A twenty-something queen, a president with blood on her hands, a powerful defense attorney and law professor, a volatile robot, a savvy Soviet spy and a Handmaid who refuses to allow her spirit to be crushed. That’s the tableau of characters played by the six contenders for lead drama actress. And that alone explains why actresses with Oscars and Tonys on their resumes are stampeding to television. The riches are so abundant that most TV fans can name at least a half-dozen more actresses who also deserve recognition. Emmy voters have an exceptionally tough call to make in this category.
The frontrunners are Elisabeth Moss for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Claire Foy for Netflix’s “The Crown.” In almost any other year, Foy would be the shoo-in for donning the robe and crown in a show that has Emmy bait in its royal DNA. But then Moss came along with a different kind of headgear and robe and made us alternately weep and cheer for the indomitable Offred. Foy has two big advantages in her corner, though: she’s already claimed Golden Globe and SAG awards for her work on the show, and it’s foolish to underestimate the TV Academy’s love for all things British.
The Case for Moss
Moss delivered a bravura performance in “Handmaid’s” first season. She communicated so much with her eyes, her facial expressions, her plodding gait and her flashes of anger. She made the world and the lexicon of Gilead entirely real, even as we see her in flashbacks to the beginning of the unraveling of America as we once knew her. Moss has collected seven Emmy nominations since 2009 (six for “Mad Men,” one for “Top of the Lake”) but no wins. Offred’s harrowing journey could be the path that leads her to the promised land, at long last.
The Case for Foy
Foy was the brightest jewel in this crown. So much of the show rested on the slender shoulders of its star, who brought a mix of majesty and vulnerability to her portrayal of young Queen Elizabeth II caught up in a whirlwind of world events. And yet she was anything but showy in the role. With a look here and a gesture there, Foy essayed beautifully Elizabeth’s transformation from a mere mortal to the divine status that comes with her title and how that changes her as a woman, wife and mother. Foy demonstrated skill well beyond her years in taking this throne.
Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder”): Davis commands virtually every frame of ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder” as Annalise Keating. She could keep us riveted simply by reading selections from California’s criminal law code.
Keri Russell (“The Americans”): She’s the wild card. Don’t be shocked if Elizabeth Jennings of FX’s “The Americans” pulls off a covert operation to take home the trophy.
Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld”): She made us fall for Dolores in HBO’s “Westwood” even though we knew she wasn’t flesh and blood. And then she really surprised us with that killer twist.
Robin Wright (“House of Cards”): Wright has grabbed five consecutive noms for her work as the amoral Claire Underwood. Her power grab of the presidency in season five — on the heels of her first murder — could impress voters.