Week 1, Part 3: Outstanding Lead Actress in A Drama
If anything, this category is even more diverse than the previous one. Three African American nominees, breaking the previous record. The first trans-woman of any kind. The first non-binary nominee, period (after Alex Newell and Asia Kate Dillon, I honestly didn’t think it would happen) .And some of the greatest performances this year. It’s going to be difficult choosing between them, even if there is an overwhelming favorite.
Uzo Aduba, In Treatment: 13–2. For Playing: Dr. Brooke Taylor, a psychiatrist trying to help her new patients — and herself — in the America we live in. Pro: It takes a lot of work to succeed an actor who won multiple awards for the lead role in the first incarnation of this series, but it took very little to convince me of just how masterful Aduba was. Dealing with some truly complex and original personalities (some of whom should’ve earned nominations themselves), it became clear early on Brooke was the most broken of them all. As we saw in one of the most memorable episodes, where she literally analyzed herself — it’s remarkable she got through her patient’s baggage considering her own. I really hope theirs another season. Con: I’m clearly in the minority. In Treatment was otherwise shut out by the Emmys, and considering that Aduba has three trophies (one just from last year), she’s on the outside looking in this year.
Olivia Colman, The Crown: 11–2. For playing: The aging Queen Elizabeth II, struggling with the new PM, her children and the daughter-in-law she doesn’t appreciate. Pro: This is Colman’s last year on the series, but it was almost one of the most radical. In the previous seasons our sympathy has largely been with Elizabeth and her struggles. For the first time, creator Peter Morgan and his staff did their level best to take out most of the sympathy he’d built up for her. She now comes across as a mother who doesn’t love her children (and indeed, barely tolerates them) a woman who cares more for how her daughter-in-law makes the crown looks than how she feels, and a sovereign who is increasingly out of touch with the world she lives in. Given all that, the final episode of Season 4, where she had her final meetings with Margaret Thatcher, a woman she loathed, was one of her greatest moments. You add to all of this the fact that Colman has been owed an Emmy at least since the first season of Broadchurch and it’s hard to argue why she isn’t the sentimental favorite. Con: She deserves to win, no question. But there’s a good reason she won’t. See below.
Emma Corrin, The Crown: 71–20. For Playing: Princess Diana, the new Princess of Wales, who quickly finds out the fact her husband doesn’t love her is the least of her problems. Pro: When Morgan wrote The Queen, he portrayed Diana as an upstart who in death completely upstaged the monarchy and whose actions went against everything Elizabeth stood for. It is very remarkable that in Season 4, Morgan gives a picture that comes to the opposite conclusion. And the lion’s share of that is because of the incredible performance by Corrin as Diana. We know going in she isn’t wanted by her husband, but she does everything humanly possible to make her marriage work, and some of the most painful scenes in the series so far are just how little her husband appreciates her. And seeing how badly she truly suffers as a person is actually worse when you consider that the royal family by and large seems to consider that this is part and parcel of the job and she should just keep a stiff upper lip — something that by now Diana is incapable of. This was an incredible performance and considering that Corrin took the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice for Best Actress, I’d be stunned if anything could stop them from prevailing. Con: Colman might split the vote, which could let someone else sneak in. And I actually have an idea who.
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale: 9–2. For Playing: June/Offred, refugee of Gilead, now a resistance fighter trying to bring it down. Pro: Moss remains one of television greatest actresses more than two decades after debuting. And even as the series goes into far darker territory than even the book, Moss continues to remain the one real constant. Con: At this point, even the most devoted fans of this series really believe that June is no longer central to the overarching story of Gilead. And as the show continues to shift to other character, it’s hard to think that the nomination of Moss isn’t more due to the Emmys tendency towards laziness rather than any level of excellence from its lead.
MJ Rodriguez, Pose: 9–2. For playing: Blanca, a transgender African American woman in 1990s New York, trying to find her path. Pro: Set aside the fact that Rodriguez made history in this category. Because honestly, Rodriguez’s work in the final season of Pose was one of the series — and TV’s — greatest triumphs. Having seen everything she’s gone through (and we got a good hint of that in a flashback) it was astounding that this year, she actually got everything she deserved to: she became a wife, she got into nursing school, she managed to beat HIV, she became a nurse, and in the final moments of the series, was recognized as the true legend of the ballrooms she was. Putting all this together, under any other circumstances, Rodriguez wouldn’t be contending; she’d be the favorite. Con: Timing. Everything considered, I honestly think the Emmys would rather go for a real-life princess than a fictional queen of the ballrooms.
Jurnee Smollett, Lovecraft Country: 7–1. For Playing: Letitia ‘F-King’ Lewis, Tic’s ex-girlfriend finding herself traveling dark territory in 1950s America. Pro: Majors have been the lead, but Smollett was the heart of this incredible series from the moment we saw her firing a shotgun at white men trying to kill her…or worse. One of the most incredible moments of 2020 came when as a white mob charged her houses, she smashed all the windshields of the cars blaring music, threw the baseball bat in a bag, and then lay flat on the ground — a moment that I’m pretty sure every single African American could relate too. She knew the danger everyone was in, but to save everyone she loved she was willing to risk everything. Smollett gave a performance for the ages. Con: That just doesn’t seem to be enough this year. Despite the accomplishments of Lovecraft Country, it was quickly overshadowed by other suns. Add the fact it was cancelled and that it was an anthology, and Smollett is likely to get left by the wayside.
Prediction: It would be a great story if Rodriguez could end up the winner. But the voters’ hearts — and the trends of the year — make it likely that Corrin will continue the same march that O’Connor is on.