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2016 Reader’s Choice Performer of the Year - Amy Acker

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Very few years in history were as trying as 2016. It certainly wasn’t the worst year in American or World history, but it is certainly one that no one wishes to relive anytime soon. All of the horrible things that happened in 2016, and all the amazing legendary people that were lost made it even more necessary for people to be able to escape into their favorite television shows. The pressure was on writers and performers to deliver like never before. For all the political turmoil, lost legends, and everything in between, 2016 did produce some extremely memorable performances by some exceptionally gifted performers. Throughout the year, SpoilerTV sought to allow the fans to honor the performers who so often get forgotten by other sites and in fact, by many if not all award shows. The fans chose wisely throughout the year making for a wild showdown to crown SpoilerTV’s 2016 Reader’s Choice Performer of the Year. After a fierce battle, it was Amy Acker who played Samantha “Root” Groves from the dearly departed CBS series Person of Interest who claimed the title.

Throughout her illustrious career, Amy Acker has built up an impressive resume of beloved characters. Whether she is playing a good character, a morally ambiguous one, or a cold-hearted evil one, her fans flock to watch her. Not every actress is capable of jumping between good and bad characters and usually end up typecast as one or the other. Acker has made a great effort to ensure that her resume was diverse enough to allow her access to almost any type of role, good character or bad. It’s because of that willingness to take on roles across all lines of morality that have ensured that she will always be an in-demand actress. Acker got her first major break in the Joss Whedon series Angel and her career took off from there. She has dabbled around in many genres seemingly determined to not get locked down into one type of character. Though, it has been clear from the start that action based characters suit her best. She can fire guns and fend off bad guys as though she were an expert fighter. In truth, as she has revealed in more than a few interviews, she’s a bit of a klutz in real life. When she’s in character and in the midst of some big action sequence the audience doesn’t question, even for a second, her ability to pull off the part.

All of that likely factored into her landing the part of Root on Person of Interest. This was a complex series with complex characters, and Root was perhaps the most complicated of them all. At any given time, her loyalties were called into question, but when it mattered she always came through for the team. Both psychotic and unhinged, even per her own admissions, Root always seemed to have a soft spot for the good guys. Sure, she shot at them, kidnapped them, tortured them, beat them up, etc., but at the end of the day, she let them go on their way. In the end, after many trials and tribulations Root found herself a part of the team. This transition could have felt very forced, but because of brilliant writing and exceptional acting, it felt like an organic evolution for the character. She didn’t necessarily go through a redemption arc, but instead she just sort of slid into a spot on the team as they began to work together. It took everyone time to learn to trust her.

Even during the tumultuous times, Acker presented Root in a way that intrigued the audience. Root was never fully evil nor ever fully good. She was her own person living her own life for a mission that she felt destined to partake in with people she trusted. Acker brought life to every intense moment with such realism that it was easy for an audience member to get caught up in the action. It is a true testament to any performer when they deliver such a realistic performance that for that moment in time the barrier of the screen disappears and the audience feels as though they are right in the middle of it all.

That’s when a performer goes from great, even amazing, to exceptionally extraordinary. Many, if not all, of the 2016 SpoilerTV Performers of the Month can fit into this elite category, but not all can consistently maintain it. Acker’s ability to engage the audience in such a high-level way wasn’t just a one-off deal. In fact, she did it and still does do it in every single performance no matter what character she is portraying. To reach this level of acting and to be so proficient in the portrayal of characters that even she admits are far from who she is as a real person is exceptional. She operates at an acting level that many of her peers can reach, but simply can’t steadily deliver. Every character Acker has ever played has evolved her acting in a different way, but Root took her to a whole new level. Impressive for an actress that was already operating at the top of her field, whether it’s the fact that Root presented new and interesting challenges or that the show just gave her more liberties to do her thing, the performances she delivered were even above her prior bests. She’s truly gifted and an exceptional performer who is very deserving of all the praise she receives.

There is also something else unique about Acker, and this played extremely big into her part on Person of Interest, and that is her ability to bring life to not just the lines written for her but for the invisible storyline written between them. Performers with experience and dedication to their character can often see things that the writers don’t. By virtue of that, they can tailor their performance to portray the story in a certain way. They honor the lines they are given but are capable of finding the hidden meaning in-between them, that is where the magic happens.

These truly gifted and brave performers are the ones that leave the longest lasting impressions. Person Of Interest was lucky enough to have not one, but two of those gifted performers in their midst. Amy Acker obviously being the master at subtle and suggestive acting led the charge. But make no mistake, her cohort, Sarah Shahi (Sameen Shaw) was no follower and charged into the subtextual acting with just as much fierce force as Acker. They were a team and it was that teamwork that forever endeared them in the hearts of the fans. Together they dictated the story that would become the complicated love story between Root and Shaw. They found the story between the lines and made it into something that fans will not soon forget.

It was clear that Root’s motives for trying to become part of the team had to do with the introduction of Shaw. Combine Shaw’s existence along with the Machine and it eventually became abundantly clear to Root that her place was with them. They were her people, her Machine, and her soon-to-be friends. They were destined to become the people with whom she would fight side-by-side with and ultimately the people she would die for. This whole story was about a machine, but it was also about the beautiful complexity of human life. In the end, it was Root’s humanity that taught the Machine how to be human-like. Oddly, it was Shaw, a person incapable of normal emotions, that made Root embrace her own humanity enough for the Machine to learn from her.

As the show evolved Root became an integral part of the story much in part to Amy Acker’s exceptional acting. Some of her best scenes were when Root was dealing with Shaw in some form. From their banter to their tense standoffs they had an unprecedented connection both between the characters and the actresses. Both Acker and Shahi have extensive resumes where they have worked opposite some equally gifted performers with whom they had great chemistry, but the level of chemistry that they shared isn’t likely to be duplicated anytime soon.

As the final season unfolded, Root partook in one dangerous mission after another in the hopes of recovering Shaw. Bringing her lost love home became her obsession, but she still had to juggle her loyalty to the Machine and the team. It was a fine balancing act for the character and the actress. Due to Shahi’s brief exit from the series and delay in returning to the final season, Acker was left to keep the connection between Root and Shaw alive on her own. Even when Shahi returned they spent a good deal of the season separated, yet through it all they each still managed to show the audience the connection and bond between their characters. That made moments such as their faux reunion in 6,741 (5x4) and their real reunion in Sotto Voice (5x9) play out with such intensity that the audience was on the edge of their seats.

The episode that contained their faux reunion was one that gave fans of the couple the love scene that they’d long been wanting. Even though it played out in Shaw’s mind it still showed just how much these characters meant to each other. It was also very true to their intense way of reacting to each other as their love scene left the room trashed and Acker with a few bruises. This scene allowed Shaw to be more honest with her feelings than she is capable of in the real world. No one knew them better than they knew each other. They were connected in a way that not many characters are. It was no surprise that Shaw was able to replicate such a realistic version of Root in her mind. While this episode was yet another example of Acker and Shahi’s exceptional connection the true test for them came during Sotto Voice.

If 6,741 was Shahi’s time to shine, then Sotto Voice was Acker’s. From the moment that Root realized that Shaw had literally fallen back into her life the fight was on to try and pull the love of her life back to some understanding of reality. The struggle between them was back and forth forcing Acker to jump between elation and fear repeatedly. Root was beyond thrilled, but also fearful that she wouldn’t be able to talk Shaw off of the proverbial ledge she was standing on. Acker maintained Root’s usually cool and calm exterior, but as the scenes intensified her eyes grew glassy with emotion and at times her voice wavered under the weight of the emotions flooding through Root. Throughout all their interactions Acker jumped between the warring emotions without overdoing her performance. She found the perfect balance of emotion and steadiness that the moment required of Root. In the end, Root was willing to sacrifice herself right along with Shaw. When Root admitted that she couldn’t live without Shaw, as was made very clear throughout her journey to find her, there was a heavy sincerity to her voice that was always reserved just for Shaw. That stubborn unbridled love was what Samaritan couldn’t replicate and what finally gave Shaw some semblance of hope that she was perhaps actually free of the torture. Make no mistake, Shahi was equally as exceptional, but the way Acker balanced all the emotions made her the standout of these particular scenes.

Their reunion was short-lived as the very next episode, The Day the World Went Away (5x10), brought Root’s bodily journey to an end with her untimely death. This episode was a true tour de force for Acker who powerfully portrayed Root’s intense emotions regarding the Machine from the moment she realized why Harold never named the Machine to the moment she gave her life to protect them both. Even given the awful end that Root met, it was everything else that happened in the episode that made it impactful and memorable. From the way Root gently touched Shaw’s hand to the desperate way she begged Shaw to not stay behind during the firefight, this episode stretched Acker in every direction. She valiantly led Root to a hero’s death that traumatized the characters and the audience alike. Many characters are killed off every season, but not all are mourned in the same passionate way as Root was. The death of that character was impactful because of how real Acker made her feel to the audience.

Luckily, that wasn’t the end of Acker on the series as she went on to end the series as the voice of the Machine. Acting, in general, is hard, but voice acting is even more difficult. Whereas a performer can use their body to relay things in live action when they are delegated to just their voice they have to convey everything through it. Even though Acker was voicing a Machine she was voicing a highly sophisticated one who had learned human emotions from watching the team and from Root. It was only appropriate that in the end, the Machine chose to take on Root’s voice.

Even though Acker was working on the same show, but now bringing life to a different character, there was no mistaking the differences between the characters. Root was gone, but the Machine was still alive. Still, the Machine owed a large debt to Root and chose to ensure that in the end, in a weird complicated way, that she got to say goodbye to Shaw. The scene in return 0 (5x13) where the Machine delivered her arrow speech to Shaw was done with so much emotion that it was impossible for even the emotionally stunted Shaw to not react. Acker only had her voice to work with, but delivered a powerhouse performance that gave Shahi an immense amount of material to work off of. Take note, that even though these actresses and characters ended the series physically separated again, the series ended with no question that Root and Shaw lived on just in a different and new way. Root’s body may have been dead, but she will always live on with Shaw and as the voice guiding her future journeys. That is a testament to each actress, but a huge accomplishment for Acker who managed to convey so much through nothing more than her voice.

Acker’s amazing ability to connect with her scene partners wasn’t reserved just for Shahi. Whether she was working with Jim Caviezel (John Reese), Michael Emerson (Harold Finch), Kevin Chapman (Lionel Fusco), or even Bear the dog she brilliantly connected with them. She always instantly focused in on her scene partners and makes sure that the appropriate level of connectivity existed between them. Acker has some exceptional deep scenes with Emerson and partook in some incredible fight sequences with Caviezel. No matter who she shares the screen with she always delivers an exceptional performance.

Person of Interest may be gone, but Amy Acker’s career is still going strong. She’s been involved in many projects since the series ended and was just recently cast in a FOX pilot series. Should it get picked up to series, and everyone is likely already rooting (pun intended) for this series to succeed, it will mark yet another evolutionary step in Acker’s illustrious career. There is no question that she will lead that series with such charisma and talent that should it get picked up it will be a huge success for the network.

Amy Acker is not just an exceptional performer, but she is also an extraordinary person. She always has a smile on her face and seems to be genuinely humbled by the support of her fans. At every opportunity, she seems to go out of her way to give back to those who have given to her. She supports her fellow performers and the fans without prejudice. She is truly one of the good ones.

This article couldn’t even scratch the surface of all the extraordinary work Acker did in 2016, so please take to the comments and ensure that none of her exceptional performances go unnoticed.

Amy Acker is SpoilerTV’s 2016 Reader’s Choice Performer of the Year and will be honored throughout the year in every Performers of the Month nominations and polls posts as such. With any luck, her new show will get picked up to series and she’ll once again challenge for this title again.

PLEASE READ: Please keep comments on topic and just discussing the performances of the winner.

Special thanks to Donna Cromeans, freelance editor/proofreader (@DJRiter on Twitter) for editing this article.

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