The Emmy Nominees: What's On Their Minds?

In preparation for Sunday’s 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards, PopcornBiz spent time picking the brains of several major nominees in the acting categories to discover what’s been on their minds – and we found a lot more there than just what they’ll be wearing on the big day.

From how they feel about their characters and what clicked for them this season to what their nomination means to them and how they knew they were being called to the performing life, these nominees offer a glimpse inside the thoughts of actors at the top of their craft.

Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”

Nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series

On the fall and rise of Don Draper:

“As dark and deep as it went this season, there were a lot more colors to explore. This season was really more about this guy breaking down in many ways, and that was exciting to get the chance to show. We get to see this guy seemingly have everything under control, while we as the viewer and certainly me as the character know that underneath it all it's all kind of falling apart. Then, of course, it really DID fall apart. It was nice that the season ended on a little bit of a seeming uptick for the guy and a little bit of redemption came for him. But we'll see: Our show has constantly trafficked in the idea that you never really know what's coming next, just like life.”

On choosing the actor’s path:

“I kept getting drawn back into the theater or acting, getting up in front of people and making a fool of myself. I just kept doing it and people kept saying, 'Hey, you're pretty good at this. Maybe you should keep trying.' There kept being enough positive reinforcement and this is an industry where there's plenty of negative reinforcement to say, 'Oh, maybe I should try for this and maybe this will be something that I can do.' Ten years later I became kind of an overnight sensation.”

Amy Poehler, “Parks & Recreation”

Nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

On being Leslie Knope:

“There's so much about Leslie that I really love: her ability to jump in and to swing big and think big, her ability to rally the troops, her ability to still kind of believe that one person can make a difference. She finds cynicism to be a waste of time. It's really fun to play a person who isn't an eye-roller or the naysayer. That being said, what's so fun about playing Leslie is that there's nothing smooth about her. She's not really cool and therefore she kind of overreaches. She kind of misplays things. She's always trying to find a balance between her enthusiasm and the reality of the situation. It's also just fun to be the lead weirdo among a bunch of weirdos in a small town."

On her previous awards show experiences:

“I have to be honest: I don't love getting dressed up and I'm not very photogenic, so I don't love that part of it. I'm always kind of starving and nervous, which I guess would probably a good way that you should navigate Hollywood in general – just nervous and starving. It's going to be the name of my book. So the actual event is super-cool to be invited to, but I always kind of can't wait until after when the awards are done and I can force S. Epatha Merkerson into a corner and ask her about Jerry Orbach.”

Chris Colfer, “Glee”

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

On being Kurt Hummel:

“I just love Kurt. He's so strong and he lives in an environment where everyday he's told he shouldn't be and can't be who he is and what he is, but he's true to himself. I sometimes get very inspired by Kurt because of his strength and his drive. I feel like if I went out and did or said something stupid I feel like it'd take away credit from Kurt. So I think the best thing that I can do is make sure that I handle everything with respect and make sure that Kurt is being respected and treated fairly on the show, which the writers do for me. I never have to worry about that.”

On how acting changed his life:

“It's absolutely ludicrous to think about  the contrast of who and where I was three years ago and who and where I am now. It's one of those situations where when I think about, 'What would've happened if I didn't go to the ‘Glee’ audition? What would've happened if one executive said no, they weren't going to write me into the show?' It's insane. It's crazy. I try to think that something bigger than myself is what caused it to happen, because things like that don't happen every day.”

Connie Britton, “Friday Night Lights”

Nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama Series

On being Tami Taylor:

“Tami's really kind of just someone that you want to get behind. I think that audiences found her very relatable and very representative of things that they cared about. I just have so many women who come up to me and say, 'Tami makes me want to be a better mother' – or a better wife, or a better college counselor or whatever. And I think that because of the accessibility of the character, the authenticity of the character and just the genuine struggles that we got to see her go through, people really responded to that and appreciated it. Audiences felt really spoke to them in a personal way.”

On her road to becoming an actor:

“In high school I knew acting was what I would love to do if I could do anything, but I didn't actually think that was a reality. I went to college, did a play my freshman year, didn't have the greatest experience, and thought ‘Okay, that's it. That was a fun thing in high school, and now I'm going to let that go.' I spent the first year studying Chinese, went to China and had this great experience, and then I came back to school and I just happened to wander down the place where they had postings for different productions that were casting, and I was like, 'Maybe I'll just audition for that,’ and I got the lead role. And once I was back in it, I continued to do theater throughout college. It's such a long shot, especially when you're a girl who grows up in a small town in Virginia – the idea of actually being able to be successful at this is such a huge idea that I needed a few sort of nudges along the way in order to really feel like I could actually take it seriously and pursue it.”

Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”

Nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series

On being Dexter Morgan:

“That's something that I probably won't be able to answer until I'm done playing it, to be honest, but I think it was a real trick from the beginning to play someone who claims that he's incapable of authenticity when as an actor you're preoccupied for conveying something that seems authentic. It's like you almost can't think about it too hard.”

On his acting future:

“I don't know that I have another five plus years commitment to a character in me. So I think I'm looking just to move forward with stories that compel me, the character. It doesn't really matter the size. It's more about the story and their function in it, and yeah, I'm certainly looking to mix it up. It took the last hiatus to catch my breath a little bit, but I look forward to getting some other balls rolling.”

Kelly MacDonald, “Boardwalk Empire”

Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

On discovering who Margaret Schroeder was:

“I didn't know too much about Margaret at first. She was a bit of an enigma. I feel hugely sort of privileged, because she's not like a one-note character, not in any way, and I think it was Martin Scorsese who said the great thing about television is that it's what happens after the movie finishes with the characters and things. So I've never had such an opportunity before to play such dramatic scenes week after week, like I get. Every episode I have some really amazing scenes to perform with some really amazing actors, and I'm really enjoying it.”

On her path into acting:

“In retrospect I can see that it's where I've always been headed, acting. I went to drama school because that's all I did in my childhood: recreating scenes from my favorite films – but completely privately, on my own. I was always playing around with voices and acting.”

Johnny Galecki, “The Big Bang Theory”

Nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

On being Leonard Hofstadter:

“There's always a hundred different ways to play things for him, because he's reaching outside of this world that they have. So it can be contentment, it can be great frustration, it can be annoyance and exasperation. The road is pretty broad in the choices that you can make with that character and the romantic relationships, be it with Penny or Priya. Those are the things that first attracted me to the role, because generally, beforehand, those weren't storylines that I got to mine. It was very much uncharted territory. Initially, Chuck Lorre talked to me about the Sheldon role, and I said, 'I think I like this Leonard thing.' Even if it was just flirtation, at the time it wasn't something that I'd gotten the chance to play.”

On adding “Emmy nominee” to his resume:

“It’s a complete and utter shock. Martin Mull said once ‘My head explode if the termites weren't holding hands.’ I don't know exactly what that means or what it's in reference to, but that's how I've been feeling. I had no idea. I wasn't watching. My phone was out of batteries and it took them a couple of hours to track me down and tell me. It's wonderful.”

Evan Rachel Wood, “Mildred Pierce”

Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

On earning an Emmy nomination after growing up on TV:

“It's kind of a milestone. I have been working in TV most of my life, and so I feel like I've grown up. I was really excited because I did work really, really hard, and so it's great. I was so happy for the film. It just killed in the nominations and I was really happy for Todd Haynes because he's so incredible. I don't know how he did this and kept it together so well.”

On her path to becoming an actor:

“I think I knew when I was about eight or nine. It was my first role where I was carrying the film and I was in every single scene, and I was like, 'Man, I have to do this everyday and work all day. There's no time to play. This is so hard!’ But I was still having so much fun. I got really into it, and I was such a hyper kid that I felt like I could really channel energy into something cool. I think that's when I knew that this was a job, but that it was still extremely fulfilling.”

Walton Goggins, “Justified”

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

On being Boyd Crowder:

“It's somebody that I connected to immediately, and someone that I had a hand in kind of architecting. And I just quite enjoy his intellect – he's a poet. He really is a poet, and everything that he looks at is seen through worldview and that prism. And I just can't wait to get back to work. I can't wait to say these words that come out of his mouth. Honestly, I can't wait to be cool again. Because I'm so uncool.”

On becoming an Emmy nominee:

“It's just been like every single day I kind of wake up and pinch myself. And I'm just so grateful to be able to kind of share it with this cast of actors that I've gotten to play with for a couple of, at least Tim, for a couple of years now. And one of my best friends Johnny Galecki is nominated as well, so we're just having the best time.”

Alan Cumming, "The Good Wife"

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

On being Eli Gold:

“He's a very confident, very manipulative person who at the same time has a lot of kind of foibles. It's a very rich mixture of things and that's what I think all great characters are – I'm still finding out the foible things as well. The thing that I really enjoy about the show is the thing that I really hated to start with, which was that normally I'd done films and you know where the story is going to end. So each scene you kind of know where it fits in to your idea of what you want to show in each moment. But in a television series you don't know what's going to happen next.”

On almost missing out on that Emmy nominated role:

“I put the word out that I'd quite like to do a TV show and one in New York. I craved routine in my life. And then this came along and my agents and managers said, 'Do this one.’ It was their decision really – I would've turned it down if it had been my choice, just because of the logistics at the time, not because of the material. I didn't really understand it and felt like it wasn't really me. So it's been an amazing thing to suddenly be like, 'Wow, I really, really like it.’ I'm forever grateful to them. It's opened up a whole new thing for me actually. I think it's been interesting to see people look at me in a different way as an actor. It has been palpable that people are like, 'Oh, he can play real people in suits.'”

Margo Martindale, “Justified”

Nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

On becoming an Emmy nominee:

"I did 'Justified' out of the pure joy of acting. So it never came to my mind that there would be a reward for it. It felt like acting when I was a little child. So it's sort of like just playing in the backyard, really. The thing that I find with this show that's been interesting is that the ease in my acting has gotten that much better. That sounds obnoxious, but because of age and experience I have great ease. I think that makes it more fun. It's not battle.”

On recognition after a lengthy career as a “working actress”:

“I was always respected by my peers, always. Casting directors have been my biggest boosters, always, and then actors who I've worked with. They've always recommended me. Paul Newman and Robert Benton, and Sidney Lumet was a real champion of mine. There have been many, many people who have been kind and wonderful and supportive of me. Even from college on, I've always believed in myself, tremendously. Even through the lean times I never questioned my talent.”

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