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Hugh Laurie and House Earn Emmy Nominations

Hugh Laurie and House Earn Emmy Nominations

Written by Barbara Barnett
Published July 17, 2008 at Blogcritics.org

Hugh Laurie and House were both named when the 2008 Emmy Award nominations were read this morning. It is the series’ third Emmy nomination; its competition includes Boston Legal, Damages, Dexter, Lost, and Mad Men. It is very tough competition for the show, but the strike-shortened season has offered some of the series’ best episodes to date (even if you were not a fan of the “survivor arc”). Particularly notable episodes (in my opinion, anyway) were “Ugly,” “97 Seconds,” “Frozen,” “Don’t Ever Change” and the dual finale episodes “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart.”

It has been reported that House submitted the episode Ugly to the Emmy organization for initial consideration. That episode broke with the series’ usual format by adding the element of a documentary crew, which followed House and his team as they diagnosed a young man with a facial deformity. Interspersing black and white footage of the team as the camera saw them with the live action, it also set House in direct conflict with one of his new fellows, a plastic surgeon with a professional interest in the case.

Laurie’s episode, unsurprisingly, is the wonderful “House’s Head“. In the series’ penultimate episode, House experiences a severe head injury and amnesia, losing the previous four hours. As House pushes himself to remember, recalling only that he “saw” something about a fellow passenger that was important and possibly fatal, he grows more and more desperate to know. Laurie is mesmerizing in the episode, appearing (quite literally) in every scene of what must have been a physically and emotionally grueling shoot.

This is Laurie’s third Emmy nomination, having been inexplicably snubbed two years ago, much to the bewilderment of critics and fans. He has never won an Emmy, but has been much lauded both by fellow actors, having won the Screen Actors Guild award, and television critics — twice winning the Golden Globe and twice winning the Television Critics Association award for his compelling and textured portrayal of the complex Dr. Gregory House. Many critics believe that Laurie is long overdue for his consistently excellent performance in the demanding role. He carries the series, which has the distinction of being both critically acclaimed and a ratings hit, perennially being one of television’s highest rated scripted series. House also received nominations for directing (Greg Yaitanes, “House’s Head”) and music composition for Jon Ehrlich (“Guardian Angels”).

Completely unrelated to my House obsession, I have to say that I am positively giddy that the HBO miniseries John Adams received a slew of nominations (26 of them)! Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney were both deservedly nominated, as were three supporting actors: David Morse (who played the vengeful Michael Tritter in House last year) for his portrayal of George Washington, and British actors Tom Wilkinson (for his wily and ribald Benjamin Franklin) and Stephen Dillane (brilliant as the quietly intense Thomas Jefferson).

Here’s rundown of the major prime time Emmy nominations:

COMEDY SERIES

  • 30 Rock
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm
    Entourage
  • The Office
  • Two and a Half Men

DRAMA SERIES

  • Boston Legal
  • Damages
  • Dexter
  • House
  • Lost
  • Mad Men

ACTOR IN A COMEDY

  • Alec Baldwin — 30 Rock
  • Steve Carell — The Office
  • Lee Pace — Pushing Daisies
  • Charlie Sheen — Two and a Half Men
  • Tony Shalhoub —Monk

ACTOR IN A DRAMA

  • Gabriel Byrne — “In Treatment
  • Bryan Cranston — Breaking Bad
  • Michael C. Hall — Dexter
  • Jon Hamm — Mad Men
  • Hugh Laurie —House
  • James Spader — Boston Legal

ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

  • Christina Applegate —Samantha Who?
  • America Ferrera —Ugly Betty
  • Tina Fey — 30 Rock
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus — New Adventures of Old Christine
  • Mary-Louise Parker — Weeds

ACTRESS IN A DRAMA

  • Glenn Close — Damages
  • Sally Field — Brothers & Sisters
  • Mariska Hargitay — Law and Order: SVU
  • Holly Hunter — Saving Grace
  • Kyra Sedgwick — The Closer

The complete list of prime time Emmy award nominations is available at the official Emmys website. The Gala 60th anniversary Emmy awards will be broadcast live on ABC September 21.

Discovering Stephen Dillane (Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s “John Adams”)

I

Originally published at Blogcritics magazine

t always gives me great delight to “discover” an actor. I don’t mean in the Hollywood sense (because I’m not an agent or producer, nor do I have any clout whatsoever), but “discover” in the sense that I’ve not really ever heard of the guy before. It happens to us all, I think. You see a film and something in the actor’s performance or looks (or both) touches you in a way that makes you want to see more of what he’s done. For me, it’s always a soulfulness that seems to lurk about the eyes and expression. (See Reflections of a Recidivist Fangirl.) Then, wham. I just have a need to find out who the guy is and what else he’s done and find out what I’ve been missing. All I can say is, “Thank God for Google!”

My latest “discovery” is Stephen Dillane, the brilliant British (you knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) stage and film actor. Most recently, Dillane played Thomas Jefferson in HBO’s John Adams miniseries. It didn’t hurt that he played my favorite Founding Father exactly as I had always imagined him: an enigmatic intellectual, at once fiery and guarded; eloquent and shy. I was immediately hooked. Who wouldn’t be? It was a terrific performance, right down to his accent, which began as slightly Gaelic, but as Jefferson aged over the course of some 50 years, so did the accent – to more of a relaxed “southern” drawl. Nice touch.

I was delighted to find out that Dillane is starring in not one, but two forthcoming films, bookending the month of May. Later this week, Dillane opens in Fugitive Pieces, a film about a boy rescued from the horrors of the Holocaust, who now, as an adult (played by Dillane), is haunted by his childhood memories. It is written and and directed by Jeremy Podeswa, and based on the novel by Canadian poet Anne Michaels. I’m looking forward to reviewing that film for Blogcritics when it opens.

Dillane also stars with Julianne Moore in Savage Grace, (opening May 30) based on the controversial life of the Bakeland family (who invented “Bakelite“). Both films look intriguing, dark, and serious. Can’t wait. Later this year, Dillane will appear as Charlemagne in the film Love and Virtue which takes on the French epic poem The Song of Roland. So lots of things coming up for us newbie fans of Mr. Stephen Dillane.

Dillane is an accomplished stage actor, having recently performed a one-man rendition of Macbeth in London, and whose Hamlet (also in London) has been considered amongst the best. He has won major stage awards, including a Tony (for Leading Actor) in 2000 for Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing. But unless you want to dig through YouTube (yeah, I’ve done it) for snippets, you’ll have to stick to film and television DVDs to catch up with Dillane’s works. And lucky for us, there are quite a few.

I am slowly digging my way through his film oeuvre, so here are a couple of suggestions to start:

Welcome to Sarajevo is based on the true story of a British journalist who, in an act of impulsive bravery, rescues a young girl from the hell of early 1990s Bosnia. Dillane, as the journalist is wonderful at expressing the world-weariness of the protagonist Michael Henderson. The story is intense, and at times nearly unbearable for its tragedy. Woody Harrelson gives a disarming and surprising performance as Dillane’s American colleague. It’s a great and serious film.

Déjà Vu is about as romantic a film as possible. Not a chick flick by any means, Déjà Vu is a story of love lost and rediscovered; of destiny and soul mates. It’s gorgeously shot with Henry Jaglom’s signature realism (despite the fact that the film has strong supernatural overtones), with much of the dialogue improvised from rough sketches and notes. Dillane is fantastic as an English painter drawn hopelessly to an American designer, whom he encounters in a series of coincidence meetings. She is equally drawn to him, although they are both tied to other partners. Terrific supporting performances by Vanessa Redgrave and Noel Harrison (anyone remember him from the old ’60s series The Man From UNCLE?).

I look forward to many months of catching up on my new discovery! And I’m open to suggestions.

Why had I never heard of Stephen Dillane before?

Thomas Jefferson in “John Adams” is played by the very brilliant (and quite easy on the eyes) British actor Stephen Dillane.  As many of you have probably guessed, I have a penchant for actors from the other side of the pond.  Among my favorites are Ralph Fiennes, Timothy Dalton, Alan Rickman, Jeremy Northam (wasn’t he fabulous tonight in The Tudors?) and of course Hugh Laurie.

Stephen Dillane was marvellous as Jefferson, a quiet and intense intelligence poured from his eyes, as he body language suggested a shyness and reticence.  And those lovely 18th century clothes!

Anyway, Dillane is about to appear in two new films:  Fugitive Pieces (I will be reviewing this one for Blogcritics officially later this week.) and a film about the family who invented Bakelite (the name of the film escapes me for the moment), but I’ll be reviewing that as well, once it’s released and I’ve seen it.

For you newbies (like me) to Mr. Dillane’s work, may I suggest the following for starters:  “Welcome to Sarajevo” (he plays a brave British journalist) and “Deja Vu” in which he plays an artist/architect (it’s a great romance). 

Anyway, more on Dillane in the days and weeks to come.

 

 

A Tale of Two Historical Melodramas

I’m a sucker for historical drama. Maybe it’s because I never paid attention in high school history class, and these vast re-tellings (for all of their historical inaccuracies) serve as my personal “History for Dummies” guide. Maybe it’s because I love those glorious costumes and settings that speak of a time of more grace and pageantry.

Anyway, in our household on Sunday evenings we’ve been in a bit of a quandary. When 8:00 p.m. comes round (we live in the Central time zone) we are faced with the choice of two grandly staged historically-based television series. It’s not so much a question of what to watch (because we eventually will watch them both), but what to watch “real time” and what to TiVo for later consumption.

Showtime is in its second season of The Tudors, a lavish production starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as a younger (and a bit too buff for the 16th Century) Henry VIII. HBO, doing its bit for American history, has been featuring John Adams, starring Paul Giamatti, against the backdrop of this country’s earliest days. It’s an interesting study in contrasts, as John Adams mainly focuses on the inner workings of a new nation, its politics and the varying (and conflicting styles) of the Founding Fathers, and The Tudors tends to focus on the seamier side of Henry’s court: intrigues and love affairs. The Tudors has its political side but it’s couched in intrigues and back-stabbings; power grabs and sex. Lots of sex. John Adams thinks with its head; The Tudors with its heart (and regions a bit lower). It’s almost as if the tone of each series reflects its protagonist: the frenetic Henry VIII vs. the more ploddingly, and decidedly unsexy, John Adams.

Full disclosure: I am not a history expert, nor even a history buff really. I enjoy the history and historical insights I glean from literature, but I can neither vouch for, nor really care, about the historical inaccuracies in either series. I mean, unless they’ve got it really wrong, which I don’t think they have (as a history non-expert). I have been enjoying both series; however, because the Adams series simply moves at a slower, more sedate pace, I have to confess to a slight preference for The Tudors.

There is edginess to The Tudors that draws you into the action; everyone has an agenda, and you never quite know (except for a few of the main characters) just what they will do. Or how. But you will know why. No wonder Shakespeare had so much fun with characters of this era.

Henry, himself, is a brat. But a brat with absolute power – a dangerous combination if ever there was one. Rhys-Myers scowls and bellows like a spoiled child denied his favorite toy. But instead of holding his breath until he turns blue, Henry disenfranchises, imprisons and otherwise does away with his opponents.

Even when he is with his beloved (for the moment) Ann Boleyn, you get the sense that he might tire of her on a moment’s notice as he had with Katherine of Aragon. Rhys-Meyers voraciously overacts, in my opinion, in contrast to pretty much everybody else – all rage and excess. It could be the character, presenting all of his cards, wearing his heart and emotions on his sleeve in contrast to the manipulative chess playing of the Boleyns, particularly Thomas, Ann’s Machiavellian father.

Last season, Sam Neill played the devious and corrupt Cardinal Woolsey, chancellor to the King. Woolsey died in prison (whether he committed suicide as implied by the show is a matter of controversy). This season, Peter O’Toole has joined the cast as the Pope, threatening to excommunicate Henry for divorcing Katherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella (yes, that Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.)

None of the characters in The Tudors are particularly heroic, nor particularly likeable. Sir Thomas More is beautifully underplayed by Jeremy Northam (who is seen far too infrequently these days in film). More was a man of scruples; a devout Catholic, and the man who wrote the Utopia, and was friend to Renaissance philosopher Erasmus. He was a lawyer and both teacher and friend to Henry – as well as his chancellor (after Woolsey’s demise).

When Henry breaks with the Church, More resigns rather than serve his self-interest, pledging his allegiance to the Church, and at great risk. He warns of a king who feels himself answerable to no one but God, who is above morality and can set his own rules. But More, for all of his ethical ideals, fought the reformers, burning heretics at the stake. So not even the heroic More is, well, heroic.

It sounds as if I don’t like it. And by all accounts, I shouldn’t. I like my heroes flawed, but essentially decent (even if that decency is well suppressed). But I do. Like it, that is. I don’t necessarily pour over every scene, TiVo it and re-watch it 11 times to get the minutest nuance. (As I am known to do with House). But like I said, maybe it’s the display; the pretty costumes, the gorgeous musical score, or the soap opera-ish way in which it’s all packaged. Sort of like Dallas goes to the Renaissance Faire. It just clicks for me. I only wonder how (if the series goes on another year or two) how they’re going to make Rhys-Meyers look portly!

John Adams, on the other hand, is full of heroes. Patriots, even. But it all moves along at an almost too leisurely pace, especially in contrast to the Tudors. Eschewing some of the more iconic and clichéd scenes of our nation’s birth, it tells the story of Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin through back rooms, and back yards; meeting halls and private conversation.

John Adams is portrayed as a sort of everyman: an ordinary man thrust into extraordinary times. He is contrasted to an intellectual and brooding Thomas Jefferson (British actor Stephen Dillane is perfect in the role), a brilliant and condescending Benjamin Franklin (played another Brit, Tom Wilkinson), and a slow-of-speech, but effective George Washington (David Morse, who I last saw as Javert-like Michael Tritter last year on House. Adams was a lawyer and a farmer, and is portrayed more the latter than the former, and with a bit of an inferiority complex. His wife Abigail (Laura Linney), providing him with both emotional support — and policy advice — is an equal partner (as equal as women could be back then) in this marriage.

Paul Giamatti, an actor of substantial range, plays against type, presenting a frumpy and ill-at-ease man a bit out of his element. But his John Adams is filled with emotion burbling just below the surface. He is self-aware, knowing (maybe all too-knowing) of his shortcomings, but not without his own bit of arrogance (after all, he was President of the United States.)

As I watch John Adams unfold, I can’t help but think of our country now, 230 years removed from the historical events portrayed in it. Fears of the Founding Fathers about too much power concentrated in the Capitol (and in the presidency); fear of making the wrong alliances for either the wrong or right reasons resonate even in the 21st century. The resistance to back the French in their revolution (even though it was inspired by our own) because the new nation did not want to be seen by England as anti-monarchy, and the fear expressed by Adams and others that the United States would be wanting for the lack of a King’s strong hand, suggested a nation still struggling in its new skin.

I am enjoying this series, particularly as the other characters become more and more fleshed out. Being a Thomas Jefferson fan (hey, even though I didn’t pay attention in high school, I did take a Masters degree in political science) I would have liked to see his character even more fleshed out from the enigmatic, quietly intense persona portrayed on the small screen. The pace at times is too slow, and the accents a bit labored as the American actors attempt to emulate the transitional rhythms and shapes of early American speech (since we have no way of knowing exactly how it sounded). As with The Tudors, the musical score is gorgeous with its blend of the baroque classics and early American music.

The Tudors and John Adams portray two very different worlds of power and society, set nearly three hundred years apart. I can’t guarantee the historical accuracy of either series, but both are entertaining and enlightening each in their own way.