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The meaning of an Emmy nomination: A round-table discussion

For a television critic, the Emmys are always a mixed bag. It's always great when shows and performances we have supported from the beginning are recognized, but sometimes — if you can believe it — the shows and people we believe deserve to win don't. But there is one consistent bright spot in the process — when people whose work has been consistently terrific over the years are recognized for the first time. This year saw quite a few accomplished performers get their first Emmy nomination.

It's a very busy time for these folks, as you can imagine, but we were fortunate that four of them found time to sit down with us to discuss the thrill of Emmy season. Michelle Forbes, nominated for her role as the grieving mother on "The Killing"; Walton Goggins, who plays the mad poet and backwoods gangster Boyd Crowder on "Justified"; Josh Charles, whose increasingly complicated Will Gardner tempts "The Good Wife"; and Johnny Galecki, the romantic (and least geeky) physicist of "The Big Bang Theory."

It was, from the beginning, a surprisingly intimate group. Forbes and Charles worked together fairly recently on "In Treatment"; Goggins is godfather of Galecki's daughter. Add to that the fact that both Charles and Galecki are nominated along with their costars (Alan Cumming and Jim Parsons, respectively), and Charles is up against his very good friend Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones"), and you quickly understand what a small world Hollywood becomes. It certainly made for a lively conversation between people who were not just peers, but friends.

Below is an edited transcript of an hour-long discussion, moderated by Mary McNamara, held in The Times' Chandler Auditorium.

What's it like working and then also having to deal with all of this, with the Emmys publicity and the nerves?

Johnny Galecki: Oh, it's terribly exciting. It's wonderful. Yeah, we've been doing a bit of it, but it's all leading up to this wonderful celebration we get to be a part of.

Josh Charles: I feel thoroughly blessed, as I'm sure everybody does, and honored and it's nice to be recognized, but I don't think that's why any of us necessarily do what we do. So I think it doesn't really come into my brain that way when I'm acting. Maybe it's just because I have a lot of self-loathing too.

[Laughter.]

JG: I wish there was an award for that.

Michelle, you were kind of outspoken about the Emmys a couple of years ago. You were saying that it didn't matter. That it was the performance that mattered.

Michelle Forbes: Yes, that lovely quote. That was indeed.

That still is all over the Internet.

MF: Oh, I'm so glad that's still around. [Laughs.] … I still stand by what I said, that the work is the important bit. And we tell stories for the audience. And if you have an audience engaged and you've touched people, you've done your job. And the rest is just fun and icing and everything else, but that's where the glory is.

Well, it's something that everybody says, and it's not just the Emmys, it's the Oscars too: It's an honor to be nominated. It's not something that we think about. But you must think about it.

Walton Goggins: You can't really compare work. But it is the experience. It's like a new experience. And you know, I mean, I have an 8-month-old son, and I'm reminded that there are only so many firsts in life. And that firsts are really a bell curve. You know, like every single day something new is happening in his life, and the older I get, you know, you're lucky if you get a first a week, or a first a month. Some people, a first a year. And this experience for me has been one that I'll never forget, because it may very well never happen again, and that would be OK. But it's really been an extraordinary kind of experience.

What does an Emmy mean these days, and does it mean something different to a cable show versus a network show?

WG: Cable television now is tantamount — in my estimation, it's been said over and over again, but — to independent filmmaking. It really is. It's become this great vehicle for storytelling over a very long format. I do like a three-hour movie. I'll watch "Carlos," which is a six-hour movie. But for some of these shows, "Boardwalk Empire" on down the line, like "The Wire," "The Sopranos," you get to watch these shows for 84 hours, 85 hours. And it's fantastic. What we trade is the amount of people watching the show.

Do you think that people pay attention to the nominees?

MF: I don't think the general public reads the nominations. I don't get stopped on the street for that. Certainly not.

JG: There's a misconception that this is a competition, and there's occasional frustration in that, because if that was the case, then none of us would be involved in this and supporting this. Because it would make something that we love very dearly something very ugly.

WG: I remember I worked with Alan Arkin once and he had said — and he's now won an Oscar and he didn't say this in his speech, but he said — "If I ever won an Oscar I was gonna say, 'I've always hated these awards and everything they've ever stood for, and secondly, this is the happiest day of my life.'"

[Laughter.]

It's been a great couple of years for TV. Let's talk a little bit about the shows and the seasons and what drew you each to the roles that you're playing.

JG: I suppose — well, first Chuck Lorre approached me about playing Jim Parsons' role before he ever met Jim. Before they had anything written, actually. And he said, "Can I fax you some pages in a couple of weeks once we have something written," and I said, "Of course, absolutely." And I just — I felt — it was really the love story or at that point the potential for a love story for the character of Leonard that really attracted me. And I said, "I think I'd rather play the other guy."

Let's talk about "The Killing¸" which is possibly the darkest show ever made. I love it. But it was like, oh, my God, does it ever not rain? Michelle, your role is so — I mean, I just can't imagine how difficult that was. It's just such raw sorrow and rage. Were you intimidated, nervous about going to a place that was so dark?

MF: No, I wasn't intimidated about going to that place. That's an actor's dream, really. And of course the joy of what we do is we get to do that within a safe environment. And that it isn't real in the end. We have to make it real in that moment, and then you have to trick your brain into believing it's not real at the end of the day. It wasn't a pleasant time. I missed "True Blood" because it was like going from the best party ever to a mental hospital.

[Laughter.]

I remember when Glenn Close started doing "Damages" and she said that TV is so much harder than film because with film you know where you're going and why and then you can do your back story. And with TV you don't know where your character's going. And with your character, Walton, with Boyd, he's crazy in seven different ways.

WG: Yeah he's still an enigma to me, to be quite honest with you. We're now into the second year of this experiment and this guy. ... So coming into this season and kinda the pain that he's carrying over, I didn't know how he would be in a suit. I didn't know how he would sit in a suit. I didn't know how he would kiss a woman. I didn't know how he would, certainly, sit with the CEO of a coal mining company. But I knew he was a poet. I knew he was a poet, and I knew that he was smart.

JG: Yeah, I wrote out, as I always do, a back story for the character. And you're right; when you're doing a film and you're doing a play, that's a wonderful blueprint to rely on. But by the end of Season 1, I wasn't referring to it at all, because I didn't — you find things out and, like, in Season 5 that, oh, really, I'm adopted? You couldn't have thought. And I didn't know until Season 2 where my character was from. I asked, and Chuck Lorre would say, "This isn't 'Lost.' We don't know. We're making this up as we go every week."

[Laughter.]

But with you guys, your characters, you also have the good guy/bad guy.

JC: Right.

How is that to deal with as a performer?

JC: I deal with it because it doesn't — to be frank it's like I don't look at it in those terms. So when people say to me, is your character good or bad, I don't even know what that means. He's everything. He's good and bad. I mean, he does it all. He's a flawed, complex human being, so he has a little bit of everything. I'm not interested in having it all figured out. And certainly not put labels on a character whether they're good or bad.

It is called "The Good Wife," though.

JC: But you'd be surprised how many people take that so literally, you know what I mean? I've had people say, well, she can't have something with you because she's the good wife. I don't think the title was meant to be that literal.

[Laughter.]

What are you guys going to do — do you have plans? Are you going to party beforehand?

JG: I don't even have a suit.

Do you have people that you want to go up and talk to?

WG: Oh yeah, Ty Burrell. Like all of those guys. They're just a number of people that I'm looking forward to approaching. Jon Stewart. I'm gonna tackle him.

[Laughter.]

MF: Or John Hodgman ….I sort of accosted him last year at the Emmys, and it was one of those things that just sort of died. … It's, like, "Don't you understand? I love you!"

Well, thank you guys for coming, and I wish you all the best of luck and I hope you have a lovely evening. I will be sitting here in the office reviewing the show, so when you win, make sure your speeches are really good so I can say something nice about you. Thank you. That's a wrap.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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