Just as in the Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie category for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards, the females in this race include such pedigreed talent as Oscar-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning actresses. Talk about a tough crowd. Everyone’s got some gold on her mantel. Only Maggie Gyllenhaal is a first-time Emmy nominee here, but with a surprise Golden Globe win under her belt, for this role in this category, she’s not to be counted out. Will Emmy perennial Jessica Lange maintain American Horror Story’s Emmy acting dominance, or will one of the two nominees from newcomer American Crime steal the show? Here’s how I see this race shaking out.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE
Maggie Gyllenhaal The Honorable Woman (SundanceTV)
Gyllenhaal won a Golden Globe for her role as Anglo-Israeli businesswoman Nessa Stein, who made a very significant contribution in the quest for Middle East peace in this joint BBC-Sundance Channel production. It was a complex role that this fine actress grabbed the reins and ran with. Never to be underestimated, let’s not forget how Gyllenhaal pulled off a surprise 2009 supporting actress Oscar nomination for Crazy Heart after most had written her off. The only drawback here might be that this underdog series, with just three other nominations, might make Gyllenhaal a little more low profile than other nominees in the category.
Felicity Huffman American Crime (ABC)
A 2005 Emmy winner for her character in Desperate Housewives, Huffman has a strong chance this time around with her role as the distraught mother of a murder victim in the intense, racially charged American Crime, which also got Emmy recognition for three of its other stars (meaning voters in the actors branch are definitely paying attention). A respected star, Huffman will be going to the Emmys with her also-nominated husband, William H. Macy (Shameless). Based on the major acting opportunities provided in John Ridley’s anthology-based limited series, at least one of its nominated actors might be going home with a prize.
Jessica Lange American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)
A two-time Oscar winner, Lange has since snagged three Emmys too. First, there was Grey Gardens, which she won in this category. Then wins in 2012 and 2014 for her roles in Ryan Murphy’s recurring series. Last year’s win was a bit of a surprise, which indicates that Lange is an Emmy (as well as Oscar) fave. This year’s nom for Freak Show and her role as a circus owner comes for what wasn’t the series’ strongest season, which turns out to be her last. I doubt it will result in a fourth Emmy, but never count out Lange, an obvious awards magnet.
Queen Latifah Bessie (HBO)
You would expect Queen Latifah to be in her comfort zone portraying singing legend Bessie Smith in this HBO biopic. There is no question she was, delivering an authentic and beautifully modulated performance in a film that resonated strongly and is the front-runner in the Outstanding Television Movie category. Latifah is largely responsible for Bessie’s success and now, with her second nomination in the category (she competed in 2007 for Life Support), she is very deserving of this kind of recognition. But it might be tough for this Grammy-winning, previous Oscar and Emmy nominee to bring it home—see directly below. In any case, her portrayal of Bessie Smith was a winner.
Frances McDormand Olive Kitteridge (HBO)
As the enormously complicated and troubled title character of HBO’s signature limited series, McDormand scored her first Emmy nomination in nearly two decades, after her supporting nom for 1996’s Hidden In America. Incredible. And she is nominated for the first time in this lead category. She’s already taken home the Broadcast Critics award so it would seem this all-encompassing role on awards magnet HBO would mean a slam-dunk win. I think it probably does as McDormand, a past Oscar winner (Fargo in 1997), is highly regarded among her fellow actors.
Emma Thompson Sweeney Todd: The Barber Of Fleet Street (Live From Lincoln Center) (PBS)
Thompson, a two-time Oscar winner who won a guest actress Emmy for her brief appearance in 1998 on the sitcom Ellen, is an outlier here since she is nominated for a live musical performance on PBS. But she was enormously watchable in the role Angela Lansbury made so famous. It would be ironic if Thompson were to win an Emmy for this because Lansbury went 0-for-18 in previous Emmy tries and still has never won one.
The Winner: Frances McDormand
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR A MOVIE
In its previous three seasons American Horror Story has practically dominated with wins for Jessica Lange—now elevated again to the lead actress category in her final season—and last year for AHS newcomer Kathy Bates, who nabbed her second Emmy. Bates is strong again in this season’s Freak Show as the bearded lady. But she has tougher than tough internal competition from two-time AHS nominee Sarah Paulson—pulling off the enormous technical challenge of playing Dot and Bette Tattler, the two–headed woman—and from Angela Bassett, returning from her first AHS outing as the voodoo priestess in Coven to play three-breasted (!) Desiree Dupreee. Regina King, as a Muslim convert trying to save her incarcerated brother in ABC’s American Crime, managed to be memorable in limited time onscreen. Zoe Kazan is the bright light of Olive Kitteridge, bringing heart to her role as a pharmacy employee of Richard Jenkins’ Henry Kitteridge. And Oscar-winner Mo’Nique is simply terrific as blues singer Ma Rainey in Bessie in a perfect counterpoint to Queen Latifah’s title role in the HBO biopic. Common wisdom would say the AHS trio might cancel themselves out, leaving the prize to Mo’Nique, but my guess is this could finally be perennial nominee Paulson’s year to hit the Microsoft Theatre stage.
The Winner: Sarah Paulson