Jessica Chastain, Jeremy Allen White, Dominique Fishback and More on Their First Emmy Nominations: “We Weren’t Dreaming This Big”

19 mins read

[These interviews were conducted before the actors strike.]

Best Actress in a Limited Series

Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette in Showtime’s George and Tammy.

Jessica Chastain as Tammy Wynette in Showtime’s George & Tammy.

Dana Hawley / Showtime/MTVE / Courtesy Everett Collection

The first time Chastain went to an awards ceremony — the 2012 Golden Globes, where she was nominated for The Help — Josh Brolin approached her and suggested she play country singer Tammy Wynette in a movie project he was also interested in joining. Over the next decade, that film morphed into a limited series, and Brolin segued from co-star to executive producer — but Brolin’s vision of Chastain as the country music legend was realized in Showtime’s George & Tammy, and now she is nominated for her first Emmy for her portrayal.

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“Getting it made felt like the grand feat, but now, to have it be recognized the way that it is, feels like such a privilege,” Chastain told THR shortly after the nominations were announced. “I’m so ecstatic.”

Chastain’s first Emmy nomination is the cherry on top of an array of accolades for the actress that include her best actress Oscar win in 2022 for playing televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, a SAG Award win in February for George & Tammy and a Tony nomination for her work as conflicted housewife Nora in the recent Broadway revival of A Doll’s House.

Like Tammy Faye and Nora, Tammy Wynette is yet another Chastain character that comes with a lot of cultural baggage. Chastain recalls initially judging Wynette, whose hit “Stand by Your Man” has been viewed as an anthem of internalized misogyny. “The more I learned about her, she was just a force to be reckoned with,” says Chastain. “The path that she created that women still walk on today in Nashville [is proof] she was such an important figure, and she was maligned constantly and not recognized for the incredible things she did.”

But that is a sweet spot for Chastain. “Usually what I’m drawn to is women who have been misunderstood, or there’s an idea that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get, or the idea of how do they try to be their authentic self in a society that really wants them to be quiet and play by the rules,” she says. “I find that is actually in many characters.”

By the time George & Tammy was set to shoot (with Michael Shannon taking on the role of Wynette’s husband, George Jones, due to Brolin’s scheduling conflicts), she wasn’t any less daunted by the task of playing the iconic singer. “It became, I think, more scary toward the end,” she says. That was in part because Shannon insisted that they sing the musical numbers live as opposed to lip-syncing to a prerecorded track.

She and Shannon, with whom she first co-starred in 2011’s Take Shelter, rehearsed for a year together as Wynette and Jones before filming began. Shannon now also has his first Emmy nomination.

Still, the most intimidating moment of production was performing “Stand By Your Man” for an audience of hundreds of extras. Chastain felt “as scared as Tammy was in the scene,” she recalls. “I remember thinking like, ‘OK, I just have to put it into the work.’ I find that, in many cases, fear feeds me.” — ESTHER ZUCKERMAN

Best Actress in a Limited Series

Dominique Fishback in Swarm.

Dominique Fishback in Swarm.

Quantrell D. Colbert/ ©Amazon / Courtesy Everett Collection

Fishback couldn’t decide whether to watch the Emmy nominations announcement July 12. There was a strong expectation that the 32-year-old actress — a critical darling after roles in Judas and the Black Messiah opposite Daniel Kaluuya and The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey opposite Samuel L. Jackson — might land a nod for her ferocious turn as an obsessed fan in Prime Video’s Swarm. But, like anything in the unpredictable Emmys game, nothing is guaranteed.

“I thought maybe I would just wait for somebody to call or text me,” Fishback tells THR. “But I decided to watch and invite a couple of friends to come over and be with me either way. We had just gotten my computer situated when we realized it was my category, because they said Jessica Chastain’s name. Right after that, they said my name, and I just jumped up like a rocket. I was screaming, and then more friends came over. Nobody knew what was happening. It was pure chaos.”

The exhilaration of landing her first nom stands in contrast to the physical and emotional toll playing Dre took on Fishback, who has described the heavy lift of toplining her first series as a “one-woman show onscreen.” From dark comedy to brutal violence, the New York native puts the full range of her talents on display in the Donald Glover- and Janine Nabers-created series. But a scene in the finale proved most challenging. It finds Fishback identifying as a trans man named Toni who murders live-in girlfriend Rashida (Kiersey Clemons) with his bare hands.

“My bones were hurting and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was slurring all my words, and I realized that I had done really hard spiritual work because acting is not just acting to me. I put my whole mind, body and soul into the things that I do,” she explains of the emotional toll the experience took on her. “But, at the same time, it was the most fun episode because I got to be male-presenting as Toni and show a little bit of swag and be someone completely different from all of the versions that Dre asked me to be.”

When she wrapped the series, Fishback tells THR that she escaped for a vacation to her “favorite place in the world” — Costa Rica. “I stayed in the middle of a jungle, in the rainforest, with a friend. I just went to the beach, slept a lot, journaled and really allowed myself the freedom of not having to think about what my next project was going to be,” she says. “It was the first time I finished something without a new job coming up, and in the past that used to give me a lot of anxiety. This time, I embraced the fact that I wanted to take a break, to honor myself and live more life so that I can come back fresh for more new characters.” — CHRIS GARDNER

Best Actor in a Comedy

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen Carmy Berzatto on FX Hulu’s The Bear.

Jeremy Allen White as Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto on FX/Hulu’s The Bear.

Matt Dinerstein/FX

At this point, White’s Emmy-nominated work on The Bear feels distant. “I almost feel unfamiliar with the work done 18 months ago that the show is being honored for,” he tells THR. The first season of the FX series streamed on Hulu in 2022. Since then, an entirely new season of the food-centric show has premiered to another round of acclaim.

Still, for White, the recognition takes him back to when there was less riding on this story of a chef returning to his hometown to run the Italian beef sandwich restaurant his dead brother left behind. “That’s when there were no expectations for the show,” he says. “That was when we were really working in this bubble and making something cool and interesting, but we really had no idea how the world was going to respond to it.” After the noms were announced, White says he spoke to boss Christopher Storer and reminisced about how, at first, they were just hoping the restaurant industry took notice. “We weren’t dreaming this big,”  he adds.

White plays Carmen “Carmy” Berzatto, the exacting chef dealing with a complicated stew of grief and ambition. The first season, filmed at a breakneck pace, filled White with insecurity. “I remember really coming home and driving myself crazy about how I could have done better with this knife work,” he recalls. Filming the second season was easier for White — almost suspiciously easy since he considers “suffering” a part of good work. “It was kind of magical,” he says. — E.Z.

Jessica Williams (Shrinking, Apple TV+)

Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Jessica Williams as therapist Gaby on Apple TV+’s Shrinking.

Jessica Williams as therapist Gaby on Apple TV+’s Shrinking.

Courtesy of Apple TV+

Williams refused to let anyone in her house watch the Emmy nominations announcement live. “I told everybody in my house, ‘We’re just going to sit on the couch and kind of stare at each other,’ ” says the actress. “And it was silent. And it was very weird. And then I got a call from my publicist, and we just started screaming.”

First-time nominee Williams is recognized for her work on Apple TV+’s Shrinking, where she plays upbeat psychotherapist Gaby. She effuses that the call from her publicist alerting her of the news came as a total shock: “I just couldn’t believe it,” she says. “So many great actors and actresses didn’t even get nominated, even though they deserved it also. So I feel really lucky.”

Previously known for her work in films like The Incredible Jessica James, as a correspondent on The Daily Show, and co-hosting the podcast and later HBO comedy series Two Dope Queens, Williams’ comedic sensibility offers a breath of levity into the oft-serious world of Shrinking, which revolves around several therapists working together in an office and dealing with themes of loss, grief, disease and divorce. The part was actually written with Williams in mind by show creator Jason Segel, she tells THR. “He didn’t really know that much about Gaby, just that [he] wanted her to counterbalance [his] and Harrison Ford’s characters, to be a bit light, bubbly,” says Williams. “He told me that I was allowed to improvise on set — that was exciting. It was a collaboration between me and the writers.”

Playing opposite a bona fide movie star like Ford certainly could have been cause for nerves, but Williams explains those trepidations quickly passed. “After I signed on, I was surprised to find out Harrison was doing the show. And that threw me a little bit. I was like, ‘Oh, shit, this is, like, Harrison Ford,’ ” remembers Williams. “But then the set was so comfortable and cozy. We had a really lovely crew, everybody was very gentle and kind. It was the easiest job I’ve ever had. Gaby sort of wrote herself. I never felt like I had anything to prove to them as an actor because I felt so supported.”

The show’s subject matter was particularly intriguing to delve into for Williams. “Everyone’s always grieving,” she says. “Sometimes you lose a loved one. Sometimes you have something called shadow grief, which [happens when] you’re moving to a new place. You’re older, you’re grieving your youth, or you’re getting a divorce, or you’re going through a breakup. There’s different forms of grief. It’s really not linear.”

The emotional cycles of heartbreak and heartache are, for Williams, an understandable emotional experience that brings an honesty to Shrinking‘s storylines. “Grieving is messy and complicated,” says Williams. “And that’s what I love about the show. You’re feeling everything at once.” — HILTON DRESDEN

Al Yankovic (Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, Roku)

Best TV Movie, Original Song

Emmy nominee Daniel Radcliffe as the parody singer in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.

Emmy nominee Daniel Radcliffe as the parody singer in Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.

The Roku Channel / Courtesy Everett Collection

The Roku Channel’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story has all the trappings of your typical rock ‘n’ roll biopic: A young musician yearns for fame and fortune, sees a meteoric rise to stardom despite all of the odds against him, and narrowly avoids personal ruin when ego and hubris blind him from what really matters in life.

But what sets Weird apart from other entries in the genre is its parody of the rise-and-fall plot structure and how it takes creative license with recent pop culture history. In Weird, it’s Michael Jackson who rips off Yankovic’s “Eat It” by recording his megahit “Beat It.” Madonna seduces the accordion player in hopes he will parody “Like a Virgin.” And drug kingpin and Weird Al superfan Pablo Escobar is killed by Yankovic in a violent shootout on his Colombian compound.

“It’s more about what’s funny than what’s true,” Yankovic tells THR of the self-referential film, which he co-wrote with director Eric Appel, inspired by the Funny or Die-produced fake trailer the duo created in 2010. “Eric had the idea to do a biopic of somebody who was still alive but also famously noncontroversial,” he explains. The original video starring Aaron Paul as Yankovic went viral, and for years fans would ask the musician when the movie would finally be released. “I’d say, ‘No, it’s a bit.’ And they would say, ‘It should be a movie!’ “

Nearly a year after its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, Weird landed eight Emmy noms, including best TV movie and script. Star Daniel Radcliffe, whom Yankovic says was a natural when it came to his character, also earned a nom for best actor in a limited series or TV movie. “The only notes I ever gave him was where to have his hands on the accordion,” says Yankovic.

The most prized nom for the musician may be his individual nod for the original song “Now You Know,” the latest in his large catalog of original songs despite his more famous parodies. “It’s great to be known for anything,” says Yankovic, “but I do feel like the original songs have been overlooked a bit.” — TYLER COATES


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