Emmys: ‘Big Little Lies,’ ‘Feud’ Highlight Competitive Limited Lead Actress Race

Emmys: 'Big Little Lies,' 'Feud' Highlight

This year’s Emmy race for lead actress in a limited series or motion picture made for television is set to be a scrappy competition on par with the Oscars skullduggery dramatized in FX’s “Feud.”

Indeed, Ryan Murphy’s saga about Golden Age fixtures Joan Crawford and Bette Davis warring over Hollywood recognition for their work in 1962’s “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” is one of two programs that have multiple shots on goal this year. Both Jessica Lange (as Crawford) and Susan Sarandon (Davis) are sure to be in the thick of it.

What’s interesting is how the two performances in some ways mirror Crawford and Davis’ own on-screen work; while Sarandon gets to chew the scenery, Lange’s is the more reserved and layered portrayal. It’s not necessarily more complex — both Crawford and Davis, as characters, are working through quite a lot with their careers winding down here — but it makes you wonder how TV Academy voters will respond, particularly with such a glut elsewhere on the ballot.

HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” a seven-part series from director Jean-Marc Vallee wrapping up Sunday night, also features multiple actresses that will be in the mix — three, in fact. Reese Witherspoon, in full Tracy Flick mode, tackles the role of a feisty Monterey Bay mother with ease. Nicole Kidman, meanwhile, goes to some dark places as a woman in an emotionally (and physically) volatile marriage. Like the “Feud” duo, one performance (Witherspoon’s) is showier than the other, but each actress is sure to generate a lot of support. And not to be forgotten, Shailene Woodley, as a woman haunted by the rape that made her a single mother, is competing in the category as well.


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That’s four strong contenders for nominations already and we’ve only addressed two shows.

Felicity Huffman is a already a two-time nominee in the category for ABC’s “American Crime.” After playing a grieving mother and a conniving school principal in the previous two seasons of John Ridley’s series, she stars this time as a woman married into a tomato farming business who slowly learns the disturbing truths behind her family’s success.

Sticking with networks, Fox’s “Shots Fired” presents one of the most electrifying performances in the field, from actress Sanaa Lathan. Reggie Rock and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s event series, which taps into the zeitgeist with the story of a deadly officer-involved shooting in a small North Carolina town, provides Lathan with a with a great opportunity to shoulder much of the proceedings as a special prosecutor assigned to the case.

And don’t forget “Fargo.” FX’s series is back this spring with actress Carrie Coon (“Gone Girl,” “The Leftovers”) out in front. Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman and Kirsten Dunst have received lead recognition in previous seasons.

Meanwhile, we haven’t even touched on the movies. Two HBO films have major star wattage: Oprah Winfrey in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and Michelle Pfeiffer, opposite Robert De Niro’s Bernie Madoff, in “The Wizard of Lies.” And the consistently laureled Viola Davis is a lingering threat for Lifetime’s “Custody” if she goes lead.

Beyond that, other contenders worth mentioning are Freida Pinto’s determined revolutionary in Showtime’s “Guerrilla,” Lauren Graham in Netflix’s resurrected “Gilmore Girls: A Day in the Life,” Jodie Comer as Elizabeth of York in Starz’ “The White Princess” and Bryce Dallas Howard for her wonderful work in an episode of Netflix’s “Black Mirror,” which netted her a Screen Actors Guild nomination last year. ABC is also pitching Mary Louise-Parker and Emily Skeggs in the lead category for “When We Rise,” though actors like Guy Pearce and Michael Kenneth Williams are probably more likely to get traction. And given that “American Horror Story” has been a force in the past, it’s worth mentioning reigning champion in the category, Sarah Paulson, as well.

That’s quite the roll call. Who’s going to be left without a seat when the music stops?

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  1. AllWiledUp says:

    Sarandon doesn’t vaguely evoke Bette Davis. Judy Davis would have been better cast in the role. She is wasted as Hedda Hopper. Kidman, Witherspoon and Woodley all gave career-best work in BLL. All three should be nominated.


  2. tipswatch says:

    I am loving Feud, but the Emmy belongs to Nicole Kidman. She is willing to go into very dark places, it’s a stunning performance in ‘Big Little Lies.’

  3. Alex Meyer says:

    Both Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange are excellent on Feud: Bette And Joan, but if I had to pick between the two of them, I personally like Sarandon’s performance better. Big Little Lies looks incredible; I read the book, but haven’t seen the miniseries since I don’t have HBO.

    It’ll be interesting to see if The Handmaid’s Tale starring Elisabeth Moss gets submitted as a drama series or limited series. From previews, it looks like it could be a limited series since it’s source material is just a single book, but maybe they’re planning to expand beyond that?

  4. Stephen Brown says:

    I haven’t seen most of the performances highlighted in the article, but Kidman’s performance as Celeste is mesmerizing in its quiet portrayal. That first solo interaction with the Robin Weigert was masterful. As an actor with quite an impressive resume of strong performances, her turn on Big Little Lies is quite possibly her best. In many ways she’s as good, if not better, as she was in her Oscar-winning performance in The Hours. I’m rooting for Nicole Kidman no matter who else ends up on the docket this year.

    • Susan says:

      Nicole’s therapy scenes and every interaction with Alexander Skaarsgard, I said she better win every award next year. The entire cast is excellent but I got chills last week. “I don’t understand why you’re being an alarmist?” “Because I’m alarmed!” Agree, Nicole has never been better.

  5. Surely Nicole Kidman will get the Emmy gong – she is INCREDIBLE in Big Little Lies! Much more depth than Reese’s character (as good as she is!)

  6. Klester says:

    Reese ain’t winning. Gonna be a huge blow to her infamous ego.

  7. Barbara Wisbey says:

    Can’t wait for Sunday Evening for the CLIMAX on “Big Little Lies”.

    Another HBO hit indeed.

    This Production is certain to walk away with many honors.

    Regarding the “Feud” on the FX Network, this also in my opinion will

    be nominated.

    Jessica Lange is so believable in her role as Joan Crawford that in some scenes

    I really think it is Joan Crawford.

    She should get the best actress award for sure.


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