If there was ever a category and a year that needed more than five spots, it’s this category and this year.
Now, the acting categories at the Emmys, barring ties, have always generally been just five nominees. 2014-2019 had six nominees here, then five again in 2020 when Regina King won for HBO’s Watchmen. But the new rules set by the Television Academy have created a sliding scale of spots based on total number of submissions and with that we’ll get five again this year.
But which five will it be? This has been a stellar season for limited series and most especially because so many are women-led shows that have showcased tour de force performances from Oscar-winning legends to bright, young ingenues and everything in between.
Let’s start with the locks. Well, likely locks. SAG and Golden Globe winner Anya Taylor-Joy in Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit is in. Before the Emmys, her show literally won every single thing it could in an historic sweep of every guild it was nominated for. But that was against different competition than what the show, and Taylor-Joy, will face at the Emmys. Michaela Coel (HBO’s I May Destroy You) comes in with a BAFTA and a huge wave of industry support for a show she stars in, wrote and directed, she’s in. Academy Award winner Kate Winslet in HBO’s Mare of Easttown was the watercooler show of the Spring and Winslet, a previous Emmy winner in this category for HBO’s Mildred Pierce, is undeniable.
From there we have at least four women vying for the last two spots, and really, more than that. Speaking of Academy Award winners who have also won the Emmy in this category, Nicole Kidman in The Undoing was the watercooler show of last Fall. But her own HBO competitor Winslet really stole the thunder out from Kidman in the second half of the 2020/2021 season. Elizabeth Olsen in Marvel’s WandaVision from Disney+ was a revelation for even her biggest fans in a performance that is, well, a marvel. Comedic, satiric, volatile and emotional, she charted a path for what a ‘comic book’ role could be rather than what we thought it was.
Newcomer Thuso Mbedu in Amazon’s The Underground Railroad took on possibly the most difficult task of anyone this season, portraying young Georgia slave Cora as she journeys through the treacherous antebellum South, navigating the real and metaphysical railroads to freedom in a performance of such raw bravery and emerging talent that it seems impossible to ignore her. In Genius, Cynthia Erivo takes on Aretha Franklin before Jennifer Hudson had a chance to in her feature film. Erivo is already a Tony, Grammy and Emmy winner and National Geographic’s Genius series has produced lead acting nominees from its first two volumes so she is very much in the mix.
We also have Kate Mara, brilliant in Hulu’s A Teacher as a high school teacher who grooms a student into a sexual relationship and Tessa Thompson in Amazon’s Sylvie’s Love as an aspiring television producer in 1950s Harlem in a performance of romance and ambition.
For whoever makes the cut this year it will be well-earned but be prepared for some of your faves to get shut out.
Here are my predictions for Lead Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology Series or Movie.
- Anya Taylor-Joy – The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
- Kate Winslet – Mare of Easttown (HBO)
- Michaela Coel – I May Destroy You (HBO)
- Elizabeth Olsen – WandaVision (Disney+)
- Thuso Mbedu – The Underground Railroad (Amazon)
Then: Danielle Brooks – Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia (Lifetime), Jessie Buckley – Romeo & Juliet (Great Performances), Cynthia Erivo – Genius (National Geographic), Nicole Kidman – The Undoing (HBO), Kate Mara – A Teacher (Hulu), Tessa Thompson – Sylvie’s Love (Amazon Prime), Ruth Wilson – Oslo (HBO)