Emmys: Industry Pros Discuss Actresses Who Impressed

Insiders speak about what made performances great

For those who work regularly in Hollywood, finding space on their packed schedules to fit in a TV series can be a daunting task. But those in the biz make time for the right roles and the right actresses on the right shows.

As the Emmy Awards near, here’s a sample of what some top figures across the industry think of some of this year’s lead actress nominees — in drama, comedy or movies-minis — and the performances that kept them tuning in week after week this past season … even if they only could catch them on an airplane console.

Ava DuVernay (director, “Middle of Nowhere”)
on Kerry Washington, “Scandal”

“(Washington’s performance) becomes even better to me, larger to me, more impressive to me, when I consider what it could have been in lesser hands. Together, Kerry and (creator Shonda Rhimes) have done more than shatter decades-old limits on who can lead a drama series and given us a robust, complex character (in Olivia Pope) who’ll be remembered long after this moment. Remembered not for her glorious skin color, but for the depth and breadth of the character herself and the brilliance with which she is played.”

 Maryann Brandon (editor, “Star Trek Into Darkness”)
on Elisabeth Moss, “Top of the Lake

“She had this wide range of suppressed feelings; you could just look in her face. She has these incredible eyes and, without saying anything, could reveal deep, confusing feelings I could relate to. Her performance was restrained, but you kept thinking, ‘Is she going to burst?’ As an editor, I’m always looking for ways to sustain tension in a scene, so as an audience I’m thinking, ‘Do I want to watch the next episode?’ She was great that at that. The other thing is I really liked her character (Robin), even though she didn’t always do likeable things. As an actor, you have that ability or you don’t.”

 Eve Stewart (production designer, “Les Miserables”)
on Michelle Dockery, “Downton Abbey”

“Her attention to detail was brilliant. She was certainly invested with a true understanding of her character, and I did relate to her performance. Growing up (in England), you know people of her status, and she was very much like that. She’s so clipped, but so much is going on behind that facade. I was fascinated by how she did it, the way she moved and how everything about her came to life for me. But my favorite scenes are when she cracks just a bit, and lets through some vulnerability.”

Brenda Hampton (exec producer, “The Secret Life of the
American Teenager”)
on Tina Fey, “30 Rock”

“I do a lot of TV watching on airplanes, and ‘30 Rock’ is my first choice. I think if I’m distracted by something funny and laughing really hard, the plane can’t possibly crash. Tina Fey has saved my life quite a few times … besides the fact that she’s brilliantly funny. My favorite scene from season seven was where Liz and Jack (Alec Baldwin) are in bed discussing why they never slept together. That made me laugh really hard, maybe because I’ve had that conversation so many times with (former ‘Blossom’ colleague) Bill Richmond.”

Jeanne Berney (president, Picturehouse)
on Claire Danes, “Homeland”

“Carrie (Danes) is so vulnerable and yet so strong, an unlikely hero who wants to save the world. Whether she’s battling terrorists or her own demons, whether she’s on her game or off it, she always pulls you back in and makes you root for her. Claire Danes is a fully formed, flawed and passionate woman with quirks and tics that never seem contrived and even make sense as (Carrie) faces a system that is always against her, that deems her crazy. She’s utterly convincing.”

Sarah Paulson (supporting actress, “American Horror Story”) on Vera Farmiga, “Bates Motel”

“I knew that the (drama actress) category was very hotly pursued. Her performance was brave, in the sense that it wasn’t always pretty. And I don’t mean about her beauty. I just thought it was very brave what she did, and that she really went for it. You always want the person who really earned it to be the person who gets noticed, and I really felt like she did incredible work on that show.”

Gale Anne Hurd (executive producer, “The Walking Dead”)
on Sigourney Weaver, “Political Animals”

“Sigourney shines in the role of Elaine Barrish. It’s refreshing to see her play a character that reflects her own personality — someone who is relatable, emotionally compelling and a true leader. With gut-wrenching believability, she portrays a strong-willed politician, as well as a caring mother; someone who is trying to balance her own ambition with the needs of her family. This is just the kind of struggle so many women can relate to in 2013.”

Robert Abele contributed to this report.

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