Watch EW's Awardist panel with The Undoing's Noma Dumezweni, Lovecraft Country's Aunjanue Ellis, In Treatment's John Benjamin Hickey, Genius: Aretha's Courtney B. Vance, and Big Sky's Brooke Smith.

By Jolie Lash
June 10, 2021 at 02:45 PM EDT

It's not easy making it in Hollywood, but the actors taking part in EW's Awardist Supporting Superstars panel managed to beat the odds. While all incredibly talented at their craft, they recognize they wouldn't be where they are today without the support they received from others along the way.

During a conversation with EW's senior TV editor Gerrad Hall that covered everything from having to play characters who deceive to diversity in Hollywood, the Emmy contenders also discussed the roles that opened doors for them - and made sure to offer their gratitude to those who silently or loudly had their backs throughout their careers.

In Treatment star John Benjamin Hickey recalled a time in his professional life where fellow actress Laura Linney - a former classmate - championed him to play her troubled brother in Showtime's The Big C.

"Laura Linney was an executive producer on that show and we'd been classmates together at Juilliard and she campaigned for me. Like, I had to go in and fight for it and jump through hoops, but [the character] was supposed to be much younger. And so, that changed a lot for me. I started playing different kinds of parts," Hickey says. "And she was my underclassman at drama school, so the lesson is to always be nice to the [junior classmates] because one day they may be Laura Linney."

For Genius: Aretha's Courtney B. Vance, it was a play he did at Yale drama school and on Broadway - Fences - and its director, Lloyd Richards, that he credits with making a career impact.

"That changed my life," Vance says. "Everything shifted for me and I'll always be indebted to Lloyd Richards for championing me. I don't know why he did, but he did."

Later on in his career, it was directors Ryan Murphy and Anthony Hemingway of The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, who had a big effect, something Vance addresses in our Awardist panel, which you can watch above.

Lovecraft Country's Aunjanue Ellis found support from fellow actors like Vance (who said her performance in 2020's Lifetime movie The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, "blew me away").

"I don't know what particularly the roles were that led me to be able to keep getting a paycheck - just to put it in real terms - but I've had people like Courtney, who saw something in me and championed me for the job that I have now," Ellis says. "So, I think what you said, John, about having people in your life that champion you - I think it's paying it forward, you know?"

Noma Dumezweni of HBO's The Undoing said she learned later on that Nicole Kidman played a part in bringing her onto the project. 

"That theme of being championed by other people, for me, is a huge recurring theme in my life. So absolutely, The Undoing - I found out that Nicole had been a part of that, 'We don't know her on TV, but we do know her in theater. Let's bring her in!" Dumezweni recalls. 

"I found out [afterwards] that she'd been part of that," she continues. "So that sense of, for me, look after those people coming up… absolutely give thanks to those beside you, and before you. I have to do that every time."

Be sure to check out the full Awardist conversation above, which also features Brooke Smith of Big Sky.

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