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How Emmy Underdogs Kelly Jenrette and Melvin Jackson Jr. Turned Brief Roles Into 2 Unlikely Noms (Video)

TheWrap Emmy magazine: ”I think we were equally surprised,“ says Jenrette after she and her husband mounted long-shot campaigns for recognition

A version of this story about Kelly Jenrette and Melvin Jackson Jr. first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine.

They’re this year’s Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, a married couple with his & her Emmy nominations. But Kelly Jenrette and Melvin Jackson Jr. did it with a lot less screen time: She appeared in a single episode of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” in two scenes that together total less than two minutes and 10 seconds of airtime, while he played himself (or a version of himself) in a web series, “This Eddie Murphy Role Is Mine, Not Yours,” whose six episodes total about 10 minutes.

“I think we were equally surprised,” said Jenrette of their reaction on the morning nominations were announced. “I found out first, and he called me but he didn’t know yet whether he had been nominated. Because I was home, I was able to pull it up on my computer, and I screamed, ‘Babe, you’re nominated too!'”

How’d they become the unlikeliest success story of this Emmy season? Maybe voters were driving around town and spotted Jackson’s Mercedes sedan, which is emblazoned with banners asking for votes for the couple.

Or maybe they saw the YouTube video in which they asked for votes amid some endearing verbal stumbles. “We wanted to do something fun that wouldn’t be too serious,” said Jackson, who came up with the idea. “I think it helped a little, just so people could see our dynamic as husband and wife.”

Or maybe it had to do with the work. In “Handmaid’s Tale” flashbacks, Jenrette plays the ex-wife of Luke (O.T. Fagbenle), who goes to June (Elisabeth Moss) and begs her not to continue her relationship with Luke in a wrenching confrontation.

As to how she made a big impression with less than two minutes of dialogue (in the second of her two scenes, she doesn’t even speak), Jenrette attributed it to “just being present, in the moment and not worried about anything else. Being transparent and vulnerable and angry and passionate and all of those things, but truly just staying in the moment. And working with Elisabeth Moss makes it easy.”

(“The Handmaid’s Tale” has three of the guest-actress category’s six nominations, with Samira Wiley and Cherry Jones landing the other two.)

“This Eddie Murphy Role Is Mine, Not Yours,” on the other hand, was designed as a calling card for Jackson, with its jokey scenario of an actor who literally takes out the competition to land a coveted role. “I wanted to pay homage to Eddie Murphy,” he said, “but also, it’s a role that I would really love to portray one day.

“So I said, ‘I’m gonna show Hollywood I can do it, and also take out my competition in the process.’ Throwing people in the trunk, hitting people with a bat — it’s just a fun way of saying, ‘Hey, get out of my way, I’m coming through.'”

Given his character’s ruthlessness, does he have a similar plan to win the Emmy? “Yes, I do,” he said with a grin. “The Emmy is mine, not yours. When they call the nominees, I’ll be the only one standing.”

Watch the video interview with Kelly Jenrette and Melvin Jackson Jr. above. To read more of TheWrap’s Down to the Wire issue, click here.

TheWrap Emmy magazine 2018 Down to the Wire cover