Lead Actress in a Drama Series is ready for a shakeup. Three of the shows that have won recently are on hiatus (Elisabeth Moss, Claire Foy, and Claire Danes) as well as Evan Rachel Wood. The shows behind Emmy favorites like Tatiana Maslany and Kerri Russell ended last year. In fact the only one of last year’s nominees eligible to return is Golden Globe & SAG winner Sandra Oh.
The interesting aspect about this year’s lead actress race is that although Emmy voters will likely be choosing from new and fresh performances the actors behind them are no strangers to the Emmys. Actresses like Laura Linney, Sandra Oh, and Christine Baranski are popular names at the Emmys and Oscar winner Julia Roberts is even factoring into the conversation.
Killing Eve & Splitting The Vote
After sweeping the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, and SAG Awards there is no doubt that Sandra Oh is the clear frontrunner in this year’s lead actress race. She’s an actress that audiences have loved since Grey’s Anatomy and someone that voters have been dying to award. She lost the Emmy last year to Foy in her last opportunity to win before leaving The Crown. Since then Oh has swept every single major award. This year the six-time nominee doesn’t have any obvious competition turning her into the early frontrunner.
It’s a little unfair to center the lead actress conversation squarely on Oh when so much of the show’s success is because of her cat and mouse game with Jodie Comer as Villanelle. Comer’s performance has kept audiences on the edge of her seat and the newcomer was even singled out by BAFTA voters over Oh. Now that Comer has a chance at an Emmy nomination there’s a chance that the costars can split the vote.
The excitement behind Oh doesn’t seem to be slowing down; in fact, she might be a double nominee this year for also hosting SNL. However, the buzz around the show as a whole took a hit as the second season played out. The main critique is that the writing hasn’t been as sharp since Phoebe Waller-Bridge stepped down as head writer. Killing Eve is still expected to be a major player this year earning acting, writing, and series nominations but if the excitement isn’t there it might leave room for someone else to win.
After SAG voters went all out for the second season of Ozark Laura Linney might be the most underestimated actress in the category. She missed out on a nomination last year but now she seems like one of the likeliest nominees especially as Ozark surges in popularity. If anyone else seems to have the momentum to win this year it’s a four-time winner like Linney. On top of Ozark, voters have seen her recently on the Netflix reboot of Tales of The City. The only element working against her is that some dismiss Ozark as Breaking Bad-lite. So will voters rally behind a performance that hasn’t yet made it to Skyler White status? And with all of the attention focused on her onscreen husband is it possible she will be forgotten?
If Game of Thrones is as unstoppable as it seems Emilia Clarke will break into the lead actress race after three nominations in the supporting category. The dissent of Daenerys was a long time coming and although audiences were mixed on how it played out there is a lot of passion behind her performance among fans of the show. On paper, Clarke seems like an obvious nominee but voters have yet to nominate anyone from the Game of Thrones ensemble in the lead races. Still, if the show is as popular as it seems Clarke has a good chance of a fourth and final nomination.
This year’s lead actress category is filled with respected names and shows well into their run but the one aspect that might be able to stand out is a breakout star in a new show to steal the spotlight. That’s why someone like MJ Rodriguez is a refreshing and essential name in this year’s lead actress race. Her performance as Blanca, the mother of the House of Evangelista, is the heart and soul of Pose. In the first season alone Blanca’s storyline incorporates a lot of heavy subject matter including HIV/AIDS, the death of an estranged mother, and discrimination within her own community. FX has been showcasing the episode “Love is the Message” at every event, an episode that perfectly encapsulates her talents as an actress including a breathtaking performance of Home. On top of all that Rodriguez has been everywhere from magazine covers to talk shows to the MTV Movie Awards as one of the breakout stars of the year. As the lead of a Ryan Murphy production, she should be a lock for a nomination but the fact that she’s still a relative unknown in a field of established actresses might put her at a disadvantage.
It was a huge deal when Amazon announced that Julia Roberts, one of the biggest movie stars in the world, was cast in Homecoming and a lot of people thought she had the Emmy in the bag sight unseen. She was even praised for shedding any semblance of her trademark charisma and smile leading to a Golden Globe nomination. In the end, though Homecoming was skipped over by just about every major guild group which might be an indicator that voters admire the modern Hitchcockian thriller more than they love it – a sentiment echoed repeatedly at event after event. Does any of that matter though when voters have the opportunity to vote for a star like Roberts?
So far Robin Wright has been nominated for every season of House of Cards. That was before the once acclaimed series was soured by the predatory actions of Kevin Spacey. Because of that, the final season was forced to restructure at the last minute putting Wright at solely at the center of the show. She’s received a lot of goodwill for saving the now taboo political drama but other than a farewell SAG nomination it’s clear that awards groups are ready to move on or possibly just too scared to go there. This year there seem to be a lot more performances in shows that seem to be in the running for the drama series race as well making it easy for them to move on from having to vote for the show at all.
After giving the best performance throughout the second season of This Is Us Emmy voters shockingly skipped over Mandy Moore in the lead actress category. While the other members of the Pearson family are split among multiple actors Moore has the sole responsibility of Rebecca portraying her from her 20s through the rest of her life (and battling questionable age makeup at that). It’s a possibility that last year’s category was simply too crowded with flashy leading roles and that Emmy voters will play catch-up with Moore this year, the show has won three SAG ensemble awards after all. It’s also possible that voters won’t let her younger pop star persona go and take her seriously as the great dramatic actress that she has become.
We’re at an interesting time for television. Streaming sites are the new normal with Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix raking in award after award. Beyond that, there are several streaming networks hoping to have a big moment at the Emmys. CBS became the first major broadcast network to experiment with a streaming service premiering with the critically acclaimed spinoff The Good Fight. For three seasons now Baranski has been celebrated by critics and picked up a borderline cult twitter following for her performance as Diane Lockhart but so far the procedural has gone completely unnoticed besides two music nominations. As CBS All Access begins to grow The Good Fight has picked up a bigger audience and this might finally be the year Baranski receives a lead actress nomination. The “Gay Rights!” icon is as well-known and respected as some of the biggest names in the race.
Now that the category is more fluid there’s a possibility that voters will just resort back to past nominees. Viola Davis is one of the most respected actors working today and it was a huge deal four years ago when she became the first Black actress to win an Emmy in this category. After three nominations she was left out of the category last year in favor of performances in more popular shows. Even if voters aren’t necessarily watching How to Get Away With Murder her popularity bring her stick out on the ballot?
After combining the worlds of their most popular seasons American Horror Story was forced into the drama categories for the first time. Most of the massive ensemble probably doesn’t stand a chance at a nomination this year but if anyone can breakthrough in a more crowded genre it’s going to be Sarah Paulson who has become the face of the groundbreaking anthology series. In Apocalypse she played three characters throughout Apocalypse including two familiar ones; Billie Dean Howard (Murder House) and Cordelia Goode (Coven) the role that brought her a first lead nomination.
The Layout of the Race
|Frontrunners||Strong Contenders||In The Conversation|
|Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
Laura Linney, Ozark
Julia Roberts, Homecoming
|Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
MJ Rodriguez, Pose
Robin Wright, House of Cards
|Christine Baranski, The Good Fight
Viola Davis, HTGAWM
Mandy Moore, This Is Us
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story