Deadline Awards Columnist and Chief Film Critic Pete Hammond gives his take on the top acting contenders for the 2018 Primetime Emmy Awards. Here, he breaks down the categories of Outstanding Lead and Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
Two past winners in the category, versus four past Emmy nominees trying to break into that exclusive club—including the first ever Asian contender here—make up the extremely competitive lineup for Drama Series Lead Actress this year. I could easily have seen slots go to Ozark’s Laura Linney or Maggie Gyllenhaal of The Deuce, or This Is Us star Mandy Moore after her exemplary season, but the field turned out to be simply too crowded. So can it be Keri Russell on her last season for The Americans, or Sandra Oh on her first for Killing Eve as upsets? Or will we crown Claire Foy’s exit as the Queen? Here’s the analysis…
Nominated last year for the first of her two seasons as the young Queen Elizabeth II, Foy lost in a nail-biter to Elisabeth Moss, who rode The Handmaid’s Tale sweep to victory for the first time ever. Can she make a comeback, given that she will be handing the exquisitely acted role over to Olivia Colman next year? Or will she suffer a second loss to the other Elisabeth, the one with an ‘s’ in her name?
Even though she won this category a couple of years ago, Maslany’s return to the competition was a bit of a surprise—after all, the final season of Orphan Black debuted nearly a year ago, even before the 2017 Emmy season was over. But the BBC sci-fi series, in which Maslany plays multiple characters, has not been forgotten, which means you can’t entirely count her out for a second win. Still, it would be an upset, even if she is the only nominee who has won here apart from Elisabeth Moss.
The Handmaid’s Tale
After being an Emmy bridesmaid season after season for Mad Men, Moss finally broke through last year when Hulu’s acclaimed dystopian drama debuted. Considering Emmy’s penchant for continuing to reward actors in multiple seasons, Moss would have to be considered a frontrunner here. A star now counting 10 nominations in her career to date, Moss has by far the most of anyone in the category.
Although this nomination for the breakout hit Killing Eve is actually her sixth overall Emmy nod, Oh has drawn the most attention of anyone in the category for making history, by becoming the first-ever actress of Asian descent to be nominated for Lead Actress in a Drama Series. This is not to discount five previous nominations for Supporting Actress in Grey’s Anatomy, where that distinction wasn’t at hand. But the added press can’t hurt her chances.
Like Matthew Rhys, Russell has received her third consecutive Emmy nod for playing undercover KGB agent Elizabeth Jennings in the final season of The Americans—and the same logic applies that does for Rhys. This show about Russian spies in America is incredibly timely right now, and this is the last chance to reward it. But whether it can mount a big assault on the Emmys that sweeps Russell in with it leaves a big question mark, especially in a crowded category.
Evan Rachel Wood
Wood is clearly making an impact as rebellious Host Dolores in HBO’s sci-fi juggernaut, and it’s landed her a second consecutive nomination, the only one of the show’s lead actors to do it two years in a row in a leading category. There’s great subtlety to her performance—which probably won’t help much, given the flashier roles on display here—but she just might get the gold eventually, if not right now.
PETE’S PICK: Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale
The biggest question here is, will the plethora of talent from The Handmaid’s Tale simply collide and cancel each other out? In an Emmy rarity, three stars of the series are competing directly against each other this time around, including Alexis Bledel, Yvonne Strahovski, and, last year’s winner, Ann Dowd. Can any one of these terrific performers escape the likely outcome of simply splitting the vote and handing the win to one of four other standalone candidates in the overcrowded field of seven—count ’em, seven—nominees?
Four-time Game of Thrones nominee Lena Headey is obviously popular with voters but so far has been an also-ran. Vanessa Kirby’s Princess Margaret in The Crown is on her last stretch with her first nomination. Millie Bobby Brown is back for Stranger Things, but if she couldn’t win last year, I doubt she will this time. That leaves returnee Thandie Newton of Westworld who this season had an extraordinary episode in which she spoke almost exclusively in a very particular Japanese dialect and absolutely killed it.
WINNER: Thandie Newton, Westworld