The talent in this limited category is seemingly boundless.
An armada of A-list actresses are vying for the Emmy statue in the limited series or movie category this TV award season. And many of them are competiting for roles tackling topical concerns: Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman on rape, abuse and betrayal in HBO’s “Big Little Lies”; Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon on Hollywood’s (and much of the rest of the world’s) tendency to discard women after a certain age in FX’s “Feud”; Carrie Coon keeping the law on FX’s “Fargo”; Regina King on the epidemic of runaways and child sex trafficking in ABC’s “American Crime”; Oprah Winfrey (Oprah!) on the medical community’s systemic abuse of African-Americans in HBO’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” … the list keeps going.
Sanaa Lathan, meanwhile, stars in “Shots Fired,” a Fox miniseries that was inspired by the George Zimmerman verdict, “and it’s still so timely,” several years later, says Lathan, who plays Ashe Akino, a DOJ expert investigator who is assigned to the case of an African-American cop shooting an unarmed white man during a routine traffic stop. Lathan says filming overlapped with last summer’s police-related shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and those fatalities “brought to the forefront of our minds that yes, we are creating entertainment. But these are issues that need to be thought about and discussed.”
The show is rife with civil-rights history coincidences: not only did it air around the anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, but, Lathan says, the last day of shooting fell on the anniversary of black teen Emmett Till’s murder by two white Mississippi men in 1955.
Given the demand for content and talent in the age of peak TV, limited series and movies also allow stars a chance to create thought-provoking programming without ruling out their participation in other media. Just ask Lange: She was nominated in this category for four consecutive years for FX’s “American Horror Story,” winning twice before taking some time off from the franchise to pick up a lead actress Tony Award last year for the revival of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.”
Bryce Dallas Howard won raves for playing a lonely, social media-charged singleton who is a little too obsessed with liking her frenemy’s wedding plans in “Nosedive,” the first episode of Netflix’s latest season of “Black Mirror.” Other than ensuring her friends will probably forever question whether to invite her to their nuptials, the episode also inspired conversations about society’s obsession with virtual approvals and the toxicity that can surround female friendships.
Save for voicing a character in an episode of “Family Guy,” Howard has never done scripted TV before; she says she always refers to this segment of creator Charlie Brooker’s anthology show “as a movie.”
“What’s so appealing and intriguing about ‘Black Mirror’ is that it’s perhaps the most ambitious kind of storytelling because every single [episode] is a different project, crew and location and story and actors and everything,” says the actress better known for film roles that are a mix of blockbusters (“Jurassic World,” “The Twilight Saga”) and Oscar contenders (“The Help”).
“I’ve acted in things that are one minute long and I’ve acted in things that should have been shorter, let’s just say that. This goes to show why a category like this is so important because it’s so inclusive and it includes different kinds of storytelling platforms and allows those kinds of stories to also be included with more mainstream projects.”
Does this mean she wants to do more TV? “Absolutely,” she says, pointing to the pedigree behind “Black Mirror” in director Joe Wright and writers Rashida Jones and Mike Schur as enticements.
She acknowledges that filming it required considerably less time than other series, but that “for anyone, a longer commitment has to feel right. My husband [actor Seth Gabel] only does television and our whole relationship he’s only done television. I’ve really seen the length of time that it really takes over and that sort of experience. It’s like going to college with a group of people and you want that to feel right the entire time.”
Specifically, she says she’d like to “generate something for me to be a part of” either via directing, producing or writing.
She certainly wouldn’t be the first performer to use her creativity to make a statement.
“There’s a long tradition of artists who were instrumental in galvanizing movements and raising consciousness,” Lathan says. “There are artists throughout history who have used their art not only to entertain. I feel it’s a privilege and an honor to do what I love and work on such a dynamic character and still deal with what we’re dealing with as humans.”