Part 3: Outstanding Lead Actress in a TV Movie/Limited Series
Three academy award winning actresses, two of televisions greatest talents, and the definition of a promising newcomer will make up this category. Of all the categories this year, this one may be the easiest one to predict — which doesn’t make the talent or performances any less magnificent.
Cate Blanchett, Mrs. America
It doesn’t take much of argument to know that Cate Blanchett is one of the greatest actresses in history: she already has two Oscars and seven nominations. But watching her take on the role of one of the most despised women (or beloved, depending on your political alignment) in history, she made Phyllis Schaffly more sympathetic than we would’ve thought possible. The fact that she could disappear into this role as easily as she’s done with Elizabeth I or Katherine Hepburn or Bob Dylan, just goes to prove that there are few actresses in this industry who can do what she can. Does she deserve to win? This is a tough category. But she has readily put herself in the fight.
Kaitlyn Dever, Unbelievable
The least known name in this category gave one of the most stunning performances this year. As Marie, a teenage girl who is a victim twice over — first of a sexual assault, and then of a system that refuses to believe her and grinds her into the dirt for every decision she makes, Dever was absolutely unforgettable. After decades of watching the same story in police procedurals over and over, Dever’s work as a rape victim who goes out of her way to initially make us unsympathetic to her, and then watch as the world, which has never been kind to her, grinds her down piece by piece. There have arguments recently as to the necessity of the police drama. Dever’s work as a real victim that you can’t typecast broken by the system proves that this is the kind of drama we need.
Regina King, Watchmen
Wasn’t there a time when she didn’t even get nominated for her brilliant performance? As Angela Abar/Sister Night, the cop/masked hero at the center of the action of Watchmen, King added yet another feather in her cap as the kind of hero we really need right now. As she tries to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that starts with the murder of her boss and may end with the end of the world, King showed new level of the real comic book heroes. She’s trying to do her job, she doesn’t understand the depths of the conspiracy even though she’s at the center of it, and she has to do it all as a black woman in an America that’s bears little resemblance to ours and yet somehow is exactly like it. Her triumph at the Critics Choice Awards makes her the early frontrunner. And honestly, I never get tired of seeing her win
Kerry Washington, Little Fires Everywhere
I take back everything I said about her while Scandal was on the air. I’ve seen Washington give a lot of good performances over the years, but as Mia Warren, the artist, rambling single mother of a child she will not tell anything about her background, Washington went to levels that I honestly didn’t think she was capable of. For much of the series run, she came across the more unsympathetic, manipulative character — until we learned who she was and what made her that way. She was by far the better mother, both to her actual daughter and the girl was continuously drawn to her. I think the odds against her winning are remote (with the vote being split by her co-star, see below) but those who see her performance will never forget it. And its certainly a good choice.
Merritt Weyer, Unbelievable
With all the hype over Run (which went over like a lead balloon and was quietly cancelled this week), it was easy to forget Weyer’s far subtler performance as Colorado Detective Karen Duvall, whose investigation into a single sexual assault leads to a statewide search for a sexual predator. Weyer’s performance may be the most realistic and humane portrayal of police I’ve seen since Fargo (and yes, I’m more than aware those cops are fictional), someone who tries to do her job and go through a broken system and realizes just as quickly how predators like this get started and how the system is weighted against the victim. This is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from an actress who’s already won two Emmys. She should get a third, but I think this categories too full of showier, more daring performances. I have no doubt, though; the Emmys will remember her for it.
Reese Witherspoon, Little Fires Everywhere
In a perfect world, Witherspoon would be getting three nominations this year. We know it isn’t one. But the Emmys won’t be able to ignore her fine work as Elena, the poster child for a perfect mother in Ohio which begins to crack and finally shatters entirely, partially because of the presence of Mia, but almost entirely due to her own flaws. As the mask slipped of Elena’s ideals, finally shattering in one of the most unforgettable scenes I’ve seen all year, Witherspoon demonstrated what she’s proven over and over, but still has yet to get credit for: that she is one of the greatest actresses working today. She will no doubt be overcome by a brighter sun in the Best Actress in a Drama category (twice, probably) but they can’t ignore this performance.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Helen Mirren, Catherine the Great
Helen Mirren has nothing to prove. She’s already won an Oscar, four Emmys, and played some of the most indelible characters in television history. So you might think that taking on the role of Catherine the Great was just a minor stretch but her work as Elizabeth I for HBO more than a decade ago. But just as Catherine gets less credit for what she did when she was in charge of the Russian Empire, Mirren seemed to get less credit for playing a more vital, manipulative, and yes sexual woman than we probably ever pictured Catherine to be. There may have been a bit more scenery chewing then many of the more subtle performances here, but Catherine was a lot larger than life than most of them. Had the nomination process begun at the end of last year, Mirren would’ve been a lock for a nomination, perhaps the prize. Now other performances have overshadowed it. But Mirren more than deserves to be considered, and I hope the Emmys do.