2021 Emmy Predictions: Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
The eight Emmy nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series come from just three shows — The Crown, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Lovecraft Country. While voters could benefit from expanding their horizons a bit, the specific dynamic of the nominees could result in a win that people aren’t necessarily expecting.
This year’s nominated actresses include Gillian Anderson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Emerald Fennell for The Crown, with Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski, and Samira Wiley for The Handmaid’s Tale, and Aunjanue Ellis for Lovecraft Country. Dowd and Wiley have won Emmys for their roles already while Anderson won in 1997 for The X-Files. Let’s break down the winning chances of each of this year’s eight nominees.
Gillian Anderson (The Crown) – “Favourites” (Netflix)
Anderson is the overwhelming favorite to win the Drama Supporting Actress race, following a sweep of the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Her transformational performance as Margaret Thatcher was a major talking point for Season 4 of The Crown, and her episode submission, “Favourites,” exemplifies why. In the episode, Thatcher uncharacteristically breaks down in front of the Queen due to her favorite child, Mark, going missing. She later belittles her other child, Carol, and commences the Falklands War with steely resolve.
There are a handful of factors that could prevent Anderson from winning this Emmy — she is competing against two other women from The Crown and the momentum she had from the winter awards may have dissipated. A few voters may even feel she missed the mark in portraying the idiosyncratic late prime minister. But it is the kind of showy, immersive work that actors love to reward, just like John Lithgow’s highly favored performance as Winston Churchill in the show’s very first season.
Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown) – “The Hereditary Principle” (Netflix)
A great number of awards prognosticators expected HBC to win her first Emmy last year for the third season of The Crown but she wasn’t able to garner enough support. She now receives her second consecutive nomination for playing Princess Margaret, who was seen far less in Season 4, outside of one standout episode. Bonham Carter rightfully submitted this episode, “The Hereditary Principle,” to the Emmys. The episode finds Princess Margaret recovering from surgery and discovering that the cousins she assumed were dead were in fact alive. Bonham Carter skillfully navigates the growing horror and disgust she feels upon learning that her cousins were kept hidden away for years to protect the reputation of the royal family.
“The Hereditary Principle” is a prime episode submission that would make Bonham Carter competitive for the win if the blue ribbon panel was still in place. Alas, with the entire TV Academy able to vote, she will likely be overshadowed by the flashier Anderson. Bonham Carter still ranks towards the top based on her previous nomination, the massive Emmy love for The Crown, and her good standing in the industry, but it is looking like she will be an awards bridesmaid yet again.
Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Testimony” (Hulu)
Brewer finally earned an Emmy nomination after four years of memorable work on The Handmaid’s Tale. This season saw Brewer’s Janine escaping Gilead with June only to be recaptured again. The actress is submitting the episode “Testimony,” where Janine is being held in prison and begs Aunt Lydia to not make her a handmaid again. It is affecting work, but a puzzling episode choice when she also had the episode “Milk” this season, which includes pre-Gilead flashbacks and far more screen time overall.
Yet, episodes don’t matter as much as they used to, so Brewer could still pull off a win. While she has three of her previously Emmy nominated and/or winning costars in the mix, it was such a strong season for Brewer that she shouldn’t be counted out. It helps that Janine is one of the show’s most sympathetic characters and Brewer plays her with sensitivity.
Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Progress” (Hulu)
Dowd is back after being snubbed for Season 3 last year, collecting her third nomination for playing Aunt Lydia and fourth overall. This year, Dowd has chosen “Progress” as her submission, in which Aunt Lydia has been reinstated and must deal with a stubborn Esther, while also being encouraged by Janine’s cooperation. Like Brewer, this is probably not Dowd’s best episode of the season — “The Crossing” and “Chicago” feature her more — but she proves she’s still got a handle on the complexities at the heart of her feared character.
Dowd won this category in 2017, creating such a memorable impression that “Aunt Lydia” has entered our modern lexicon to describe a certain kind of loathsome person. While this wasn’t the most memorable season for Aunt Lydia as a character, that iconography could still make her a threat.
Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country) – “I Am.” (HBO)
Ellis wasn’t widely predicted to be nominated two years ago for When They See Us, nor was she the expected Lovecraft Country nominee in this category. That she has now earned two Emmy nominations speaks to her respect in the industry. Like HBC, Ellis has one standout episode for her performance as the stargazing Hippolyta, and the actress indeed submitted “I Am.” The episode has Hippolyta going on an epic adventure, transporting to various points in history and finding she adapts to each scenario with aplomb, whether becoming a flapper with Josephine Baker or an Amazon warrior. Ellis communicates her character’s growing empowerment as she realizes who she really wants to be in the world.
For those who subscribe to the gospel of the vote split, Ellis is a tempting prediction here. With three from The Crown and four from The Handmaid’s Tale, Ellis is an excellent third-party candidate for those who don’t care for either show, and voters who watch this episode will likely be wowed by her dynamic presence.
Emerald Fennell (The Crown) – “Fairytale” (Netflix)
Fresh off an Original Screenplay Oscar win for Promising Young Woman, Fennell is on quite a hot streak, earning an Emmy nomination for her small but fun role as Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown. The multi-hyphenate is submitting the episode “Fairytale,” in which she only appears in one scene but makes the most of it, sitting with Princess Diana for dinner where she wickedly insinuates how much more she knows about Prince Charles than Diana does.
It’s unlikely that Fennell will rank high in the final vote, due to limited screen time and the fact that both of her nominated costars have a lot more to do.. For as juicy as the role is, this nomination is likely more of an indication of The Crown’s popularity with voters more than anything else. Perhaps if she had been eligible for Drama Guest Actress she would have stood a better chance of adding another trophy to her growing collection.
Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Home” (Hulu)
Like Dowd, Strahovski is nominated again in this category after missing out for Season 3 for playing Serena Joy Waterford. Serena spends the entire fourth season in Canada awaiting trial for her crimes against humanity. In her episode submission, “Home,” Serena is finally pregnant but insists on raising the baby on her own, without husband Fred. She is later visited by June, who berates her in the same fashion as Serena used to berate her, shaking Serena to the core.
Strahovski’s best chance at a win was for Season 2, when Serena wasn’t as neutered as she’s become. While she is still one of the show’s main antagonists and had a season-long storyline, she was a bit disconnected from a lot of the primary action of Season 4, and voters may not feel that this is the right time to reward her.
Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Vows” (Hulu)
Wiley has slowly but surely racked up four Emmy nominations for her work on The Handmaid’s Tale as Moira. Season 4 is Wiley at her most prominent on the show since the first season, as she helps June sneak out of Gilead and adjust to life in Canada. Her episode submission is “Home,” where Moira finds June in Gilead and tries to smuggle her out on a boat. We see her make quick decisions as she tries to prevent June from being caught by Gilead officials. Moira’s risk results in her girlfriend, Oona, breaking up with her, and Wiley plays the multiple stresses in Moira’s life with a sense of naturalism.
Having already won an Emmy for Drama Guest Actress in 2018 for playing Moira, Wiley isn’t exactly overdue like Brewer or Strahovski. Still, she had a considerable amount of screen time this season and might just have the best submission of any of her Handmaid’s Tale costars, which could send some votes her way.
Emmy winner voting begins August 19 and goes until August 30. The 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will be on September 19.
Here are my ranked predictions for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.
- Gillian Anderson (The Crown) – “Favourites” (Netflix)
- Aunjanue Ellis (Lovecraft Country) – “I Am.” (HBO)
- Helena Bonham Carter (The Crown) – “The Hereditary Principle” (Netflix)
- Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Testimony” (Hulu)
- Samira Wiley (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Vows” (Hulu)
- Ann Dowd (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Progress” (Hulu)
- Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale) – “Home” (Hulu)
- Emerald Fennell (The Crown) – “Fairytale” (Netflix)