Your 2021 SAG Awards Voting Guide: The Male Film + TV Nominees

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Photo Source: Courtesy Apple TV+

Attention, working SAG-AFTRA members: Screen Actors Guild Awards voting is officially underway! Chosen by the SAG Awards Nominating Committees, this year’s individual film and television contenders represent the best of the best onscreen acting. Fortunately, Backstage is once again here to guide voters with handy cheat sheets as the April 4 ceremony approaches! First up are the male performances. Read on for a refresher on the 2021 SAG-nominated men. 

Nicholas Hoult, “The Great”
Tony McNamara’s Hulu dramedy works because of, not despite, its historically inaccurate flourishes. Embodying that spirit best of all is Hoult as Russia’s Emperor Peter III, following up his irreverently haughty work in “The Favourite.” Opposite Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great, he’s an exemplary scene partner: dry, unruffled, and hilariously imperious without stealing focus.

Dan Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
It’s a real testament to Levy’s skill as the co-writer, star, and sometimes director of “Schitt’s Creek” (and Emmy winner for all of the above!) that despite David Rose’s never-ending sarcastic tirades and eye rolls, the guy managed to be completely endearing and lovable—someone you want to root for and then get drunk with.

Eugene Levy, “Schitt’s Creek”
A longtime vet of the industry, Levy knows comedy—which means he also knows how to play the role of the straight man. He nailed the well-heeled stiff as the Rose family patriarch, Johnny, who’s in over his head and out of his comfort zone after being forced to liquidate his assets and move to the titular town. Over six seasons, his performance retained its absurdity but found touching depths, too.

Jason Sudeikis, “Ted Lasso”
Sudeikis always showcases the kind of charisma you can’t fake, but his everyman vibe and whip-smart comedy chops have never found a better home than in the role of Ted Lasso, an upbeat American football coach hired to lead an English football team. The freshman season of the Apple TV+ series, co-created by Sudeikis, announces itself as a fish-out-of-water comedy before its leading man unveils poignant layer after poignant layer.

Ramy Youssef, “Ramy”
In this age of peak TV, we’re finally hearing stories and voices that have, until now, been pushed to the margins far beyond the small screen. We still have a long way to go, but on his semi-autobiographical Hulu series about a Muslim millennial, the Golden Globe–winning Youssef provides hope. “Ramy” is hilarious while being proof of those changing tides.

Jason Bateman, “Ozark”
It may have taken Bateman most of his acting career to prove he can play (and direct) drama as well as comedy; but his performance as Marty Byrde, a financial adviser whose idyllic family life becomes a money-laundering nightmare, was worth the wait. That classic Bateman dryness provides the perfect foil for the unsettling world of “Ozark,” where middle-class banality becomes menacing.

Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”
Playing the multifaceted Randall Pearson means that four-time SAG Award winner Brown gets to preach the truth, have mental breakdowns, and occasionally throw out solid one-liners that reveal his superb comedic timing. He’s created one of the most enthralling characters in TV drama. 

Josh O’Connor, “The Crown”
Alongside a cast of actors who feel more like magicians thanks to their flesh-and-blood portrayals of public figures from increasingly recent history, O’Connor excels at both rendering a convincing impression of Prince Charles and putting his own spin on it. His tormented love triangle with Emma Corrin’s Diana and Emerald Fennell’s Camilla Parker Bowles feels, somehow, like an authentic recreation of actual events rather than a series of scripted moments.

Bob Odenkirk, “Better Call Saul”
As this riveting spinoff delves deeper into the thorny morality of ambition and survival, Odenkirk continues to show us streaks of the “Bad” habits that built his character’s rascally reputation. Even with the knowledge of that final meth-charged outcome in the back of our minds, Odenkirk gives a refined performance, adding new layers to dodgy lawyer Jimmy McGill’s present tense.

Regé-Jean Page, “Bridgerton”
To call Shondaland’s first Netflix series buzzy would be the understatement of the season; this tale of 19th-century high British society—“Downton Abbey” meets “Gossip Girl”—features the most charismatic of casts. Leading man Page as Simon Basset is perfectly dashing as
a duke who is uninterested in noble titles yet poised to give Regency London gossips plenty to talk about.

Bill Camp, “The Queen’s Gambit”
The fact that Camp’s Mr. Shaibel, school custodian and chess mentor to Beth Harmon (played first as a child by Isla Johnston, then by Anya Taylor-Joy), appears only at the beginning of this hit Netflix miniseries is proof of the actor’s sheer charisma. His quiet gruffness and dawning belief in Beth’s abilities loom over her coming-of-age journey, resulting in the miniseries’ greatest emotional payoff.

Daveed Diggs, “Hamilton”
One of the highlights of 2020 echoed the fervor of Broadway in 2015: With the arrival of the filmed “Hamilton” to Disney+, homebound fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s game-changing musical got to watch (and rewatch and rewatch) the stage production’s impossibly talented original cast. Diggs’ Tony-winning turn as both the fearless Marquis de Lafayette and the swaggering Thomas Jefferson is the quintessential example of a tour de force.

Hugh Grant, “The Undoing”
It’s impossible to discuss Grant on “The Undoing” without spoiling the ending; this is a murder mystery, after all. Centering Grant as husband, father, and potential cheater-liar-murderer Jonathan Fraser is more than just a clever bit of casting, given our collective fondness for his charmingly romantic roles. Grant capably walks the line between sympathetic and bone-chilling, causing us to second-guess ourselves right up until the series’ final heart-pounding moment.

Ethan Hawke, “The Good Lord Bird”
What makes Hawke a star is also what makes this Showtime miniseries he co-created with Mark Richard great: He can combine weighty historical drama with epic, rollicking entertainment. The actor’s irreverent take on the intensely religious and violent abolitionist John Brown, whose spark helped ignite the American Civil War, must be seen to be believed. And believe you absolutely will.

Mark Ruffalo, “I Know This Much Is True”
Playing opposite yourself as twins might sound like a dream acting job, but it comes with risks: You have to pull off the illusion seamlessly, making the audience forget they’re seeing one performer, and you can’t ever verge on gimmickry. The Emmy-winning Ruffalo avoids these issues with astonishing precision in this adaptation of Wally Lamb’s novel, imbuing both brothers with distinct interiorities as well as magnetic physicalities.

Riz Ahmed, “Sound of Metal”
As Ruben, a heavy metal drummer and recovering addict who discovers that he’s going deaf, Ahmed paints a devastating portrait of dependency in all its forms. Brilliantly underscored by the film’s sound design, his notes of wide-eyed fear or quiet discontent at a loud party provide a visceral, tragic look at life as a newly hearing-impaired person transitioning out of the hearing world.

Chadwick Boseman, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”
There’s a raw wound underneath the suave, cocky demeanor that Boseman gives Levee, a rebellious trumpeter who flies too close to the sun. Delivering one of August Wilson’s biggest monologues, a tirade against God suffused with pain and outrage, Boseman lets the words pour out of him like a jazz solo. It’s the film performance of the year, and a tragic reminder of this late actor’s skill and irrepressible humanity.

Anthony Hopkins, “The Father”
A character losing his grip on himself requires, paradoxically, an actor with the utmost self-awareness. Hopkins gives a master class in using precision to depict a lack of mental precision in Florian Zeller’s stage-to-screen adaptation about a father experiencing dementia. It’s one of the most profound performances yet from this awards-dominating legend who has notably never won a SAG Award.

Gary Oldman, “Mank”
One Academy Award–winning, appearance-altering turn isn’t enough for a chameleon like Oldman. In “Mank,” he steps into the shoes (and prosthetics) of another Oscar winner, Herman J. Mankiewicz, disappearing into the alcoholic screenwriter’s bedclothes and memories of old Hollywood. Ornery, intoxicated, and tucked away in a desert cottage writing “Citizen Kane,” Oldman’s work as Mank might just put even more gold on his mantle.

Steven Yeun, “Minari”
No dream—especially the American dream—can be achieved without a cost. As Jacob, a Korean immigrant father and husband who determinedly moves his family to an Arkansas farm plot, Yeun demonstrates first the blind optimism of what he sees as success, then the crushing weight of what he considers failure. He also beautifully charts his character’s full-circle journey away from selfishness and back toward what really matters.

Sacha Baron Cohen, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”
It’s evidence of Baron Cohen’s brilliance that in the same year he gave us another “Borat,” he turned in his most stirring dramatic performance to date in this Aaron Sorkin legal drama. His delivery of Abbie Hoffman, one of the real-life seven accused by the federal government of conspiracy, is as multilayered as it is surprising, somehow both completely laid-back and full of outrage.

Chadwick Boseman, “Da 5 Bloods”
Boseman applied what he learned playing titans like T’Challa and Jackie Robinson to once again breathe life into a Black hero: fallen Vietnam soldier Stormin’ Norman. With as much conviction as grace, the late actor portrays the leader of Spike Lee’s fictional squad as a fearless educator and seeker of justice in the fight for Black liberation.

Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”
Kaluuya seems to have a sixth sense in his ability to get under our skin with a precise gesture or glare. His almost preternatural charisma is on display in Shaka King’s retelling of the FBI’s deceptive practices leading up to the 1969 assassination of Fred Hampton. Watching Kaluuya play the doomed Black Panther chairman, you may find yourself out of your seat, fist raised in the air.

Jared Leto, “The Little Things”
Compared with Denzel Washington and Rami Malek, Leto’s screen time in John Lee Hancock’s “The Little Things” is scarce. That’s what makes his performance as murder suspect Albert Sparma all the more remarkable: It takes only a handful of pointed stares and ambiguously delivered warnings for Leto to evoke this wide-eyed weirdo, hint at his disturbing depths, and make your skin crawl.

Leslie Odom Jr., “One Night in Miami”
Playing a beloved star always comes with risks, but if the star is a singer, that’s doubly true. How to recreate their vocal prowess without resorting to lip-syncing? Odom’s portrayal of Sam Cooke could be the gold standard for this trick. In both his quiet charisma and the film’s stunning final vocals, he puts his own stamp on the inimitable Cooke, giving him cinematic life.

This story originally appeared in the March 4 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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