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Emmy Predictions 2020: Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Legends do battle with young stars in a race that's likely to come down to who has the heat during voting. [Updated August 10]

Succession Season 2 Sarah Snook

Sarah Snook in “Succession”

Peter Kramer/HBO

Throughout Emmy season, IndieWire will be evaluating the top contenders for TV’s most prestigious prize, and it all starts here. At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. This article will be updated throughout the coming weeks, along with all our predictions, to reflect an up-to-the-minute state of the race. Make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest coverage on the 2020 Emmys, including breaking news, analysis, interviews, podcasts, FYC event coverage, reviews of all the awards contenders, and more. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, September 20. (See our awards calendar for a more detailed breakdown of important dates.) ABC is broadcasting the ceremony.

Last Year’s Winner: Julia Garner, “Ozark”
Still Eligible: Yes.
Hot Streak: There hasn’t been a repeat winner in the past five years, and four different networks were represented in the Best Supporting Actress (Drama) category during that time. (Netflix won twice.) The last back-to-back champ was Anna Gunn for “Breaking Bad” in 2013 and 2014. Before her, Blythe Danner was the last consecutive winner back in 2005 and 2006 for Showtime’s “Huff.”
Fun Fact: Boosting the “vote splitting” theories out there, “Hill Street Blues” has the most nominations in this category with 13 total nods. Barbara Boson was nominated five times, Betty Thomas was nominated seven times, and Alfre Woodard was nominated once. Woodard took home “Hill Street’s” first trophy in the category for her first nomination, topping both her cast members in 1984, and Thomas won the year after. But Boson, who was always nominated against another co-star, never took home the Emmy.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Game of Thrones” and the four nominees it landed in 2019 (Gwendoline Christie, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, and Maisie Williams).

The State of the Race

Heading into the 2020 Golden Globe Awards, many thought Helena Bonham’s Carter’s streak of eight nominations and zero wins would come to a close… until Patricia Arquette walked away with the trophy. Carter’s bad luck extends beyond the HFPA, though, as she’s zero for two at the Oscars, zero for four at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (though she has been part of two winning ensembles), and winless at the Primetime Emmys, where she’s up for her fourth trophy this year. Besides an obvious need to put this frustrating drought to rest, Carter has a few things working in her favor: So far, one cast member from “The Crown” has won an Emmy in each of the two seasons: Claire Foy won in 2018, and John Lithgow the year prior. That means it’s either Carter or Olivia Colman’s turn, the latter of whom is in a fierce competition for a Lead Actress win, while plenty of acclaim should help drive the supporting star’s campaign.

But who could upset Carter this time? There are plenty of heavy-hitters in the category, including the heaviest hitter of all time in Meryl Streep. Though “Big Little Lies” underperformed in total nominations, it snagged two nods for its supporting cast: one for Streep and another for 2018 winner Laura Dern. Vote splitting, as usual, could be a problem, but it’s much easier to believe the TV Academy would favor Streep’s undeniably arresting performance over rewarding Dern again (though the beloved actor deserves credit for making Renata somehow bigger in Season 2, without losing her command). If the Academy is going to reward anything about “Big Little Lies,” it’s likely Streep.

Let’s not overlook last year’s winner, Garner, who’s got “Ozark’s” 18 nominations and the might of Netflix behind her. Though there hasn’t been a repeat winner in the category since 2014, Garner is the kind of likable scene stealer who can hold onto votes; she had a challenging Season 3, as well, so it’s not like the award would be any less warranted. The same could be said for last year’s Best Guest Actress in a Drama winner, Samira Wiley, who’s moved back to Supporting now that the full season is eligible. She was also nominated here in 2017, so it’s unlikely her win last year is a precursor for a surge this year. (It’s more likely she was very well-liked in the competitive Supporting category before heading to Guest and dominating.)

Thandie Newton should be riding a likability high coming off her outstanding press tour post-“Westworld” Season 3, where she was given the deserved time to be her amazing self — unlike the HBO drama itself, which couldn’t quite figure out what to do with Maeve this year. If she makes a run this year, it’ll be because of interviews like this as much as what she did onscreen. Fiona Shaw, meanwhile, was given loads to do in “Killing Eve” Season 3, and the voters could respond if they’re looking to crown another “Killing Eve” actor. She’s a bit of a long shot, if only because of who she’s up against, but a strong performance always keeps the door open for upsets.

Finally, if asked to bet on one performer most likely to upset Carter, I would have to put my money on Sarah Snook. On the one hand, “Succession” is a massive hit with the TV Academy, raking in 18 nominations, which ties “Ozark” for the most of any drama. On the other hand, there’s Snook herself, who tore into the dramatic highs and lows of Shiv’s journey deeper into her daddy’s pocket — if there’s any one person who walked away with “Succession” Season 2, most viewers would say it’s Shiv. If the TV Academy agrees, she could be looking at her first Emmy. This race will be decided by which show has the heat during voting, and HBO’s drama is burning a bit brighter than Netflix’s as of now.

Power Ranking the Nominees:

1. Helena Bonham Carter, “The Crown”
2. Sarah Snook, “Succession”
3. Meryl Streep, “Big Little Lies”
4. Julia Garner, “Ozark”
5. Thandie Newton, “Westworld”
6. Laura Dern, “Big Little Lies”
7. Samira Wiley, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
8. Fiona Shaw, “Killing Eve”

Will Win: Helena Bonham Carter, “The Crown”
Could Win: Sarah Snook, “Succession”
Should Win: Sarah Snook, “Succession”

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