttown)
  • Jean Smart, 69 (Mare of Easttown)
  • Phillipa Soo (Hamilton)

Supporting Actor, Limited Series, Movie or Anthology

  • Thomas Brodie Sangster (The Queen's Gambit)
  • Daveed Diggs (Hamilton)
  • Paapa Essiedu (I May Destroy You)
  • Jonathan Groff (Hamilton)
  • Evan Peters (Mare of Easttown)
  • Anthony Ramos (Hamilton)

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live)
  • Hannah Einbinder (Hacks)
  • Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
  • Rosie Perez, 56 (The Flight Attendant)
  • Cecily Strong (Saturday Night Live)
  • Juno Temple (Ted Lasso)
  • Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso)

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Carl Clemons-Hopkins (Hacks)
  • Brett Goldstein (Ted Lasso)
  • Brendan Hunt (Ted Lasso)
  • Nick Mohammed (Ted Lasso)
  • Paul Reiser, 65 (The Kominksy Method)
  • Jeremy Swift, 61 (Ted Lasso)
  • Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live)
  • Bowen Yang (Saturday Night Live)

Supporting Actress, Drama

  • Gillian Anderson, 52 (The Crown)
  • Helena Bonham Carter, 55 (The Crown)
  • Emerald Fennell (The Crown)
  • Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Ann Dowd, 65 (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Samira Wiley (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Aunjanue Ellis, 52 (Lovecraft Country)

Supporting Actor, Drama

  • Tobias Menzies (The Crown)
  • O-T Fagbenle (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Max Minghella (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Bradley Whitford, 61 (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Michael K. Williams, 54 (Lovecraft Country)
  • Giancarlo Esposito, 63 (The Mandalorian)
  • John Lithgow, 75 (Perry Mason)
  • Chris Sullivan (This Is Us)

Lead Actress, Drama

  • Uzo Aduba (In Treatment)
  • Olivia Colman (The Crown)
  • Emma Corrin (The Crown)
  • Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Mj Rodriguez (Pose)
  • Jurnee Smollett (Lovecraft Country)

Lead Actor, Drama

  • Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us)
  • Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country)
  • Josh O'Connor (The Crown)
  • Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton)
  • Billy Porter, 51 (Pose)
  • Matthew Rhys (Perry Mason)

Drama Series

  • The Boys (Amazon)
  • Bridgerton (Netflix)
  • The Crown (Netflix)
  • The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)
  • Lovecraft Country (HBO)
  • The Mandalorian (Disney+)
  • Pose (FX)
  • This Is Us (NBC)

Comedy Series

  • Black-ish (ABC)
  • Cobra Kai (Netflix)
  • Emily in Paris (Netflix)
  • Hacks (HBO Max)
  • The Flight Attendant (HBO Max)
  • The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
  • Pen15 (Hulu)
  • Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)

Limited Series

  • I May Destroy You (HBO)
  • Mare of Easttown (HBO)
  • The Queen's Gambit (Netflix)
  • The Underground Railroad (Amazon)
  • WandaVision (Disney+)

Variety Talk Series

  • Conan (TBS)
  • The Daily Show With Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC)
  • Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)
  • The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)

Competition Series

  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • Nailed It! (Netflix)
  • RuPaul's Drag Race (VH1)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)
  • The Voice (NBC)

Tim Appelo is AARP’s film and TV critic. Previously, he was Amazon’s entertainment editor, Entertainment Weekly’s video critic, and a writer for The Hollywood Reporter, People, MTV, LA Weekly and The Village Voice.

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