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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 captivating as the actors behind them.

Mare of Easttown Kate Winslet HBO cop show

John Douglas Thompson and 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 highfalutin 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 2021 race. Voting for the 2021 Emmys was held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations were announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards were given out Saturday, September 11 and Sunday, September 13. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony.

The State of the Race

For anyone who complains about the Emmys being overly predictable, the 2021 Best Actress in a Limited Series category is here to keep you on the edge of your seat. No matter who triumphs in this year’s razor-thin race, everyone will be on pins and needles until the name is called — there’s simply no guaranteeing anyone has the definitive edge.

Working backward (from the least likely victor to the most likely), Cynthia Erivo would be a surprising choice, if only because her Nat Geo series isn’t as well-represented as her competitors. Still, “Genius” has gone one-for-two so far, in terms of its lead actors taking home the gold: Geoffrey Rush won for the first season, while Antonio Banderas came up short in Season 2. Given the consistent nominations, the TV Academy clearly has a soft spot for the anthology series, and Erivo has been campaigning, so she’s still in the running — even as a longshot.

Things get interesting when comparing the next four names. Elizabeth Olsen has the full power of Disney behind her, and “WandaVision” has the most nominations of any limited series (with 23). If actors take to it, she could easily ride the wave to her first Emmy, but Olsen wasn’t the driving force of discussion around the Disney+ hit (at least, not in the same way Kate Winslet, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Michaela Coel were), and the show’s muted showing at the Creative Arts Emmys (winning three Emmys compared to “The Queen’s Gambit’s” seven) indicates TV Academy tastes might be leaning elsewhere.

Michaela Coel, meanwhile, is a name many are hoping to hear called more than once come Emmy night. The writer, director, and star of “I May Destroy You” is up for four Emmys, and how many she takes home will come down to how individual voting branches respond to the heralded HBO series. Will actors respond to Coel’s turn as intensely as writers have to her scripts? It’s hard to say, but Coel already lost to Taylor-Joy at the Screen Actors Guild Awards — has she gained more momentum since then?

It doesn’t seem like it, and Taylor-Joy could very well still be the one to beat. The “Queen’s Gambit” star dominated the winter awards circuit, has the backing of Netflix’s considerable awards team, and leads a breakout hit that the TV Academy absolutely adores. She’s also starring in a buzzy fall movie (Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in SoHo”), which should’ve helped keep people talking about her talents through voting. That very well could be enough. Her dialed-in turn as a chess prodigy is so memorable, specific, and absorbing that she’ll pull in plenty of votes from admiring peers.

So who can stop her? I’m betting on the one, the only, the Kate Winslet. She last won 10 years ago for “Mildred Pierce,” and now she’s back with another arresting HBO drama. Her accent work, her role as executive producer, and her jovial presence on the interview circuit are all attributes unique to Winselt, and “Mare of Easttown’s” spring timing should help keep it fresh for voters, too. Could Taylor-Joy win? Absolutely. Coel? You bet. But I have to pick one name, and it’s just too hard to bet against Winslet.

Power Rankings:

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

Will Win: Kate Winslet, “Mare of Easttown”
Could Win: Anya Taylor-Joy, “The Queen’s Gambit” or Michaela Coel, “I May Destroy You”
Should Win: Any of the aforementioned actors

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