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 Limited Series or Movie.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

The good news for contenders in this category this year is that there is no juggernaut limited series on the scale of Big Little Lies or Feud to fill up all the slots with giant movie star names. The field is far more spread out this time around, even if one of those Big Little Lies Emmy winners is back in frontrunner position with a powerful TV movie. The list is impressive overall, with four past Emmy winners taking on a four-time nominee and one lone first-timer. Here’s how it looks…

Jessica Biel
The Sinner
USA Network

The first-time nominee is actually a TV veteran, having started as a kid actor on the long-running series 7th Heaven. In this USA mystery series, she portrays a wife and mother who suddenly commits a murder on a public beach. The drama gives Biel the kind of scene-chomping role that wins recognition and Emmys, and she plays it for all its worth—the actress even had to go to therapy afterwards, just to shake it off.

HBO

Laura Dern
The Tale
HBO

Coming off a supporting win last year for Big Little Lies, Dern continues to show her versatility. Impressively Emmy-nominated seven times now, for seven different shows, she has moved back up to Lead Actress for the harrowing portrayal of a woman named Jennifer who is reflecting on a past sexual relationship with a much older man and questioning it for the first time.

Michelle Dockery
Godless
Netflix

Netflix

With three previous Emmy nods as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey, Dockery takes a 180-degree turn in the Old West to gain her fourth nod in Godless as hardened widow Alice Fletcher. Such range is impressive, and that could be enough for voters to sit up and take notice of a star that perhaps Downton fans took for granted. Dockery proves she can change it up with the best of them.

NBC

Edie Falco
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders
NBC

Let’s face it. Falco is a big favorite with Emmy voters—just look at her 14 nominations and four wins, three of which came for the iconic The Sopranos and one for another long running series, Nurse Jackie. It seems whatever she does, Emmy recognition follows, and that’s no different with this chilling true-life tale of the Menendez murders, in which she plays attorney Leslie Abramson. A win would be a first for her in playing a real-life person, and that could be a factor.

Regina King
Seven Seconds
Netflix

Netflix

Never count Regina King out. After taking two consecutive Emmys for her work in American Crime from three straight nominations in the Supporting Actress Drama Series category, her show was cancelled. But, quick as a flash, she sprang back, and moved up to Lead Actress in a Limited Series for another cancelled show that quickly changed its stripes and rebranded itself to qualify in this category. It worked, and the question remains: can she pull off yet another upset?

FX

Sarah Paulson
American Horror Story: Cult
FX

Playing Ally Mayfair-Richards in the latest edition of Ryan Murphy’s long-running anthology horror series, Paulson impressively finds herself with her fifth Emmy nomination for the series, having played five completely different characters under the AHS umbrella. Yet her Emmy win came for The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story not AHS. If the AHS/Paulson trajectory continues, don’t expect her to turn this nomination into a win.

PETE’S PICK: Laura Dern, The Tale


Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

Four first-time Emmy nominees make this one of the freshest categories to watch this year, as only two of the six contenders have been to this rodeo before—including Godless’s Merritt Wever, after having previously won in the comedy supporting category for Nurse Jackie, and veteran Judith Light, coming off two supporting comedy nods for Transparent to land one here for The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. 

My guess, though, is that both are likely to come in behind another nominee from that limited series, Penélope Cruz, who received her first-ever Emmy nod as Donatella Versace in her first foray into television since the very beginning of her career. Another first-timer is Sara Bareilles, better known for her music and recent Broadway activities than acting, who earned a nod for playing Mary Magdalene in Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. Also nominated are two other newbies, including Adina Porter in American Horror Story: Cult, and Black Panther breakout Letitia Wright for the Black Museum episode of Black Mirror. There can always be a surprise in these categories, but it looks like it’s Cruz’s to lose.

WINNER: Penélope Cruz, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story

FX