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Preparing for the Primetime Emmys isn't easy

Newcomers deal with nerves and veterans offer their sage advice on how to handle the anxiety that comes with a nomination.

August 05, 2009|Lisa Rosen

It's been three weeks since the nominations were announced. The champagne has been popped, the flowers sent. For most of those nominated, it's back to business as usual. But for those actors who've earned their first Emmy nomination, something new is settling in: nerves.

That's what The Envelope is here for. We talked with some of those nervous newbies and then gathered tips from those who've survived TV's most exciting night. Don't thank us now, do it from the stage holding your trophy.

Elisabeth Moss, nominated for lead actress in a drama for her role as Peggy Olsen, has been to quite a few awards shows with her "Mad Men" co-stars already, so she feels somewhat prepared for the event and its surrounding hoopla. But the prospect of preparing a speech throws her. "That would just make me really nervous, and I wouldn't want to get my expectations up," she says.

Aaron Paul, nominated for supporting actor in a drama for his portrayal of drug-centric screw-up Jesse Pinkman in "Breaking Bad," confesses to feeling completely out of his depth at the prospect of awards night. "How do I breathe during this experience?" he wonders. "How do I form sentences on the red carpet?"

Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory's" supernerd Sheldon Cooper, has a number of technical questions about the proceedings, such as, is there a way to know when your category is up so you're not in the bathroom when it is announced? He predicts that when his category is called, "I'm going to look scared, like a deer in headlights."

Rest easy, freshmen. A few upperclassmen are on hand with sound advice.

"Whatever the word 'sedative' means to you, bring it in the limo," says Mary-Louise Parker (four previous Emmy nominations, one win). "Be it champagne, be it Hostess Twinkies, Valium, your Bible, whatever. Because I don't think you can really be prepared for the atmosphere once you get out of the car. It's overwhelming." Parker, star of "Weeds," always brings peanut M&Ms and pictures of her kids.

Chandra Wilson, a double nominee this year, advises women to practice standing in their party shoes for at least two hours to make sure they can hold up without crippling pain. And test them out on stairs too; Emmy night isn't the time to stumble.

Parker's fashion advice: Someone, somewhere is going to hate what you're wearing, so you might as well wear what you like. And keep the underwear comfortable, Wilson says.

Many suggest bringing a snack because there is no food available for hours, but Gabriel Byrne (up for his second dramatic lead actor nod) doesn't like the ever-present water bottles. "It's a three-hour thing, and you've got to sit there. So forgo the inner lubrication," he offers.

Prepare red carpet quotes? Parker says yes. "Don't come up with anything on the spot unless you're super clever, like Alec Baldwin or Kevin Nealon." But 11-time nominee Julia Louis-Dreyfus says, "I wing it -- that part of it is fun."

A camera also is a good idea, many say. Louis-Dreyfus' husband, Brad Hall, has taken behind-the-scenes photos that she treasures. "Maybe I'll bring a Flip this year and record it; is that a good idea or what?" She has strong words of caution for anyone who wants to spray-tan on the day of the show, however. Because the red carpet is hot, sweating will occur, and if the fake tan is not set, it will run. "I saw the results on somebody once, and it was very unfortunate."

Once inside, John Slattery, returning to the awards for his role as "Mad Men's" adman Roger Sterling, recalls being informed of the order of events, so taking a bathroom break is safe. But don't be surprised when a seat filler takes your place. "So some stranger sits in your seat next to your wife, and then you have to ask them, 'Can I have my seat back?' "

When the camera is on you, before the winner is announced, Wilson recommends focusing on the stage. "Just be happy, clap your hands. Don't be looking at your partner, don't be grabbing their hand and holding them a little closer and all that kind of mess."

As for the big moment, there are only two ways it can go, and usually it's not the way you want, as all the vets know. "You should assume you're not going to win, because the odds are against you. That takes the stress down a notch," Louis-Dreyfus says. Then again, "If you lose, your heart is always breaking a tiny bit, because it's better to win than lose, let's face it."

But if everyone assumes they will not be approaching the microphone, where does that leave the speech? It can get confusing: Plan to lose, but prepare to win.

Singer Ruben Studdard, an "American Idol" winner and Grammy nominee, offered a gentle admonition of those who don't want to appear arrogant. "People always say, 'I didn't expect to win' when they get up on stage, but . . . everybody in the arts has dreamed about what we would say if we won an award. Everybody's done a speech in the mirror."

And even if you don't win, at least you'll be ready for next year.

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calendar@latimes.com

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