Emmy's: British actors reveal their favourite TV hits


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The Independent Culture

When the audience gathers for tonight's star-studded Emmy ceremony the list of British luminaries present will be – as usual – long and distinguished.

Spearheading the line up are Kate Winslet and Hugh Laurie, whose respective roles as Mildred Pierce and Gregory House have earned plaudits world wide. Other hopefuls include Idris Elba (for John Luther in Luther), Alan Cumming (Eli Gold in The Good Wife) and Kelly Macdonald (Margaret Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire, Martin Scorsese's prohibition gangland drama).

Twice-Oscar nominated actress Maggie Smith is in contention for her role as Matriarch Violet in Downton Abbey – starting its eagerly anticipated second series tonight. Meanwhile, medieval fantasy Game of Thrones – headed by a cast including Sean Bean and Aidan Gillen – battles for the Outstanding Drama Series award against Mad Men, which has topped the category for the last three years.

But what do the best of Britain's actors like to watch when they're not working? The Independent on Sunday asked them

Actor: Archie Panjabi

Role: Kalinda Sharma

Series: The Good Wife

Nomination: Outstanding supporting actress

Favourite TV

"The busy filming schedule for The Good Wife means that my downtime has been limited over the past few seasons. But I have found time to bury myself in AMC's Breaking Bad. Bryan Cranston is absolutely brilliant in his role."

Favourite TV of all time

"There are so many I adore. Life on Mars (UK version), Luther on BBC America and the British State of Play are just a few. I tend to lean towards drama and history but also great comedies like HBO's Eastbound & Down and The Big Bang Theory on CBS.

UK or US?

"It is ultimately less about geography and more about the viewer. In essence it is about their unique tastes and what they have grown accustomed to culturally. A British audience has a different palate to that of their American counterparts. Yet in recent years there has been a significant increase in programming that has resonated on either side of the pond like The Office, for instance."

Actor: Aidan Gillen

Role: Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish

Series: Game of Thrones

Nomination: Best drama; best direction (Tim Van Patten) and best supporting actor (Peter Dinklage)

Favourite TV

"Treme, which first aired on HBO last year, is more terrific multistranded storytelling from David Simon of The Wire. This time set in New Orleans it is intelligent, funny, sad and humane at the same time."

Favourite TV of all time

"The Singing Detective, Dennis Potter's iconic BBC drama of 1986 comes straight to mind. It is actually the story of a traumatic childhood set in the Forest of Dean, anchored by a moving performance by Michael Gambon that first inspired me to become an actor."

UK or US?

"HBO has certainly changed the game for the better but there is plenty of good output from the BBC and others. I really don't think in terms of one versus the other – as long as new ground is being broken on either side of the Atlantic – or even Australia – that's all that ultimately matters."

Actor: Alice Amter

Role: Mrs Koothrappali

Series: Big Bang Theory

Nomination: Best comedy series; and best lead actor (Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki).

Favourite TV

"I'm currently detoxing from a reality TV obsession, but I do love the Real Housewives of New Jersey as well as the Atlanta equivalent. Both are a real guilty pleasure. I also love America's Got Talent, and any type of reality or competition show that's based on skill."

Favourite TV of all time

"Charlie's Angels is what made me want to move to LA – everything looked so beautiful and glamorous compared to the streets of Birmingham. LA does have that; it's just gorgeous and breathtaking."

UK or US?

"In America you're playing in the big leagues. There's a high degree of professionalism and skill and that's what I thrive on. The material may be better in England but generally when you're in Hollywood it's like being in a shark tank. In another market you might be swimming with goldfish or dolphins. But if you can make it in Hollywood, you can handle it anywhere."

Actor: Dan Stevens

Role: Matthew Crawley

Series: Downton Abbey

Nomination: Best miniseries or movie; outstanding miniseries or movie; best actress.

Favourite TV

"I am big fan of documentaries, while programmes directed by Adam Curtis as particular favourites. I thought Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace [A series of films about how humans have been colonised by the machines] was uniquely brilliant."

Favourite TV of all time

"The Day Today or Brass Eye. Chris Morris is a visionary, a master of language and satire, and his shows make me laugh more than anything I have ever seen.

UK or US?

"Until a few years ago I would have said America. But British television drama has raised its game of late and shows no signs of letting up. Having been over in the US recently there seems a greater appetite than ever for our shows, in particular our comedy, which has always been seen by the Americans to be a bit more advanced. Downton is a very British show though – I don't see a US remake in the offing."

Actor: Diana Hardcastle

Role: Rose Kennedy

Series: The Kennedys

Nomination: Best miniseries or movie; best actor (Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper) and best supporting actor (Tom Wilkinson).

Favourite TV

"I don't really watch a lot of TV. However, I was addicted to the Danish series The Killing. My guilty secret is that I love Glee, and watching reruns of Midsomer Murders. And I will be watching Downton Abbey."

Favourite TV of all time

"Many years ago I thought Edge of Darkness was fantastic because it took its time to tell the story, and reveal the characters, and it looked like a film. It changed the face of British television. I was also married to the director, but I don't think it made me specially biased."

UK or US?

"There was a time when British television was undoubtedly of a higher standard than anyone else, it was largely because there was money, time and interest to develop and encourage writers. Now there is a lot of superb TV coming out of America such as The Wire and Mad Men. And the reason they're so good? Meticulous attention to the scripts."

Actor: Liam Garrigan

Role: Alfred Builder

Series: The Pillars of the Earth

Nomination: Outstanding miniseries or movie; special effects; cinematography

Favourite TV

"There have been a couple of standout shows in the last year. The Shadow Line was really bold and gripping. Downton Abbey was a class act also, and I really enjoyed the BBC's Sherlock Holmes."

Favourite TV of all time

"The Wire is hands down the best series I've watched. It's a superbly crafted piece of drama as well as a very real piece of social commentary. It has truly memorable characters and scenes throughout, the language sticks in the mind and has some of the best twists and turns I have ever seen."

UK or US?

"There is obviously a disparity between both but American television is currently the standard bearer. However they have dedicated networks like HBO and Showtime spending major film budgets on new series. In the UK we do costume and period drama brilliantly but I do wish we would take more of a risk with our shows; we can't compete financially with American television drama so we have to be inventive in other ways."

Actor: Stephen Graham

Role: Al Capone

Series: Broadwalk Empire

Nomination: Outstanding drama series; outstanding lead actor (Steve Buscemi); outstanding support actress (Kelly McDonald); outstanding directing

Favourite TV

"I don't really get a chance to watch much. But The Wire stands out. I've got the box set. The acting, direction and writing is fantastic. It doesn't treat the audience like idiots and refuses to spoon-feed them. But I am also an occasional sucker for EastEnders."

Favourite TV of all time

"Starsky and Hutch reminds me of my childhood, while [80s drama] Boys from the Black Stuff is fantastic. It has characters that I recognise and when I was doing acting at school, and it really gave me the belief that I could be an actor if I work hard and was lucky enough."

UK or US?

"For many years our television was outstanding as was the quality of programming. I'm very blessed to work on a great HBO show. This Is England '86 was part of a resurgence of British TV, and things are slowly getting back up to the mark. We're slowly returning there. There's a fine line between TV and film and that's now beginning to blur while the snobbery of television from film circles is fast disappearing."

Actor: Julian Glover

Role: Grand Maester Pycelle

Series: Game of Thrones

Nomination: Best drama; best direction (Tim Van Patten) and best supporting actor (Peter Dinklage)

Favourite TV

"I watch the cricket and QI in my downtime. Last year's favourites included Downton Abbey, and The Hour."

Favourite TV of all time

"The Forsyte Saga and the BBC's adaptations of all the Dennis Potter plays - because they were led by the scripts and not 27 executives in grey suits."

UK or US?

"With rare exceptions including The Wire, House, Friends, The Sopranos, Frasier and most of the HBO's drama output, including Game of Thrones, British television is streets ahead of American. Switch on the television in any US hotel and this is immediately evident."

Actor: Jared Harris

Role: Lane Pryce

Series: Mad Men

Nomination: Best drama, best actor (Jon Hamm); best actress (Elisabeth Moss) and best writing (Matthew Weiner).

Favourite TV:

"The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, House, Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones, Real Time with Bill Maher, Curb Your Enthusiasm, GPS with Fareed Zakaria, Fringe ... At the moment, my favourite programme is The Daily Show with John Stewart"

Favourite TV of all time:

"That would be a tie between The Wire, Fawlty Towers, The Sopranos, anything David Attenborough has done, Star Trek, and of course Match of the Day."

UK or US?

"The biggest difference to my mind is in the pay TV channels, which in the USA have discovered a freedom in the writing, experimentation in programming, and an appetite for risk. In Britain the BBC, which used to be the standard bearer for quality and freedom, has become distracted by 'ratings' as they seek to justify their funding by the tax payer, which has lead to a greater degree of bureaucracy and interference. The more people you add to a decision making process, the more risk-averse the outcome."