Last Year’s Winner: Zendaya, “Euphoria”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: There hasn’t been a repeat winner in nearly a decade — since Claire Danes took home back-to-back Emmys for “Homeland” in 2012-13 — and only two networks have won more than once in that same time span: Showtime and BBC America, which saw Tatiana Maslany win for “Orphan Black” in 2016 and Jodie Comer take home the trophy for “Killing Eve” in 2019.
Fun Fact: Apologies, I’m well-aware this is a rather widely known “fun fact,” but it’s still absolutely wild to think about the run “Cagney & Lacey” went on in the ’80s. The CBS cop drama won this category for six years in a row, between 1983 – 1988, taking home the Best Drama Actress trophy every season after its freshman run. Not only that, but both titular actors — Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless — were nominated each year. Daly won for the first three seasons before voters handed the Emmy to her co-star Sharon Gless twice, setting the table for an even split between Cagney and Lacey heading into its final season… before the TV Academy gave the last trophy to Daly one more time instead. Such dominance may never be seen again in the category, as “Cagney & Lacey” is tied with “Murder She Wrote” in all-time nominations (12) and maintains a comfortable lead in wins with six. (Second place is a five-way tie between “The Loretta Young Show,” “Mission Impossible,” “Picket Fences,” “The Sopranos,” and “The Waltons,” all of which have three wins.)
Notable Ineligible Series: Zendaya in “Euphoria” (Season 2 is not expected to be eligible); Jennifer Aniston in “The Morning Show” (Season 2 is not expected to be eligible); Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in “Killing Eve” (Season 4 will not be eligible); Laura Linney in “Ozark” (Season 4 is not expected to be eligible)
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Actress in a Drama Series. This article will be updated throughout the season, along with all our predictions, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest news from the 2020 race. Voting for the 2021 Emmys will be held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out in September, at a date (or dates) to be announced. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony.
The State of the Race
In a year where turnover will be plentiful, the Best Actress in a Drama Series race is guaranteed one of the higher change rates. Five of the six nominees from last year are not expected to compete in 2021, which promises for a higher percentage of new contenders than even the heavily altered Best Drama category.
One constant should remain: Olivia Colman. The “Crown” star earned her third Emmy nomination in 2020, following up previous nods for “The Night Manager” and “Fleabag” with her first recognition as a lead in Peter Morgan’s Netflix drama. All signs point to a fourth nomination for Season 4, and she’s likely to be joined by recent Golden Globe winner Emma Corrin. The duo could end up in a two-way race for the trophy, but it’s far too early to gauge who’s got the heat to win.
Netflix will also be pushing Phoebe Dynevor and everyone in “Bridgerton,” as well as Emmy darling Sarah Paulson in “Ratched,” Christian Serratos in “Selena: The Series,” and Hilary Swank in “Away,” which makes a category takeover similar to the SAG Awards (where Netflix shows took every slot) possible, if slightly less likely. That would require the TV Academy to keep former winner Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) out of the running. The former “Mad Men” and “Top of the Lake” actor was surprisingly omitted from last year’s nominations, though the stiff competition has lightened this year, and Hulu’s heavy push for Season 4 should help her return to the shortlist.
Meanwhile, there’s also a three-time winner looking to join the race: Uzo Aduba, who won her most recent Emmy just last year for the limited series “Mrs. America,” is back in the Drama category with HBO’s “In Treatment” revival. The TV Academy responded well to the therapy series’ original run, handing out seven nominations — six in acting categories — along with two wins. A revival with Aduba, who’s obviously beloved by voters, immediately puts the show back in the awards conversation.
From there, things get a little tricky. Time, reviews, ratings, and that ever-elusive buzz factor will likely determine who else can emerge as frontrunners. Jurnee Smollett certainly delivered the goods in “Lovecraft Country,” but its summer 2020 release could mean she gets overlooked by newer, more front-of-mind programs. (Any lingering genre bias could also be a problem.) Mandy Moore, who landed her first and only Emmy nomination in 2019 for “This Is Us,” could see her luck return for the highly rated NBC drama, but the series saw its fewest nominations ever last year, and it’s often hard for long-running programs to reverse that trend. Similarly, Mj Rodriguez will be searching for her first nomination in the final season of “Pose,” which dipped from six nominations for its first season (including Best Drama Series and a win for Billy Porter) to five nominations (and no Series nod or wins) for its second.
Strong turns in freshman series from Melissa George (“The Mosquito Coast”), Brandee Evans (“P-Valley”), and Billie Piper (“I Hate Suzie”) could also disrupt the race, as could to-be-announced programs that have yet to screen for critics. Plenty of options, and opportunities, remain in the 2021 class. For now, here’s hoping the TV Academy has been staying current on these contenders.
- Olivia Colman, “The Crown”
- Emma Corrin, “The Crown”
- Elisabeth Moss, “The Handmaid’s Tale”
- Uzo Aduba, “In Treatment”
- Jurnee Smollett, “Lovecraft Country”
- Mandy Moore, “This Is Us”
Contenders: Phoebe Dynevor, “Bridgerton”; Mj Rodriguez, “Pose”; Melissa George, “The Mosquito Coast”; Billie Piper, “I Hate Suzie”
In a Perfect World: Brandee Evans, “P-Valley”; Aya Cash, “The Boys”