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

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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Vera Farmiga
Lead Actress, Drama
Bates Motel (A&E)

How my character and I differ: Actresses are always clamoring for strong female characters, I think we should want more “weak” female characters. Not weak as in damsel in distress, but flawed. What’s so beautiful about her is her perseverance. She’s neurotic, downright errant, repressed, an insufferable know-it- all, but she’s strong. My favorite scene from last season: When Norma chooses to divulge to Norman that she was the victim of incest just as the doorbell rings and it’s his date for the school prom. It was quintessential Norma at her quirkiest, at her most broken. My dream guest star: A tie between Dianne Wiest, Deborah Harry or Cher to play Norma’s mad-hatter mom, and Gene Wilder to play her dad or freaky uncle. My dream guest-star gig: Vikings! I want cornrows and I want to guest star as a flamboyant warrior. Get me a guest role on Vikings!

Tina Fey
Lead Actress, Comedy
30 Rock (NBC)

How my character and I differ: Liz is a Sliding Doors version of me ... she stayed in that time before I was married, living in New York, serving as head writer. Liz is possibly a little more sour than I am, slightly less optimistic, and she’s a workhorse in the way that I possibly used to be. The most difficult part of playing Liz: It would have to be doing any sort of romantic scene. It’s weird because you’re playing this version of a person who is close to you, and then you pay an actor to kiss you. You feel like a john, like you’re soliciting that person to be there. My favorite scene from last season: The scene with Tracy [Morgan] at the strip club, which really bookended the series because in the pilot we’re in the same strip club. It really was seven years later, and it was very emotional but also kind of cathartic and sweet. The first person I’ll thank if I win the Emmy: A-Rod.

Anna Gunn
Supporting Actress, Drama
Breaking Bad (AMC)

How my character and I differ: I’m a more emotional person and much more accessible. Skylar is somebody who has learned through her experiences to keep things buried. The most difficult part of playing Skylar: In the early days, when I was playing things like finding out about Walt’s cancer,
I found it difficult not to react emotionally, and Vince [Gilligan] was pretty adamant about me playing against the emotion of things because he had this idea of Skylar being somebody with a backbone of steel. What I love about playing Skylar: I appreciate her strength. She was the one who never, ever said, “I buy your line of bullshit.” Even when she was most terrified of Walt, she still quietly held her ground. My dream guest star: We always were wondering who Marie and Skylar’s parents were, and at one point Vince said that their mom probably left at an early age and their dad was this heavy drinker. He said, “I have this idea of Kris Kristofferson playing him,” which I thought would have been awesome.

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Christina Hendricks
Supporting Actress, Drama
Mad Men (AMC)

The thing I need most to play Joan: It’s a layered effect, but once the hair is up and you zip up that last tight skirt, it solidifies things. The tight skirt and the updo really do it. The first thing I do on set: I have it timed out: I live six minutes from work, so every day I show up on the dot with wet hair, I throw my purse in my trailer and go straight into hair and makeup. My dream guest star gig: I want to be on all of them because I’ll be unemployed in a year, so put that out there! I want to be on Homeland because I love the suspense of it, but I also want to be on Game of Thrones. I want to wear pelts and horns and ride around on horseback. If I weren't an actress, I would be: I think I would make a great florist.

Jane Krakowski
Supporting Actress, Comedy
30 Rock (NBC)

How my character and I differ: Delusion. I think Jenna lived in a world of delusion, and it was so incredibly fun to play a character with no sense of reality. My favorite scene from last season: In the finale, I love that the thing that made Jenna cry the most was saying goodbye to her mirror, and then they played a montage of Jenna admiring herself. FunnIest co-star: Tracy [Morgan], hands down. One of the great joys of working on 30 Rock was watching Tracy in read-throughs. The first person I’ll thank if I wIn the Emmy: Oh, if I get up there, whoever I thank I am going to do it in a song! But there is nobody to thank more than Tina Fey.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Lead Actress, Comedy
Veep (HBO)

How my character and I differ: She’s got shorter hair than I do, she wears panty hose more than I do, and she certainly wears pearls more than I do. I swear like a drunken sailor, but she swears more frequently, much more cleverly and much more beautifully than I do. Also, she’s completely out of her mind. What I love about playing Selina: I love to play somebody who is in charge, but there’s an aspect of indignity about the role. The idea of being powerful and powerless at the same time is where the comedy lies in the show. What I need most to play SelIna: I need that wig like nobody’s business. (“Wiggy” is a total bitch by the way — moody and difficult.) And I need a very tight, well-tailored suit because then I feel very constricted and it helps me feel irritated. Funniest co-star: I can’t look Tony Hale in the eye for very long without losing it — I look at his ear or chin or the top of his head— and Matt Walsh has this sort of hangdog, lost-at-sea look that slays me every time. My dream guest-star gig: If HBO ever decided to do another movie about Liberace, maybe I could play Liberace.

Elisabeth Moss
Lead Actress, Drama
Mad Men (AMC)

How my character and I differ: We’re both at our happiest when we’re working, but the biggest difference is that she is extremely incapable of finding happiness in other places. She can only seem to figure out the work part. What I need most to play Peggy: It’s the shoes. There’s something about the heels, the way they make you stand and the way they make you feel. Favorite scene from last season: I have a soft spot for the episode where Peggy and Abe [Charlie Hofheimer] break up, and she stabs him and then she goes to the office looking all messed up. She seeks out Ted [Kevin Rahm], and he puts her down, so she walks out of his office and tries to walk into Don’s, and he closes his door. It was a real pie-in-the-face moment for Peggy, where she’s stuck in the middle and she realizes that she is worse off than she ever was. My dream guest-star gig: My biggest regret is not having been on Friday Night Lights because I loved that show, but now the obvious one would be Downton Abbey. I feel like I would probably be downstairs, not upstairs.

Sofia Vergara
Supporting Actress, Comedy
Modern Family (ABC)

What I need most to play Gloria: The outfits. With Gloria I can wear things that I would never wear in real life because they are so over-the-top. The truth is that I play her just to see how I look in those outfits! What gets me through a day on set: The grips know me, and they hide these all over the set: hot tamales and marshmallows! So in between scenes I’m eating them. My dream guest star gig: I love Revenge! I think it’s like a soap opera in Latin America, but only with really wealthy people.

Kerry Washington
Lead Actress, Drama
Scandal (ABC)

What I love about playing Olivia: I think it’s the dichotomy. In some ways she is the most powerful person in almost every room she walks into, but her personal life is a mess. The most difficult part of playing Olivia: The sheer workload of playing this kind of character for 22 episodes. It’s living in a state of high anxiety and stress for nine months. My dream guest star gig: I’m a huge Game of Thrones fan, but I also fantasize about a celebrity Amazing Race.

Merritt Wever
Supporting Actress, Comedy
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

How my character and I differ: She’s a lot more optimistic and confident than I am. She’s willing to give anything a shot, and sometimes she can be a little overly confident, but it often makes for fun things to play. What I love about playing Zoey: Working with Edie [Falco]. I know that it sounds like a brown-nosing response but it is that, plus the physical comedy and absurdity of Zoey sometimes. What I need most to play Zoey: When Zoey is out of her scrubs, it can feel a little strange. Maybe the pink scrubs with the bunnies and whatnot give me license somehow to act ridiculous. My funniest co-star: I think Steve Wallem is amazing. He’s somebody who is really fun to have on set, and because of the nature of our characters, I’ve had times where I had to control myself instead of letting myself go there with him. The first person I’ll thank if I win the Emmy: Edie. I haven’t thought like that though. The whole process is so scary that my mind hasn’t even gotten to the dress yet.

Robin Wright
Lead Actress, Drama
House of Cards (Netflix)

How my character and I differ: My moral compass couldn’t be more different than a Claire Underwood — I can’t imagine living in a relationship where it’s OK to have dalliances if that’s what is needed to further a career. I’m much more conventional and old-school than that. That and I don’t wear Spanx. What drew me to the character: I didn’t have a script when I signed on — it was David Fincher selling me on the conceptual idea of this person. He assured me that it would be much more interesting and layered, that it would be a partnership with Francis Underwood [Kevin Spacey], with my character being Lady Macbeth to his Richard the Third. My favorite scene from last season: The one I have with Zoe [Kate Mara] when I’m in her apartment. I think we did a take where I actually leaned in and kissed her lips, but they didn’t use it. You want to see that Claire wants to f— her also. My dream guest star: I love Bryan Cox, and one of the greatest actors ever is Mark Rylance. As far as women actors, working with Meryl Streep would just be a gift.

NOMINEES NOT INCLUDED
Maggie Smith (supporting, Downton Abbey), Amy Poehler (lead, Parks and Recreation), Lena Dunham (lead, Girls), Claire Danes (lead, Homeland) and Jane Lynch (supporting, Glee).