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Emmy Predictions 2020: Best Actress in a Drama Series

Laura Linney has her eye on Emmy No. 4, while Zendaya and Jennifer Aniston are closer than they may appear in her rearview mirror. [Updated September 20]

Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in "Euphoria" HBO

Hunter Schafer and Zendaya in “Euphoria”

Eddy Chen/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 Actress in a Drama Series. This article will be updated throughout the coming months, 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 the week of September 14. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Staples Center 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: Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”
Still Eligible: Yes.
Hot Streak: The Drama Actress race defies trends. For one, there hasn’t been a repeat winner since Claire Danes took home back-to-back trophies for “Homeland” in 2012 and 2013. Networks have been similarly split, with two wins for streamers, two wins for cable channels, and two wins for broadcast networks in the last six years. Well, there is one consistency: Despite swimming in gold every year, HBO hasn’t seen one of its lead drama actresses win an Emmy in nearly two decades. (Edie Falco won for “The Sopranos” in 2001.)
Fun Fact: “Cagney & Lacey” has the most wins of any program in this category, taking home six consecutive trophies between 1983 – 1988. (Tyne Daly won four, including the first three, while Sharon Glass won two.)
Notable Ineligible Series: Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones” (ended); Robin Wright, “House of Cards” (ended)

The State of the Race

What was a heated race just to get nominated has turned into a fierce fight for the gold. Each of the six nominees can make a strong case for frontrunner status, so let’s get into it.

Looking at both the individual performance and the accompanying show, Laura Linney appears to be in good shape. Her “Ozark” character, Wendy Byrde, earned quite a spotlight in Season 3, pushing the veteran actress through an intense spectrum of emotions. It also helps that the Netflix drama was well-received overall, earning 18 nominations from the TV Academy and acting nods for the three series regulars. (Though missing nominations for Tom Pelphrey and Janet McTeer were somewhat surprising.) Furthermore, Linney has a great track record at the Emmys: She’s won four trophies already for four different programs (“Wild Iris” in 2002, “Frasier” in 2004, “John Adams” in 2008, and “The Big C” in 2013), and this is her second straight nomination for “Ozark.”

But here’s where the tea leaves start to shift. “The Morning Show” may not have gotten a nod for Best Drama Series, but its cast landed five nominations, led by Jennifer Aniston. While some may claim these performers lack support due to snubs for the show as well as Reese Witherspoon, that’s a strong showing in the acting categories: more than “Ozark,” “The Crown,” and “Killing Eve.” And if the voters rally around one performer, you’d have to think it’s Aniston. She’s the lead of the show, the face of the show, and she’s already got a SAG win under her belt. The A-lister won her only Emmy in 2003 for “Friends,” so if the Academy wants to recognize her for Drama and/or feels like Linney has been given enough hardware, Aniston has a good shot to make Apple proud.

Meanwhile, people have been talking about Olivia Colman’s date with Emmy since before “The Crown” Season 3 came out. Her transformation remains stunning, and the Oscar winner’s gut-wrenching precision is on full display in the showcased episode, “Aberfan.” Really, the biggest slight anyone has made against the season is that there isn’t enough Colman, even though she carries the show. A similar complaint has been cited with Sandra Oh, who may not have had as juicy of an arc on “Killing Eve” Season 3 as her co-star, Jodie Comer, but both remain formidable opponents. Oh has yet to win, despite 11 nominations, and the Academy’s continued adoration of her BBC America drama keeps her in the running, especially after Comer’s surprise win last year. As for the one and only Villanelle, her case for No. 1 is simple: She’s the defending champion.

That leaves the true wild card of 2020: Zendaya. “Euphoria” landed six Emmy nominations, and that’s after being off the air for over a year and playing to young-ish audiences who don’t necessarily represent the bulk of Academy voters. That she got a nomination is impressive enough, but there’s clearly a passion and respect for Zendaya specifically, and that could translate to No. 1 votes come August. There’s no denying what’s onscreen, it’s just a matter if the majority of actors prefer her over a truly outstanding group of nominees.

Power Ranking the Nominees:

1. Laura Linney, “Ozark”
2. Zendaya, “Euphoria”
3. Jennifer Aniston, “The Morning Show”
4. Olivia Colman, “The Crown”
5. Jodie Comer, “Killing Eve”
6. Sandra Oh, “Killing Eve”

Will Win: Laura Linney, “Ozark”
Could Win:
Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Colman, or Zendaya
Should Win: Jennifer Aniston, “The Morning Show”

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