Jean Smart's on track for 2 Emmy nominations — but will that help or hurt her chances of a win?
The Television Academy should just start engraving Jean Smart's name on an Emmy — or two — now.
The legendary actor, 69, has garnered Emmy love for many of the roles she's played throughout her long-running career. She first won back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series in 2000 and 2001 for her run as Lana "Legs" Lynley on Frasier. Seven years later she won her third Emmy, a Supporting Actress in a Comedy trophy, for her Samantha Who? performance. Then there are her six additional nominations for roles on Watchmen, Fargo, Harry's Law, The District, and 24. Now — thanks to her performances on concurrent hits Mare of Easttown and Hacks — Smart is predicted to add two more Emmy nods to her résumé when the nominations are announced July 13. It would be Smart's first time as a double nominee — but does that success guarantee her a win, let alone two? Or will multiple acting nominations in the same year actually hurt her chances to win?
Let's look at past double nominees, like TV Academy favorite Sterling K. Brown. Just last year, he was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for This Is Us and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and ultimately lost in both races. This wasn't a new experience for him either, as two years prior he was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for This Is Us and Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and also walked away empty handed. Not that Brown is alone in his losses: Jason Bateman (Ozark, The Outsider), Giancarlo Esposito (Better Call Saul, The Mandalorian), and Donald Glover (Saturday Night Live, Atlanta) are just three more recent examples of an unpromising trend.
But, historically, multiple live-action acting nominations — even in the same race — don't always spell disaster. Just look at Saturday Night Live and The Good Place's Maya Rudolph, who was nominated twice last year for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. Despite presumably splitting her own votes across her two roles — as well as competing against icons like Angela Bassett, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Wanda Sykes, and Bette Midler — Rudolph still ultimately won for SNL (as well as in the Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance category, for Big Mouth).
In 2018, Bill Hader was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Barry and Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series for SNL, ultimately winning for Barry. Jeff Daniels dominated the limited series or movie category that same year, with nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor for The Looming Tower and Outstanding Supporting Actor for Godless. He won for Godless. And back in 2010, Jane Lynch was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Glee as well as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for Two and Half Men, and she walked away as the winner for Glee.
So if history tells us it's basically a toss-up on whether multiple nominations will result in success on Emmys night, the outcome for Smart can be better understood and predicted through her current critical acclaim. Over the past few months, she's shined in two very different performances in roles that allowed her to oscillate from laugh-out-loud comedy to haunting drama — sometimes even in the same scene. When Mare of Easttown premiered in April, Smart was the breath of comedic fresh air in HBO's bleak, depressing but addictive crime drama as Helen, the Fruit Ninja-loving mother to Kate Winslet's titular dour cop attempting to solve a murder case. Smart even hammed up an Easttown bit that involved leaning over a staircase railing so much that she fell down the stairs, landing her in the hospital with a cracked rib and mild concussion. Even as she laid injured, all she cared about was making sure her fall was captured on camera. She put everything into her performance, even if it literally hurt her. With Mare of Easttown alone, Smart had the platform to deliver some of her best work yet, which is why it's no surprise she's on lock for an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
Then in May, Hacks premiered on HBO Max. The sharp comedy put Smart in the much-deserved spotlight as legendary stand-up comic Deborah Vance, an abrasive and powerful comedy queen of the Las Vegas strip (and QVC) who sucks down fountain Diet Coke like it's water, collects $10,000 antique pepper shakers, and makes jokes about that time she burned down her ex-husband's house. When Deborah's historic Las Vegas residency faces extinction, she reluctantly teams up with a young TV writer (played by stand-up comic Hannah Einbinder) who's facing her own career crisis after an off-color Twitter joke gets her semi-canceled. It's an Odd Couple pairing of jaded, grating veteran and cynical, desperate newcomer, and their mutual disdain for each other and their ever-evolving dynamic crackles on screen. This latest in a long run of career-redefining performances from Smart has Gold Derby experts predicting she'll not only be nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy, but also likely taking home the win — beating out other frontrunners Kaley Cuoco for The Flight Attendant and Tracee Ellis Ross for Black-ish.
No crystal ball (or awards "expert") can say with certainty what will happen when the 2021 Emmy winners are announced on Sept. 19, but — with nine previous nominations and three wins — it's undeniable that Smart is a clear favorite of the Television Academy voting pool. In fact, with a win for Lead Actress in Hacks, Smart would accomplish what only Betty White has done so far: win an Emmy for all three comedy acting categories (Lead, Supporting, and Guest) on different shows. Smart recently told EW accomplishing that feat would be like "a tiara to go with the earrings and the broach," before humbly adding, "Yeah … I don't want to talk about that. Whenever people talk about that they get jinxed."
Jinxes aside, it's clear we're undeniably living in the Smart-aissance — the only question now is whether the TV Academy is paying attention.