Emmys: 21 Nominated Actresses Talk On-Set Rituals and Character Quirks

Tina Fey in 30 Rock
Ali Goldstein/NBC

The female nominees for best lead and supporting roles reveal what they need to get into character, which show they’d die to guest star on ("Game of Thrones"!) and how wigs can be a bitch.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's August Emmy stand-alone issue.

Dying to know which shows are calling to Emmy-nominated actresses? Looking for insights on how they get into their (extremely different) characters? 21 actresses tell THR, in their own words, what it's like doing their jobs right now.

Morena Baccarin
Supporting Actress, Drama
Homeland (Showtime)

The most difficult part of playing Jessica: Think of a scene that is four minutes long; I spend 10 to 12 hours working on that — that’s an entire day being in that shitty situation and really vulnerable. I can’t leave work without: It used to be a glass of wine — or three — but now I’m pregnant, so it’s a cup of tea. My dream guest star: Lena Dunham. I think she’s incredibly smart, and I would love to see what she’d do with this crazy spy-thriller world we’ve created. The first person I’ll thank if I win the Emmy: You save the best for last, so that’s my husband, but first would be my manager, Sarah Jackson. She was adamant we chase this show, and I thought there was no way in hell anyone would go for it.

Christine Baranski
Supporting Actress, Drama
The Good Wife (CBS)

How my character and I dIffer: She’s more self-contained and has a particular kind of intellect. I’ve always been fascinated by how actors play people smarter than themselves. What I need most to play Diane: The costumes and that wonderfully sparse set with those red accessories. When I enter those law offices, it draws me to my center. I think: “OK, less is more. You run this place.” My dream guest-star gig: Game of Thrones. It reminds me of classical acting we did at Juilliard. There’s something unabashed about that style — I could really release my inner bitch. No subtlety there! My dream guest star: Alan Rickman. He has that marvelous droll quality. I’d love it if he were a friend of Diane’s.

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Mayim Bialik

Supporting Actress, Comedy
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

How my character and I differ: Not much! She’s a very unusual, tactless and late-to-develop character socially. The first thing I do on set: On tape night, I have onion rings and half a Coca-Cola, and I study with a friend. We study Jewish philosophy — that’s my pre-Tuesday ritual during dinner break. It puts some perspective on what we’re doing, and it takes my mind off the Coke and onion rings. My dream guest-star gig: Saturday Night Live. They have a quirky-girl bit (“Bein’ Quirky”) where they mention me as Blossom, so I think it would be hysterical if they had me on for a cameo. If I weren't an actress, I would be: I was a scientist before. Actually, in between — I was an actor when I was younger. I’m probably going to continue teaching in our homeschool community.

Julie Bowen
Supporting Actress, Comedy 
Modern Family (ABC)

How my character and I differ: I’m the amalgamation of all the writers’ sisters or wives or themselves, and I’m getting a crash course in parenting. They’ve made it OK for me to look at my own children occasionally with disgust and still know I love them deeply. Claire’s further along the track than I am. I sent my kid to camp yesterday without lunch and was mortified when they called to tell me they had to give my child food! Claire is better than that. The most difficult part of playing Claire: There is a very, very fine line between being shrill and being a real mom. My dream guest-star gig: Orange Is the New Black. There’s violence, lesbian sex, power games, seduction — it is a dark, dark place. It’s genius! If I weren't an actress, I would be: My major was Italian Renaissance Studies, so I’d probably be working at a coffee shop.

Connie Britton
Lead Actress, Drama
Nashville (ABC)

What I love about playing Rayna: All of the singing and performing — that’s the biggest challenge as an actor, but it’s also the most exciting. You’re at the edge of your own learning curve. My funniest co-star, Chip [Charles] Esten, who plays Deacon, makes it very hard to keep it together. We were shooting this scene that was the aftermath of a car crash, and we’re crumpled up in this car just dying with laughter. My dream guest-star gig: I really want to be on Girls. I’ve been very public about that, and I know [co-showrunners] Lena [Dunham] and Jenni Konner. We’ve talked about it for a long time now, and it just needs to happen. The first person I'll thank if I win the Emmy: The Academy. This is my fourth nomination, and they’ve been so supportive and jumped on board for both Kyle Chandler and me for Friday Night Lights. I don’t take any of that for granted.

Anna Chlumsky
Supporting Actress, Comedy
Veep (HBO)

How my character and I differ: Amy doesn’t have a lot of respect for others. As ambitious as I am, she has a Machiavellian streak where everybody is a piece in the game. What I need most to play Amy: I always tell myself “speed chess,” because it’s like playing a very strategic game, very quickly. And she wears her hair the same way every single day, and if the part is even a centimeter to the left or to the right, it doesn’t feel like Amy. My favorite scene from last season: The one where Selina [Julia Louis-Dreyfus] runs the half marathon and also walks into a glass door. We filmed the hotel scene where she’s supposed to be loopy on St. John’s wort pretty much straight through like a little one-act. It’s like candy to an actor to get to play a scene that long.

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Emilia Clarke
Supporting Actress, Drama
Game of Thrones (HBO)

How my character and I differ: Aside from the dragons and the hair? She is definitely more fearless. The most difficult part of playing Daenerys: The Valyrian and Dothraki [fictional languages]. There are days when it just hasn’t gone in — those are the Tourette’s days, when my British potty mouth comes out. I’ll try to speak Dothraki, and the only word that comes to mind is an expletive! My dream guest star: Cate Blanchett. If she could just come in and be a Targaryen. And Cate Blanchett’s son should be Ryan Gosling, whom I would have to marry

Laura Dern
Lead Actress, Comedy
Enlightened (HBO)

How my character and I differ: I have learned to have boundaries in my life, which makes my life easier but also makes me harder to be around. The most difficult part of playing Amy: Keeping my “skin” raw enough that one word — not even the wrong word — taken the wrong way, and I would leap into an unbelievably, inappropriately huge response. What I need most to play Amy: Longing. That pretty much sums her up, and I find it relatable. My favorite scene from last season: My favorite Amy moment was when Dermot Mulroney’s character dumps her and he says something like, “We both knew that this was never going anywhere,” and instead of the Amy you’ve watched go ape shit for two seasons, she says, “I didn’t know.” I loved it — it showed that sometimes maturity and wisdom comes from being your most vulnerable self.

Michelle Dockery
Lead Actress, Drama
Downton Abbey (PBS)

What I love about playing Mary: She is so direct in her delivery and what she thinks. As much as [show creator] Julian [Fellowes] made Mary more vulnerable in the second season, he never shied away from her being shockingly cutting. I’m glad that she hasn’t lost the sting in her tail. The most difficult part of playing Mary: Sometimes getting into the accent in the morning, I have to kind of work on it a bit. It really is a different voice that I use as Mary and that, to me, more than costumes, is my character. My dream guest star: I always say that someone like George Clooney would just be hilarious. If I weren't an actress, I would be: Maybe something in music. ... Or a midwife. (Laughs.)

Edie Falco
Lead actress, Comedy
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

How my character and I differ: Jackie bulldozes her way through her life. She needs what she needs and goes after it, which is very different from my people-pleasing persona. The most difficult part of playing Jackie: The memory of being at the mercy of an active addiction is very troubling. And to realize that there are so many people I know and love, as well as many people I don’t know, who are dealing with this. ... That part can nag at me. My favorite scene from last season: When Zoey (Merritt Wever) and Thor (Stephen Wallem) kept calling for a doctor and no one would come, so Zoey went ahead and did the procedure herself. There’s something about the way Merritt goes about this stuff, a quiet calm, it’s magical. My dream guest-star gig: I know I’m late on the uptake, but I’ve become a maniacal fan of Downton Abbey — a cuckoo-crazy fan. Why the hell not? I could be their American cousin or something.

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