Just like the lead actor race, this one is ripe for a shakeup since last year’s surprise winner, Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black, hasn’t returned due to the show not being eligible this year. That leaves room for a winner from two years ago, a couple of perpetual nominees, someone on their last chance and a newbie to the race. A survey of the field, though, comes up with two distinct front-runners.
How to Get Away with Murder
Two years ago, the newly minted Oscar winner became the first African American to win in this category, for the first season of her mystery series. She failed to beat Maslany for a second consecutive win, but she’s back again to try and regain her crown. It would be a rare feat in that circumstance, and her show comes from ABC, while the competition is all from more highly regarded (by Emmy voters) cable and streaming shows.
The SAG and Golden Globe winner is definitely a strong bet to take home an Emmy as well in her first season as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s popular The Crown. This is despite her — and the show’s — shocking shutout at the BAFTA TV Awards, thought to be a sure thing for the very British series. Emmy Actors branch members, however, love the Brits even if they won’t show love for themselves, so look for a possible win here.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Moss was virtually an annual presence in this category for her role as Peggy Olson on Mad Men, yet she never secured a win. Until Jon Hamm prevailed in the final season, the actors on the show never were more than nominated. All bets are on that this won’t be the case for the much talked-about series that leaves Moss looking like a real winner. She definitely will be giving Foy a run for her money in the battle of first-season nominees.
Another overlooked TV veteran, Russell finally broke through for this highly acclaimed FX series and might be the best chance it has to cash in at this year’s Emmys. Both she and co-star Matthew Rhys are nominated for a second straight year, with Margo Martindale having won for Guest Actress last year in her third consecutive nomination.
Evan Rachel Wood
Although she doesn’t dominate events in the HBO series, Wood remains a haunting presence throughout, and delivers her best performance in years. The sci-fi genre usually doesn’t get much love from Emmy, but with the across-the-board support for Westworld this year, Wood’s chances here are strong.
House of Cards
Like castmate Kevin Spacey, Wright has been a perennial nominee for her unforgettable and ever-evolving turn in House of Cards. It seems to be one of those shows that repeatedly gets nominated but never takes home the roses. If voters actually watch the episodes, though, Wright might have a fighting chance at an upset.
PETE’S PICK: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
A two-time winner, a 13-year-old newcomer, some old-timers and some first-timers are in the mix in this intriguing race that seems impossible to call, on the surface. Uzo Aduba has won for Orange Is the New Black, both in this category and as a Guest Actress, so she clearly has the voters’ attention. The rest of the field is in virgin Emmy territory.
Samira Wiley and Ann Dowd are facing off against each other for The Handmaid’s Tale, lessening the chances for either one, though Dowd also grabbed a nomination for The Leftovers in the Guest Actress category, which might help her chances either there or here. Thandie Newton is a strong presence in the popular Westworld ensemble, and I wouldn’t count her out. Kids rarely win, but Millie Bobby Brown’s turn as Eleven in Stranger Things is irresistible.
Then there is Chrissy Metz, who has been out campaigning and telling her backstory about almost giving up on acting when the role in This Is Us landed in her lap. That could play very well, and likely will result in a victory.
WINNER: Chrissy Metz, This Is Us
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