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Emmy Contenders Like Alfre Woodard, Kristen Bell Pull Double Duty in Guest Spots

Variety logo Variety 6/1/2017 Will Thorne

it’s becoming more common to see actors pulling double-duty on television; particularly with the ever-growing list of actors appearing in guest spots. Some of those actors could even find themselves eligible for Emmy recognition in more than one category.

For actors enjoying a regular role on television, recognition in the guest category can be an extra bonus. Oscar nominee and four-time Emmy winner Alfre Woodard made an exciting villain on “Luke Cage,” but still found time to appear in two episodes of “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” both for Netflix. As for finding time to play the two roles, she says the shooting dates were “close enough to be, ‘Yikes,’ but I didn’t have to balance Mariah Dillard’s dastardly deeds and the hyper-vigilant grammarian Aunt Josephine in the same shooting schedule.” She then points to her lengthy theater background, noting: “But we’ve all done repertory!”

But ultimately, actors love good work. Adds Woodard, “I relished the fact that these women are from polar sides of the moon. In the wild, an actor needs to flex all her muscles. So, it was good fortune to have that workout.”

It’s not just Woodard. In the last season, Matthew Perry tackled comedy with “The Odd Couple,” channeled Ted Kennedy in Reelz’s “The Kennedys After Camelot” and did a three-episode arc as a lawyer on CBS’ “The Good Fight.”

His “Good Fight” co-star Christine Baranski could earn a nom for lead actress on that show, but is also likely to land her fifth nomination for the character of Dr. Beverly Hofstadter on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.” And Matthew Rhys could follow in the footsteps of last year’s guest actor in a comedy series winner Peter Scolari for guesting on HBO’s “Girls.” Rhys, whose more regular TV role is opposite Keri Russell in FX’s “The Americans,” appeared in the Lena Dunham-created show as a successful author accused of sexual misconduct. The busy Riz Ahmed also guested in a pivotal role on “Girls,” after delivering a star turn in the  HBO miniseries “The Night Of.”

Kristen Bell is eligible for lead actress in a comedy for her work on NBC’s “The Good Place,” but was also asked to make a guest appearance on TV Land’s “Nobodies” by two of the show’s EPs, Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy. Asked to play herself, she says she didn’t hesitate. After all, she would be joining the likes of McCarthy, Jason Bateman and Bob Odenkirk, who all also appeared as themselves in the first season of the show about three comedians struggling to catch a break and make a name for themselves in Hollywood.

There are plenty of ways that playing oneself in a show can backfire. What if you’re just not that funny? Or your personality doesn’t stand up to the other wacky characters that you’re juxtaposed with? It’s a risky business.

“I don’t take myself too seriously — and I find it very funny when other people do. As a life motto, I think everyone deserves to be loved, and everyone deserves to be made fun of. So I was game for anything,” Bell says.

She says she found there was “a lot of comedy to be mined” from the main premise of “Nobodies,” which centers around three comedians, Hugh Davidson, Larry Dorf and Rachel Ramras, who all play fictionalized versions of themselves. Having worked before with “Nobodies” director Michael McDonald on “The Good Place” was also a big plus for Bell.

In fact, the shoots overlapped. “I filmed ‘Nobodies’ on an off-day while I was shooting ‘The Good Place’ for NBC,” Bell says. “But it was easy to play myself because I’ve been me for over 36 years. It’s the longest character study I’ve ever done.”

While both of Bell’s roles were in the comedy category, quite often actors cross genres. Best known for his work on “NYPD Blue,” Jimmy Smits had regular roles in both Fox’s “24: Legacy” and Netflix’s “The Get Down.” But he also made a brief return to the cop show arena with a comedic appearance on an episode of Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”

In his guest appearance, Smits played Victor Santiago, father to kickass cop Amy Santiago, who sizes up his daughter’s boyfriend Jake (Andy Samberg), whom he at first deems unfit to date her.

Smits says it was working for “24” that helped him score the guest gig, in a roundabout way. “We were doing a photo shoot for the news shows on Fox, and on that particular day we were shooting for ‘24: Legacy,’ the people coming after were ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ and there was a costumer there who was setting up for the cast picture. Actually, I should give that guy 10 percent of my week’s salary because he’s the one who set the whole thing up,” Smits says.

Turns out Smits has long been an admirer of the show; it reminded him of his favorite series growing up: “The Barney Miller Show.” During the Fox photo shoot, Smits says he waxed lyrical about the show to one its stars.

“I started talking to Stephanie Beatriz and she was very effusive about it. I love that

they have the colorblind casting, and Andy feels like he’s playing jazz, riffing all the time,” Smits says.

“She said, ‘Oh you should come on,’ and of course the grass is always greener on the other side, so when you’re doing something serious, you feel the need to do a comedy.”

At the moment, Smits finds himself in a strange limbo phase since there will not be a part three to “The Get Down,” and Fox has decided not to pursue a second season of “24: Legacy.”

Smits has been kept busy flying back and forth among New York, Atlanta and his home in L.A.

“With ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ and the other shows, the logistical back and forth between different states was tough, but it’s kind of what you want to be doing. You want to be able to show you’re versatile and do different things. One of the greatest experiences I had working on ‘L.A. Law,’ was that they allowed me to go work on this film with Gregory Peck in Mexico — they didn’t make it an either/or.”

While Smits’ role on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” was a one-episode affair, Craig Robinson’s character has appeared several times.

Robinson plays Doug Judy, a.k.a. the Pontiac Bandit, a low-level criminal who has stolen more than 200 Pontiac cars and committed more than 600 crimes. In his most recent appearance across two season-four episodes back in January, Judy had all the charges against him dropped, at the price of giving up his brother.

Robinson echoes Smits’ characterization of the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” filming experience as a fun time, complete with plenty of improvisation.

Filming the Fox show certainly provided a shocking contrast to Robinson’s other significant TV role of 2016 in “Mr. Robot.”

“Going over to ‘Mr. Robot’ was intense, it’s very serious,” Robinson says “Sam [Raimi, the showrunner] is an incredible director, he would do these super long, 25-minute takes. On one set I laughed and improvised, and then the other was just heavy stuff, and I really wanted to keep that tone. You don’t want to mess with it or alter it.”

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