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Emmy Predictions: Best Actress in a Limited Series — More Than a Two-Horse Race

Arabella and a metaphorical Queen face off with a woman named Mare in a race filled with characters as enamoring as the actors behind them.

Mare of Easttown Kate Winslet HBO

Kate Winslet in “Mare of Easttown”

Michele K. Short / HBO

Last Year’s Winner: Regina King, “Watchmen”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Rare is it to see an acting hot streak in the limited series categories, but we kind of, sort of, have one! Regina King has won two of the last three trophies for Best Actress in a Limited Series, after pulling off the upset in 2018 to win for “Seven Seconds” and then rolling to a well-deserved win for “Watchmen” in 2020. And if you extend the streak beyond Best Actress to Best Supporting Actress, then King has won in four of the last six years. (She took home the Emmy for “American Crime” in 2015 and 2016.) And her hot streak could continue if she’s nominated for hosting “SNL” this year, though not in the Limited Series section.
Fun Fact: A comedy has not been nominated in this category since 2014, when TV Academy voters saw fit to nominate Kristen Wiig for playing Cynthia Morehouse in IFC’s limited series, “The Spoils of Babylon.” Technically, though, Wiig wasn’t playing Cynthia Morehouse; she was playing the actress who played Cynthia Morehouse, aka Lauoreighiya Samcake. For those who have already forgotten the six-episode spoof, “The Spoils of Babylon” is a send-up of overly epic TV miniseries of yesteryear, whose overwrought romances and high-falutin melodramas feel laughable against the grounded and realistic limited series of today. That being said, it’s impossible to imagine Wiig’s exquisite comedic turn snagging a nomination in the years since, as the race became crowded with serious contenders and serious performances — some not so different from what “Babylon” was spoofing. Oh, how the wheel of time turns.
Notable Ineligible Series: Anyone from “American Crime Story: Impeachment” (the season did not air in time to be eligible); Julianne Moore, “Lisey’s Story” (the season did not air in time to be eligible)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Actress in a Limited Series, Anthology Series, or TV Movie. 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

Given the number of nominees in the Comedy and Drama categories, as well as the abundance of limited series in contention, it’s worth remembering that only five performers will make up the Best Actress and Best Actor in a Limited Series lists. Setting the case for expansion aside until next year, when the TV Academy revisits its rulebook, for now the quite short shortlist means heightened competition for the many deserving thespians in contention.

Anya Taylor-Joy shouldn’t have to worry. The “Queen’s Gambit” star dominated the winter awards circuit, has the full backing of Netflix’s considerable awards team, and leads a breakout hit that shouldn’t be forgotten anytime soon. Michaela Coel is nearing a similar status, though “I May Destroy You’s” summer 2020 release is a nagging factor given all the other shows that have come out since. Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone not checking Coel’s name in the nomination round, given how much passion there is for her and her series.

HBO will also be pushing a former Emmy winner in Kate Winslet. “Mare of Easttown” enjoyed strong reviews, everyone loves Winslet, and the indelible star still reveals new talents, depths, and stunning moments in the seven-episode crime drama. Voters who catch “Mare” likely also sought out HBO’s other murder-mystery starring an Emmy and Oscar winner: “The Undoing.” While garnering softer reviews and seeing a bit of backlash to the final episode, Nicole Kidman still earned a SAG Award nomination for her work. Whether that momentum carries her to the Emmys is another story.

Standing in her way is Cynthia Erivo, the star of Nat Geo’s latest season of “Genius.” As Aretha Franklin, the two-time Oscar nominee gets to showcase her acting and singing chops, which should be alluring enough to snag voters who’ve already nominated the previous two “Genius” performers (and tend to like the series overall). Amazon Prime Video, meanwhile, has Thuso Mbedu in Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad” as well as Tessa Thompson in the film “Sylvie’s Love” — not to mention Heidi Schreck in “What the Constitution Means to Me.” While voters should be lining up to see mid-May’s “Underground Railroad,” the other two 2020 releases will need good word of mouth and a bit of renewed buzz to break in for Prime.

In addition to these one-off projects, another late-arriving contender is Ruth Wilson in HBO’s “Oslo” adaptation. It’s been three years since a film performance made its way into the Limited Series or TV Movie race (Laura Dern in “The Tale”), but that’s not long enough to be damning, so much as worrisome. Will voters favor actors who were in more scenes and episodes? Time will tell.

Another lingering question for this year’s race: How will the TV Academy respond to the MCU? Last year, we saw voters embrace “The Mandalorian” to the tune of 15 nominations and seven wins, including nods for Guest Actor Giancarlo Esposito and Taika Waititi’s Voice-Over Performance. Does accepting Disney+, “Star Wars,” and science fiction mean they’ll be open to the streamer’s Marvel fare? Whether or not Elizabeth Olsen cracks in to this race could provide the answer. Plenty of folks expect “WandaVision” to clean up in the craft races, but acting categories are another story — as the MCU learned at the Oscars, where no actor has been nominated for a Marvel movie. Let’s find out if TV folks are any less biased.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Queen’s Gambit”
  2. Michaela Coel, “I May Destroy You”
  3. Cynthia Erivo, “Genius: Aretha”
  4. Kate Winslet, “Mare of Easttown”
  5. Elizabeth Olsen, “WandaVision”

Contenders: Thuso Mbedu, “The Underground Railroad”; Nicole Kidman, “The Undoing”; Ruth Wilson, “Oslo”; Tessa Thompson, “Sylvie’s Love”; Lydia West, “It’s a Sin”; Kate Mara, “A Teacher”; Danielle Brooks, “The Mahalia Jackson Story”

In a Perfect World: Julia Goldani Telles, “The Girlfriend Experience”; Naomie Harris, “The Third Day”; Heidi Schreck, “What the Constitution Means to Me”

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