Will the Television Academy embrace a brief-but-remarkable Judith Light performance in tonight’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story?
Tonight’s episode of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story features some of the best work in Judith Light’s storied career. A Daytime Emmy award winner, Light surprisingly has yet to win a Primetime Emmy Award. Last year’s supporting nomination for Transparent, her second for the series, felt like a winner. Her cruise-ship performance of “Hand In My Pocket” elevated the often depressing series into a moment of light (pun intended). Yet, in a highly political year, it was hard to stop the Kate McKinnon Saturday Night Live train. McKinnon went home victorious for her second consecutive win.
But Versace may change that next fall.
Tonight’s episode, “A Random Killing,” documents the high profile murder of Chicago real estate tycoon Lee Miglin. Judith Light plays his wife, Marilyn Miglin, a cosmetics maven popularly featured on home shopping television. Light digs into Marilyn Miglin with a performance you’ve really not seen from her. Light radiates warmth and compassion in her best performances. That’s certainly true of her Emmy-nominated work as Shelly Pfefferman in Transparent, even if it is slightly suffocating at times. She’s the uber-mom, something she hasn’t quite shaken since Who’s The Boss.
Versace shakes that up. Significantly.
Light bottles up Marilyn Miglin with an icy performance. Granted, she’s just discovered that her husband was murdered, potentially in a gay sex scandal. The circumstances don’t exactly scream “warmth and compassion.” Instead, she gives us quite grief, stoic dignity, and two scenes of eventual release. Along with Darren Criss’s Andrew Cunanan, she anchors the episode, arguably dominating it against the more extravagant Criss performance. We haven’t seen a Judith Light like this in a very long time. She’s absolutely fantastic in the role, easily deserving of Emmy attention.
Will It Happen?
But there are two significant obstacles in her way.
First, she’ll undoubtedly compete against Penelope Cruz in the Supporting Actress in a Limited Series category. That is unless, for some strange reason, FX decides to campaign Cruz in the Lead Actress category. It would be a mistake to do that. She doesn’t have the screen time. This isn’t a Versace story. It’s all about Andrew Cunanan and the lives he ruined. So, Cruz will directly compete against Judith Light for one of six slots. Cruz has the meatier role and that intriguing accent, and she’s also quite good, particularly later in the season.
Which gives us Judith Light’s second major obstacle – she’s only in the single episode. Versace runs nine episodes, and Marilyn Miglin (based on the eight I’ve seen) only features in tonight’s outing. It would be difficult to see Light emerging from a bevy of supporting actresses with roughly 30 minutes of work. No matter how expert that work is, mind you. You could argue that she equates a supporting performance in a TV movie. Something like Michelle Pfeiffer in Wizard of Lies or, even better, Melissa Leo in All the Way. Leo, in particular, didn’t have as meaty of a role as Light in Versace despite the 2-hour running time. So, based on that logic, it’s entirely possible Judith Light gets in.
But What I Really Want…
The Television Academy actually needs to add two more categories. I never thought I’d say that, but it’s true. They need to add Outstanding Guest Actor/Actress in a Limited Series or the equivalent thereof. There are dozens of great little performances in Limited Series that simply don’t stand a chance when competing against the Sarah Paulson’s or Kathy Bates’s of the Ryan Murphy world. Remember that great Ian McShane performance as a murderous Santa Claus in Asylum? Or even Franka Potente as “Anne Frank” in the same season? Looking at the Ryan Murphy oeuvre alone, there are dozens of actors who would fit perfectly into the category.
This year, Lena Dunham’s heavily buzzed performance as Valerie Solanas would be a shoe-in in such a category. In Versace, the Matt Bomer-directed “Creator/Destroyer” introduces us to Andrew Cunanan’s father, expertly rendered by Miss Saigon‘s Jon Jon Briones. He’d fit perfectly as a “Guest” performer. So would Judith Light.
I suppose there’s something weird about calling actors “Guests” in a Limited Series. Aren’t they really all “Guests” anyway? But there’s something to be said about a memorable performance given in a single episode or smaller arc. The Academy already tracks screen time percentages for Drama and Comedy guest performances, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to do the same for a Limited Series. There are lots of great actors giving great performances in very small packages. They need their own place to play.
Judith Light’s episode of Versace airs tonight at 10pm ET on FX.