The Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie has long been a stomping ground for movie actresses and that’s no different this year. From grand dames to recent Oscar winners and nominees, this will be the most fiercely competitive limited series/movie actress race in some time, proving the quality of roles for women on television yet again.
Of the many contenders, it is safe to assume Regina King is the frontrunner to win her fourth Emmy Award, for her performance as Angela Abar in Watchmen. Awards prognosticators have been watching to see if Watchmen competes in either the drama or limited series/movie categories, with the fate of the show’s future unclear. HBO recently cleared that up by announcing it would run as a limited series, a genre King has utterly dominated as of late. She won her two Emmys in the supporting actress category for the first and second seasons of American Crime in 2015 and 2016. King then won again in 2018 for the Netflix miniseries Seven Seconds, this time in lead. In between then and now she also won an Oscar for If Beale Street Could Talk, making her an undeniable awards magnet.
King will face competition from another awards queen: Cate Blanchett. The two-time Academy Award winner is set to star in the Hulu limited series Mrs. America as Phyllis Schlafly, the real-life conservative leader who opposed the feminist movement and Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. This will be Blanchett’s first role as a main cast member on an American TV series, leading an all-star cast of powerhouse actress that includes Rose Byrne, Sarah Paulson, Margo Martindale, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks and Tracey Ullman.
Another Aussie actress expected to compete this year is Nicole Kidman for the HBO series The Undoing. She is once again pairing with David E. Kelley, who wrote Kidman to a rare awards sweep for Big Little Lies, taking home hardware from the Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG, and Critics’ Choice. In The Undoing, she plays Grace Fraser, a therapist who is about to publish her first book only to find her life unraveling in ways she didn’t expect. The limited series, based on the novel “You Should Have Known” by Jean Hanff Korelitz, has a prime May premiere date on HBO.
Fresh off her two Oscar nominations for Harriet, Cynthia Erivo is hoping to continue her place in the sun by playing another African-American icon, Aretha Franklin in Genius: Aretha. Emmy voters are clearly watching Genius, nominating the first two iterations of the series, focusing on Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, respectively, and the actors playing the icons, Geoffrey Rush and Antonio Banderas. The combination of Erivo’s rising star and the love for Genius should make her a surefire nominee.
This category has seen many double nominees from limited series in recent years, from Big Little Lies to When They See Us. We could see this trend continue in the form of Kaitlyn Dever and Merritt Wever for Netflix’s Unbelievable or Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon for Hulu’s Little Fires Everywhere. Unbelievable has already seen some awards success for Dever and Wever at the Golden Globes while their co-star, Toni Collette, was nominated at SAG. About the investigation of a series of rapes from 2008-11, Dever plays Marie, one of the victims of sexual assault, while Wever plays a detective, Karen Duvall. Meanwhile, Witherspoon is hoping to repeat the success of Big Little Lies with Little Fires Everywhere, another literary adaptation about the private lives of women in suburbia. Witherspoon plays Elena, a woman renting out a house to Mia, a single mother and new arrival in town. Washington is also in contention for her performance in American Son.
Other notable Emmy contenders in this category include Octavia Spencer as Madam C.J. Walker in Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker, the already Golden Globe nominated Helen Mirren for Catherine the Great, Kathryn Hahn in Mrs. Fletcher, Zoe Kazan in The Plot Against America, Sally Field in Dispatches from Elsewhere and Jessie Mueller and Megan Hilty for Patsy and Loretta.
While the Emmy nominations are four months away, here’s my super duper early predictions of who’s ahead in the Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie category:
- Regina King – Watchmen
- Cate Blanchett – Mrs. America
- Merritt Wever – Unbelievable
- Cynthia Erivo – Genius: Aretha
- Nicole Kidman – The Undoing
- Kaitlyn Dever – Unbelievable
- Octavia Spencer – Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker
- Helen Mirren – Catherine the Great
- Reese Witherspoon – Little Fires Everywhere
- Kerry Washington – Little Fires Everywhere
- Zoe Kazan – The Plot Against America
- Kathryn Hahn – Mrs. Fletcher
Kevin Jacobsen is a captioner and entertainment writer at such publications as Gold Derby and is stuck in an unhealthy relationship with the Oscars, the Emmys, and most other award shows. While such organizations often get things wrong, there are moments like when the Oscars selected Moonlight as Best Picture that he forgives all their past sins and embraces them once more. However, he will never forgive the Emmys for failing to reward Steve Carell for The Office and Amy Poehler for Parks and Recreation, or the Oscars for giving Best Picture to Crash over Brokeback Mountain. More of his intense feelings can be heard on his podcast, And the Runner-Up Is, which covers the likely runner-up in each Best Picture race at the Oscars. You can find Kevin on Twitter @Kevin_Jacobsen.