Week 3, Part 3: Outstanding Lead Actress In A Mini-Series, et al
In all honesty, this is going to be the hardest category of the entire night to try and predict a winner. This is one of the only categories I correctly predicted all five nominees and they all gave outstanding performances. Four of them are at the center of the series they were nominated in, and all of them had extraordinary range. There is a clear front-runner among the previous awards, but as we have learned in the past those awards can sometimes count for nothing. So here I go.
Michaela Coel, I May Destroy You: 4–1. For Playing: Arabella, a millennial blogger/novelist whose European life takes a dark turn on a night she can’t remember…yet. Pro: There is no denying that Coel was the breakout talent of 2020. I May Destroy You was almost entirely her project and she’s been nominated for acting, producing, writing and directing. Coel went out of her way to try and make Arabella unsympathetic and as close to the antithesis of a victim that we’ve been used to in far too many procedurals, but despite her humanity managed to shine through. I imagine far too many people gave up on this series because it asked questions about consent and sexuality we say we want to talk about, but we really don’t. Coel dared to ask these questions. The odds are more than in her favor she’ll win at least one Emmy. Con: Coel has indeed been raking in the prizes from everywhere — but the lion’s share of them have been for writing and producing, not acting. I have a feeling given the way the Emmys have operated in the past that it is likely they will give her prizes in one category and consider that enough.
Cynthia Erivo: Genius: Aretha: 9–2. For Playing: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. Pro: Much as I may admonish National Geographic’s Genius series, it’s hard to ignore the talent at the center of it. And it’s always hard to ignore the incredible performances that Erivo, whose quickly become one of the greatest actress on whatever medium she appears in, as she seemed to truly inhabit this icon in a way that Geoffrey Rush and Antonio Banderas just couldn’t due in the two previous iterations of this anthology. It’s a great triumph. Con: The thing is, I actually think the Emmys are making up for a major blunder last year when they denied Erivo for giving an even greater performance in the Limited Series The Outsider which due to bumbling by HBO ended up being considered a Drama and shut Erivo out. She’d deserved to get nominated her like she did last year, don’t get me wrong, but the odds would’ve been better last year.
Elisabeth Olsen, Wandavision: 9–2. For Playing: Wanda Maximoff, the former Avenger who seems to have taken over an entire town to deal with her grief over a loss she can’t deal with. Pro: Olsen’s performance is at the center of this incredible show, a performance which stars off dealing with wonderful comedy and then becomes an exploration of just how deep loss and pain can take us. This is pretty dark territory for a Marvel based series and its immense credit to Olsen — who is a great actress in so many smaller independent films before becoming the Scarlet Witch — that we truly see her humanity even as she complete seems to destroy the minds of everybody in Westview. (Of course, as those of us who’ve finished the series, the operative word is ‘seems’. It is a real triumph and it is award worthy. Con: Olsen does have nearly as weak competition as Paul Bettany does. She’d really need to do mind control on the Emmy judges to make them vote for her over the competition here.
Anya Taylor-Joy, The Queen’s Gambit: 37–10. For Playing: Elizabeth Harmon, a young girl who becomes one of the greatest chess players in the game and tries her hardest to escape her demons. Pro: Taylor-Joy has won every award leading up to the Emmys and it’s no secret why. In an era where even the greatest performances are commanding by dialogue, so much of Taylor-Joy’s gift comes from what she doesn’t say. I spent must of the series enraptured by what was going on in that hundred yard stare. The chessboard was the only place in her life where she seemed to have complete control — and when she fell apart it was a miracle she managed to triumph. Arguably one of the great subtle performances in the last few years, she has in the space of a few short months proven that she is one of the great actresses of our time. Utterly deserves a victory. Con: In 2019, Patricia Arquette ran the table for her work in Escape at Dannemora and at the Emmys was beaten by Michelle Williams. Taylor-Joy was a sure thing as late as April, but with the arrival of Kate Winslet, all bets are off.
Kate Winslet, Mare of Easttown: 17–5. For Playing: Mare Sheehan, a Philadelphia detective trying to solve an unspeakable crime and deal with a horrible home life. Pro: Set aside whatever you thought about Winslet’s mastery of a Philadelphia accent (I really couldn’t tell the difference and I’m from there originally). It’s hard to argue that this wasn’t one of the most exceptional performances in Winslet’s career, which already goes back nearly thirty years. As an example of what happens you seem to peak in high school, when life has beaten you so weary your family likes your ex-husband more than you, as a grandmother who will violate the law to protect her grandchild, Winslet gave one of the darkest and most mesmerizing performances so far in 2021. The most memorable stint wasn’t the case she dealt with but rather when she finally confronted the demons in her own family, something that she had spent years avoiding. When the truth about the case was revealed — in a great twist — she was heartbroken by what she had to do but did it all the same. Winslet more than deserves to win. Con: All that said, she has won an Emmy before (nearly ten years ago to the day for Mildred Pierce) and despite the series momentum, she hasn’t quite been able to upset the Anya Taylor-Joy train yet. Emphasis on yet.
PREDICTION: Winslet may have momentum, but I think Taylor-Joy will continue her streak. No real bad choices though.