Emmy Voters Could Turn to New Series Like ‘I Love Dick,’ ‘The Crown’ in Lead Actress Race

In the drama actress category, five of last year’s six nominees look to repeat their nominations this year. The only person ineligible is last year’s winner, Tatiana Maslany, as the new season of “Orphan Black” won’t air within the Emmy deadline. This leaves an opening to be filled, possibly by Claire Foy, who landed both a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for her work as a young Queen Elizabeth II on Netflix’s “The Crown.”

Foy describes the dual wins as “surreal.”

“I felt like it was happening to someone else and I was watching from the outside,” she notes. “ I think it’s amazing how the show’s been so adopted by people, it feels really special. It feels kind of like all the right reasons people really enjoyed it and believed it. That’s why you make TV and film and theater for people to enjoy it and feel connected to the character. It’s been amazing.”

Other actors in new drama series who have had an impact  include Elisabeth Moss, headlining Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”; Mandy Moore in NBC’s cryfest “This Is Us”; and Evan Rachel Wood in HBO’s “Westworld.” Then there’s Christine Baranski, reprising her role of Diane Lockhart on CBS All Access’ “The Good Fight,” a role that earned her six nominations in the supporting category on “The Good Wife.”

Over on the comedy actress side, things are shaping up to welcome a few new faces. With last year’s nominees Amy Schumer and Laurie Metcalf not competing, there are a handful of actresses who could land their first nod in the category. Returning nominees could include Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”), Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”) and of course, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has five wins in a row for “Veep.”

“Fleabag” creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has drawn on stories from real life.
SHAYAN ASGHARNIA for Variety

New series with strong leading ladies include Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”), Kaitlin Olson (“The Mick”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”) and Sarah Jessica Parker (“Divorce”). There are also several actresses in returning series who have yet to be recognized by Emmy  in the category, including Golden Globe winners Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin.”)

New to the mix is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who turned her one-woman show “Fleabag” into a six-part series streaming in America on Amazon. Waller-Bridge first performed the play version, about a woman nicknamed Fleabag navigating her single life, at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2013, taking home the Fringe First Award. Shortly afterward, she was approached by a high-ranking member of the BBC who offered her the potential of adapting her show for the screen.

Although Waller-Bridge saw many scenes in the play as potentially cinematic, she says adapting it from being one-woman to incorporating other characters and perspectives posed a challenge.

“The thing that was tricky was so much of Fleabag’s control in the play is that she is the sole narrator, there’s nothing else to indicate other aspects of the world that she lives in other than her own telling of it,” Waller-Bridge says. “Whereas with the TV show, you’re dramatizing the world around her and everything she’s saying, things could play out differently but you’re a witness to more than just her telling the story.”

Many of the stories seen on the show have a basis in real life; one episode finds her playing a trick on her boyfriend, Harry (Hugh Skinner), surprising him in the shower while wearing a ninja mask and brandishing a kitchen knife.
Unsurprisingly, Harry is reduced to a whimpering mess by the incident. But what may be more surprising is that Waller-Bridge based the incident on a real life trick her husband played on her.

“It was so traumatic,” Waller-Bridge says. “The problem is that we have been jumping out at each other for weeks leading up to it, and when you get into the bubble or your own normal that’s something you do, and sometimes you need something extreme to snap out of the bubble. I still jump in the shower sometimes.”

“So much of my value as a girl in her twenties was based around how sexy and attractive I was. I think that pressure is more on women than it is on men at that age.”
Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Fortunately, Waller-Bridge lived to tell the tale in her show. She says she “poured a lot of her life” into the show, and wanted to explore themes of how young women are valued in today’s society.

“So much of my value as a girl in her twenties was based around how sexy and attractive I was,” Waller-Bridge adds. “I think that pressure is more on women than it is on men at that age, the constant need for validation, and I was aware of that in myself and it made me angry.”

In terms of bringing the rest of the cast on board, including Olivia Coleman and Brett Gelman, Waller-Bridge says she had managed to “collect some gems” from her years kicking around the theater scene. Several members of the cast, including Coleman, came to see the play in Edinburgh, and so when she presented them her script for the pilot, they already knew the tone and style of comedy to expect.

“It became a moment of me saying, ‘Here’s the script, you have to do this ’cause you’re my friend,’” the actress jokes. “I’d put all the best jokes in the pilot, so from starting off with a great cast and this script that I’m proud of, it went to, ‘oh my god I’ve got this great cast who’ve come on board for no money, and now I really have to make this be half as good as them.’” That helped fuel the bitingly satirical and cringe humor of the show.

Next up on the agenda for the actress is a role in Simon Curtis’ “Goodbye Christopher Robin,” as well as an unannounced role in the much-anticipated “Han Solo” spinoff with Alden Ehrenreich.

Another strong female lead actress in the potential comedy nomination pot is Kathryn Hahn, who plays the lead role of Chris in the Amazon show “I Love Dick.”
Hahn said her involvement with the show began while she was filming “Transparent,” and creator Jill Soloway expressed a desire to collaborate further with her. The two had also previously worked together on Soloway’s feature film debut, “Afternoon Delight.”

“Jill mentioned a couple of books that she was thinking about adapting, and she asked me to take a look at them and see if any of them spoke to me personally,” Hahn recounts. “One of the titles was ‘I Love Dick.’ I immediately read that one first. I knew nothing about it except being attracted by the title, and when I started reading it I completely devoured it. I was flabbergasted that I had never been exposed to it before.”

Hahn previously worked with Jill Soloway on “Transparent” and “Afternoon Delight.”
SHAYAN ASGHARNIA for Variety

Hahn says the character of Chris, a failing filmmaker and artist based in New York, is “maddening , hilarious, sexy, emotional and hungry,” all at the same time, and that this “delicious combination” was too hard to resist.

When the viewer first meets Chris, she is struggling for creative success. Hahn says her character is lacking an audience for her work, and is trying to find her voice. Her upbringing helped her relate to Chris’ inability to “find an addressee.”

“I was brought up to think that good equals quiet and obedient. I got good grades, I wore uniforms I did everything right, and so I identified with this woman standing up and saying, ‘I’m gonna be loud, I’m gonna own all of my huge, messy emotions, and I’m not gonna apologize or feel shame or guilt for feeling them,’ ” Hahn says.
When she meets Dick (Kevin Bacon), Chris is finally able to use her feelings as a muse for her material.

While Hahn says she and Bacon took most of their scenes seriously to try and recreate a serious relationship, her experience working with Griffin Dunne, who plays Chris’ husband, Sylvere, was much more loose.

“Griffin and I had a really easy, improvisational comedy between us, and it was important for that marriage to have stakes in it, because otherwise it would be a woman wandering from her marriage, but obviously there’s an affection between the two of them so the stakes are that much more complicated and higher,” Hahn says.

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