Last Year’s Winner: Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: There has not been a back-to-back winner in the Best Actress in a Drama Series category since Claire Danes won for “Homeland” in 2012 and 2013. Other successful defending champions include Glenn Close (in 2008 and 2009 for “Damages”), Kathy Baker (in 1995 and 1996 for “Picket Fences”), Patricia Wettig (in 1990 and 1991 for “thirtysomething”), and Sharon Gless (in 1986 and 1987 for “Cagney & Lacey”). Tyne Daly, who’s tied with Michael Learned for the most awards by a single actress in this category ever (at four), is the only performer to win three in a row (from 1983-1985 for “Cagney & Lacey).
Fun Fact: Broadcast TV’s Emmy struggles continue in the Best Drama Actress category. Two or more of the big four networks were nominated in the category between 2000 and 2016, including nine wins between them. In 2017, only one network actress was nominated (Viola Davis for ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder”), and in 2018, the broadcast networks were completely shut-out.
Notable Ineligible Series: Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale” (premieres June 5); Anyone, “Big Little Lies” (premieres in June); Olivia Colman, “The Crown” (expected in mid-to-late 2019); Claire Danes, “Homeland” (fall 2019); and Keri Russell, “The Americans” (ended)
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (listed in alphabetical order). This article will be updated throughout the season, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for all the latest buzz from the 2019 race, and read predictions in the rest of the categories, as well. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 14 and Sunday, September 15. The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles, CA on Sunday, September 22. Fox is broadcasting the ceremony.
The State of the Race
Just look at all the high-profile names out of this year’s race: Elisabeth Moss, Claire Danes, Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and probably recent Oscar winner Olivia Colman. Whether their networks purposefully moved their shows out of contention to avoid “Game of Thrones” will never be confirmed, but their absence (among others) does open up the Best Drama Actress in 2019.
Suddenly, it seems entirely feasible both Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer could get in for “Killing Eve.” Only Oh has made the cut before — and not just at the Emmys, but the Globes and SAG Awards, too. But if Season 2 of BBC America’s cat-and-mouse thriller is anywhere near as strong as Season 1, both actresses could sneak into the field. On that same front, the TV Academy has denied Emilia Clarke a nod since she switched from Supporting Actress (where she snagged three nominations) to Lead, and she, too, could take advantage of the openings — adding to the expected monster haul for “Game of Thrones.”
Laura Linney, who many expected to get a nod for “Ozark” Season 1, could also land her first Emmy nomination since winning for “The Big C” in 2013 (and the back-to-back SAG nods should help, too). Finally, completing the previously overlooked performances, we’ve got Christine Baranski: a beloved figure at the TV Academy who’s received rave reviews for each season of “The Good Fight,” Mandy Moore, a two-time snubee for “This Is Us,” and Maggie Gyllenhaal, who hasn’t been able to build enough buzz for her HBO drama “The Deuce” despite a ton of critical support.
Any one of these women could break into the race, but let’s not overlook the newcomers. Presuming voters buy into “Homecoming” as a legitimate drama (despite its half-hour runtimes), Julia Roberts should be a lock in the category. Not only is she a friggin’ movie star among movie stars, but she delivered career-best work in Sam Esmail’s Amazon thriller. Then there’s MJ Rodriguez, a deserving breakout on FX’s “Pose” who should benefit from Ryan Murphy’s power over the TV Academy, and Elizabeth Olsen, who will not only also have to convince voters “Sorry For Your Loss” is a half-hour drama, but may also have to explain to them what Facebook Watch is.
So who else is fighting for a spot? Robin Wright hopes to go six-for-six with “House of Cards.” While the final season put the spotlight on Wright’s character Claire, she’ll still have to fight back the negative reviews and the show’s general “over it” perception. Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder”) and Taraji P. Henson (“Empire”) hope to get back into the race after some time out of the running. Jodie Whittaker looks to take her iconic role on “Doctor Who” to the Emmy ceremony, while Ruth Wilson hopes her last season on “The Affair” gets some extra recognition. Finally, after a rule change shifted “American Horror Story: Apocalypse” from limited series to drama series, can Sarah Paulson break through as a drama actress?
There are bound to be more contenders fighting their way into field as the months progress, but for now, the contenders are already plentiful. Let the campaigning commence.
- Christine Baranski, “The Good Fight”
- Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones”
- Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”
- Laura Linney, “Ozark”
- Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”
- Julia Roberts, “Homecoming”
Spoilers: Olivia Colman, “The Crown”; MJ Rodriguez, “Pose”; Robin Wright, “House of Cards”; Mandy Moore, “This Is Us”; Elizabeth Olsen, “Sorry For Your Loss”; Sarah Paulson, “American Horror Story: Apocalypse”; Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Deuce”
In a Perfect World: Sonequa Martin-Green, “Star Trek: Discovery”; Shefali Shah, “Delhi Crime”