Passion and power perfs pop

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actress Nominees

These year’s group of characters portrayed by Emmy-nominated leading ladies are unique — determined, focused, eccentric, and increasingly mistresses of their own fate. And audiences can’t get enough of them.

“There’s something seductive about characters who are powerful and manipulative and kind of opaque,” says Glenn Close, who has won twice for playing lawyer Patty Hewes on DirecTV’s “Damages” and is now nominated for a fifth time for the role. “There are very few women characterized anywhere who have the power that Patty has, and she’s unapologetic about it. In a way, I think it is wish-fulfillment.”

Showtime’s “Homeland” showrunner Alex Gansa agrees many of the popular female characters fulfill the aspirations of the audience. His show’s Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes, is a CIA agent who knows the truth about a traitor in her midst — as does the audience — but no one will listen.

“This is a character who is battling so many impulses and demons and so much pathology that it’s unclear whether she’s going to survive,” Gansa says. “It’s a larger-than-life character.”

Such women are not restricted to drama: NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” showrunner Michael Schur points to Leslie Knope. Amy Poehler has earned a third nomination for playing the determined public servant, who Schur says is inspirational because she is so earnest.

“We wanted to have a person people could aspire to be,” he says. “We live in a very uncertain time, and characters who have deep-rooted beliefs are attractive people. They are doubly attractive when those beliefs are that the world is worth saving.”

Sarah Palin’s beliefs could have made HBO’s “Game Change” polarizing, so writer Danny Strong had to find a way to make her empathetic. The challenge paid off for Julianne Moore with a nomination.

“I don’t know if people ultimately see themselves in her,” he admits, “but I found her situation very empathetic. We’re drawn to people who are passionate and charismatic. We’re drawn to their fight.”

For Michelle Dockery, who portrays Lady Mary Crawley on “Downton Abbey,” her character is appealing to a mass audience. The reason is that while money means little to the wealthy aristocrat, it’s her human frailty that resonates.

“People can in some way relate to her, because she’s not perfect,” says Dockery. “The journey she’s gone on, she’s become a very well-rounded person.”

But perhaps the character who has shown audiences what is possible for a woman ahead of her own time is Peggy Olson, the “Mad Men” secretary-turned-copywriter. Showrunner Matt Weiner says he has done everything he can to keep Elisabeth Moss’ character from being just a proto-feministic symbol.

“My intention was to say that this woman may be a feminist, but it is unintentional (for her),” he says. “She’s trying to follow what she thinks are the rules of fairness. Every once in a while she comes in conflict with how unfair it is, and she refuses to take it. She always says, ‘I’m not a political person,’ but her very existence is political.”

Moss is happy to be a woman playing the everyman — a character who has graduated into being one of the top representations of women on TV in any era.

“So many great shows now are centered on a strong female character. They’re not just the lead actress on a man’s show,” she says. “These are great characters who are strong, compelling and single-minded, but at the same time they’re complicated and not always doing the right thing. That’s what makes it interesting to me.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actress Nominees
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