This year, 43 performers were nominated for their first Primetime Emmy Award. While there are a handful of newcomers, many of them—Bill Camp, Ann Dowd, Jackie Hoffman, Gerald McRaney and BD Wong—come with years of Hollywood experience and hundreds of episodes of TV under their belt. Even Milo Ventimiglia, who’s only been alive for less than the span of McRaney’s acting career, has, at 40, logged over 20 years in the business, making his debut as a party guest in a 1995 episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Now, Ventimiglia as well as the many other performers nominated for the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, are delivering career bests on TV. For the former Gilmore Girls star, that meant shedding his boyish looks for the mustachioed patriarch, Jack Pearson, on NBC’s hit debut series, This Is Us. “It strangely feels like the bar has been set, and then, the floor fell out from underneath me. And so, the only way to go is up,” Ventimiglia tells ET, trying explain the surreal feeling of being a first-time Emmy nominee. The actor, like so many others, have spent years proving himself onscreen, and his This Is Us co-star, Ron Cephas Jones, says “it’s rewarding to get to this point and to be able to get this kind of role based on my work.”
In fact, Wong, who spent 11 seasons playing Dr. George Huang on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit before earning a nomination for his guest-starring role on Mr. Robot, says only now has he finally gotten the parts that he feels make him deserving of Emmy recognition. “I feel like I became eligible to be in this category and I didn’t really feel that way before,” he says, adding: “I’m happy with that feeling.”
Echoing that sentiment, Becky Ann Baker, who has finally been recognized for her work as Loreen Horvath on the final season of Girls, laments the fact that the HBO series is over. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get writing like that again in my life,” she says of scripts that served her over the course of six seasons.
After nearly quitting Hollywood, Camp has spent the past 15 years working with some of the best directors before finally being recognized for HBO’s The Night Of. “It’s been 25 years,” he says, referring to his longtime stage and screen career. “And not that this should mark anything, but what it does is it reminds me of all the really awesome people I’ve worked with over all these years and all the stuff that I’ve learned.”
At 41, Alison Wright is one of the youngest and most new to the business of the nominees ET spoke with at length. But she’s experience a moment like no other, with a surprise Emmy-nominated return to The Americans, a recurring role on Feud: Bette and Joan and supporting part in the Pulitzer Prize-winning ensemble play Sweat—and that was all in the spring. "I’ve been very lucky this year, I can only hope to be as lucky going forward from here,” she says, reiterating the idea that several of her fellow nominees expressed: this is not “a moment” that will come to an end, but perhaps validation that will earn them more work and a continued career high.
The 69th Emmy Awards, hosted by Stephen Colbert, will air live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, Sunday, Sept. 17, starting at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS.