EmmyWatch: Surveying the Supporting Actress Drama Field

Note: This is the first in an on-going series of posts exploring the major categories at the 2015 Emmy awards. We will cover actors, actresses, and series – Comedy and Drama – through the end of the voting period on August 28. See something you like or a performance you’d like to single out? Share the posts and create some Twitter buzz! We’ll see you at the Emmys.

The six actresses who have been honored in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series lineup have now moved onto the next stage of the Emmy process. Each nominee has submitted an episode that best encapsulates their work from the 2014-15 television season for voters to judge and choose the winner of the category. Although the strict rules from the past have been loosened by the new streaming service (voters will now watch the episodes online), theoretically the quality and impact of the selected episodes are supposed to dictate how members vote.


Performer: Uzo Aduba as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in Orange is the New Black

Episode: “Hugs Can Be Deceiving” (Season Two, Episode Three)

Highlights: Suzanne’s backstory is fleshed out through flashbacks involving highly emotional situations.

Why she could win: In addition to claiming the Screen Actor’s Guild for Female Performer in a Comedy Series (in any category: lead, supporting, guest), Aduba won the Comedy Guest Actress Emmy for season one last year, so we know industry voters have been positively responding to her work on Orange is the New Black. Under the more relaxed voting process, having a trending name of a previous award winner like “Uzo Aduba” means something. The episode she submitted allows her to dig into some grating, exuberant emotions, such as slapping herself in the face, bearing the brunt of public humiliation, and being ostracized by the other prisoners on the show. A child actor fills in Suzanne’s younger years, which should lock the viewer into empathizing with the character to an even greater degree when Aduba plays more of the defining moments in the character’s later years. Of all the nominated performances in the category, Aduba has the loudest acting of the bunch, which more easily paves the road to impressing voters.

Why she could lose: Her acting and storyline are appropriate enough to catch the eyes of Emmy judges, but Orange is the New Black is still at its core an ensemble show, and even though Crazy Eyes gets more focus in this single hour than usual, there are still other moving components other than her backstory. The buzz for her show has also simmered this year, as it was snubbed in both the writing and directing categories after a strong acknowledgement for season one. This is most likely the result of the show’s category switch from comedy to drama. Contending as a dramatic series entails fiercer competition than what Orange is the New Black rivaled in a lighter field last year; Aduba’s greatest challenge is overcoming her co-nominees’ more somber performances. Though her acting is grounded in dramatics, Aduba has flares of comedy running through her work.


Performer: Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart in The Good Wife

Episode: “Loser Edit” (Season Six, Episode Eighteen)

Highlights: Diane argues for gay marriage in a think tank exercise and a mock trial, allowing her to give many speeches and display grandstanding moments of heroism.

Why she could win: For the show’s six-year run, there has not been an Emmy voting cycle where Baranski was in contention for her work on The Good Wife, and with each passing season her material becomes more aggressive. “Loser Edit” is the best of the six episodes she has ever submitted for playing Diane Lockhart. Baranski is practically the lead of “Loser Edit,” with even Alicia’s storyline appearing secondary to Diane’s plot. Whenever Diane is on screen, Baranski incessantly engaged and drives the conversation surrounding the political issue. She makes us feel the passion in Diane’s defense of gay marriage, a topical plot since the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, to the room full of conservatives. She delivers a few beautifully flowing speeches about the law and how personal and fair it has to be. Baranski, who last won an Emmy over 20 years ago and would benefit from a more popular-vote swaying Academy, could be the spoiler of this category with her moving performance composed of subtlety. Also working in her favor: an actress from The Good Wife has won every year since the show began, and Baranski is the only hope this year to keep the (probably inadvertent) tradition alive.

Why she could lose: Diane is not the type of character that lends itself to hysterical moments of crying and yelling, the type character behavior Emmy trophies gravitate towards. Baranski doesn’t invade the viewer’s personal space with her acting like some of the other nominees do, so voters could feel less emotionally compelled to vote her. Also working against Baranski is the fact that being overdue at the Emmys does not hold as much weight as being overdue at the Oscars. Many people theorize her annual Emmy adulation is a result of respect for a veteran actress, not necessarily because she’s undeniably fantastic in the role.


Performer: Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones

Episode: “The Dance of Dragons” (Season Five, Episode Nine)

Highlights: Daenerys dominates the last third of “The Dance with Dragons,” including an epic action sequence, which includes intimate moments she shares with her wounded dragon, Drogon, in a fighting arena.

Why she could win: Game of Thrones actors often cannot make it to the finish line at the Emmys because of a lacking screentime in their submissions. In Clarke’s favor is an extensive presence in a segment the end of the episode, and voters will also see her performance in her co-star Lena Headey’s submitted episode, “Mother’s Mercy.” The Game of Thrones craze currently floating in the air benefits her as well; the show received 24 nominations from the Television Academy this year.

Why she could lose: Unfortunately for Clarke, most of her work in this episode is purely physical and spectacle, nothing grounded in heavy emotion and melodrama. She barely has any lines of dialogue for being on screen for 15 minutes, which is a huge problem for an actor trying to win an Emmy. Even though she was nominated before, Clarke was severely underestimated by most pundits for a nomination this year and was most likely swept into the category as a result of the enormous consensus support for the series this past season.


Performer: Joanne Froggatt as Anna Bates in Downton Abbey

Episode: “Episode Eight” (Season Five, Episode Eight)

Highlights: This episode shows Anna first being placed in a police lineup, identified, and subsequently arrested for murder.

Why she could win: The arc of Froggatt’s episode—Anna being hauled away in handcuffs—is inherently sympathetic, which is something voters are drawn to when making their picks in the acting categories. With Maggie Smith’s shocking omission from the category, Froggatt is left as the sole actor representing the Emmy favorite, Downton Abbey. The huge fanbase for her show within the Academy could rally behind Froggatt. After all, she was overlooked last year with her devastating rape storyline in order to reward Anna Gunn’s seismic submission for the final season of Breaking Bad.

Why she could lose: Froggatt is a returning nominee, but her submission this year pales in comparison to the terrific highs she achieved last year. Though she’s physically present throughout the 67-minute show, her presence is barely felt because of her mostly brief scenes—only three of Froggatt’s scenes that last longer than a minute and half. The material she’s given does not allow her to be as effective as other women nominated in this category.


Performer: Christina Hendricks as Joan Harris in Mad Men

Episode: “Lost Horizon” (Season Seven, Episode Twelve)

Highlights: In the series pinnacle moment for her, Joan takes a stand against sexism in the 1970’s workplace and eventually leaves her position at the advertising agency of which she was once a partner.

Why she could win: Hendricks was widely seen as the MVP of Mad Men’s final string of episodes, mostly due to Joan’s feminist nerve as she enters the world of a bigger corporation. Voters will root for Joan the more than any other character in this year’s Drama Supporting Actress category as they see the unfair treatment she endures as a woman in the workforce in the early ‘70s. Hendricks gets to play some memorable scenes in “Lost Horizon,” specifically ones that shine a light on the boldness Joan has when firing back at the men trying to dismiss her occupational complaints. This episode marks more of a tragic ending for Joan, who surrenders to the payoff and leaves the advertising agency quietly. This Hendricks’s sixth Emmy nomination for the role without ever winning. Unlike the Oscars, having an “overdue factor” doesn’t influence voters as much (and if any supporting actress benefits from being “overdue” this year, it’s most likely Baranski, who has been nominated nine times since she won her last Emmy), but the growing nostalgia for Mad Men could make Hendricks a more appealing contender this year.

Why she could lose: Dozens of Mad Men actors have helped fill the Emmy ballots over the eight years, but never has an actor won, which is most likely due to the voting system not being compatible with the type of nuanced acting style Mad Men required. Emmy voters love to reward emotional fireworks like crying and powerful speeches, and though “Lost Horizon” is one of her better episodes in a “fireworks” sense, it still has the problems that all of Hendricks’s other submissions had in being too timid and not as vigorously expressive as her competition.


Performer: Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Episode: “Mother’s Mercy” (Season Five, Episode Ten)

Highlights: After being held in prison for a period of time, Cersei confesses her sins to the High Sparrow and accepts the following punishment in order to be released: walking completely naked through an angry mob of townspeople, who verbally and physically shame her.

Why she could win: Game of Thrones topped the list for receiving the most nominations of any show this year, so not only is the Academy is approving of the fifth season, but there is the rare precedent for actors winning from the fantasy genre: Peter Dinklage won the Supporting Actor Emmy in 2011 for Game of Thrones. More importantly, Headey’s submission is easily the most immediately impactful of the category. She’s likely to startle voters with her vulnerability in her confession scene, her helplessness when having her head forcibly shaved, and her disturbing agony in the Walk of Shame sequence. It’s the caliber of an acting showcase that undeniably shakes the viewer into horror. The goal of an actor submitting tapes is to leave an unforgettable mark on the voters mind in their episode, and it’s doubtful that anyone will forget Headey’s 10 minutes of walking nude through a crowd of extras, who are degrade her by yelling, “Whore!” and “Shame!”

Why she could lose: While it seems as if she could be a lock for the win, Headey has a major obstacle between her and the trophy: a body double was used for the majority of the Walk of Shame scene, confirmed by Headey herself. (The belief is Headey opted to use the body double after receiving news of her pregnancy.) The Academy could agree with some viewers who have commented about the awkward CGI used to put Headey’s face on the body double in the finished scene. In fact, most of the scene is framed in longer shots; there are very few instances in the where Headey’s acting is the pure driving force of the scene’s impact. The directing and action around the character are arguably the reasons why the scene is so traumatic. In addition, Headey has no screentime in the first 40 minutes of “Mother’s Mercy,” and is not offered the opportunity to portray any other emotions apart from suffering.

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