Emmys: How to Choose the Perfect Dildo and More Secrets From TV's Top Actresses

Courtesy of ABC; Courtesy of FX
Kerry Washington in 'Scandal' and Keri Russell in 'The Americans'

Top contenders from Kerry Washington to Keri Russell reveal the career moment that had them the most panicked this season — and how they overcame those fears.

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

THR asked: When were you the most panicked as an actress this season and how did you overcome those fears?

Caitriona Balfe
Outlander (Starz)

"The episode where I was forced to sing was absolutely terrifying. I am not a singer. When the writers told me they were going to do this, I laughed. They were like, 'No, really.' I have a terrible habit of humming to myself when we're hanging around set, so they were like, 'You can do this.' The day after we flew back from Comic-Con last year, I was going to have to start filming that stuff, and I remember thinking, 'I haven't even had a chance to rehearse!' In drama school, I had a music teacher tell me once, 'It's OK, everyone has their own talents.' And that put such a fear in me of ever singing again in public. But on the day, I just had to say, 'F— it.' I had to do it over and over again, and I think everyone on the crew just wanted to shoot themselves. I was delighted when I was done with that."

Christine Baranski
The Good Wife (CBS)

"I loved the episode I did with Oliver Platt about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but wanting to measure up to it was really scary. Most of it was me making intellectual arguments. It was a lot to remember, and I was anxious. I felt responsible to the episode. It was about gay marriage, which I believe in personally. You never know on the day whether all the work you've put in is going to hold and once the cameras are rolling if your nerves are going to derail you. But I was rock-solid. When it was over, I had a tremendous sense of not only relief but real triumph. Diane Lockhart's a first-rate lawyer. I am not, and I don't think it's a vocation I would've been successful at. I have to reach for Diane because in many ways, she's smarter than me. To have pulled that episode off made me feel good. I felt I was a better actor for having done it."

Kathy Bates
American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)

"It was a real surprise when Ryan [Murphy] told me I'd be playing a bearded lady! I'm glad I was on the phone, that he couldn't see any expressions on my face. It was like, 'Oh my God. That sounds … wow.' Then you don't get a script until weeks later, so there's a long time sitting on your hands thinking, 'What am I going to look like? How are we going to do it?' That was a panicky moment — not knowing how it was all going to come together. I made a lot of phone calls to our makeup people: 'Is it going to come off when I'm sweating? Is it going to require a lot of setup between takes?' Nobody wants to go through that, least of all me. I shouldn't have worried. The beard was made by this wonderful wigmaker, Victoria Woods. We settled on three pieces: a goatee and two sideburns that worked really well. And our special effects makeup guys found just the right surgical glue so that it didn't move too much. It felt like a hummingbird's nest — very soft and light. I loved it — and the really beautiful character under all of it. Ethel was really the heart of the freaks."

Linda Cardellini
Bloodline (Netflix)

"I was panicked for all of episode 12. The whole sequence — John's [Kyle Chandler] phone call, grabbing John, taking him to the hospital, leaving the hospital, making the decision to take care of the Danny situation for John, calling Kevin [Norbert Leo Butz], picking Kevin up, running into his ex-wife, trying not to let her know what's happening, picking the body up with Kevin, putting it in the car and then him telling me to go home. Suddenly, Meg's a little kid again, listening to her brother tell her what to do — I loved that. Then getting into the car, driving the body all over, getting stopped by the police, almost getting busted by my boyfriend and screaming at him, to then quietly having that scene with the three siblings in the aftermath — that whole build was so exciting. But there was a true amount of panic that went into it. The whole series has been building toward that. You want to be emotionally honest, and you try to imagine what that would be like — to do something you would never do. To find the delicate balance of this heightened panic and drama and still keep it grounded was very challenging."

Edie Falco
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

"As we were getting closer to the end of the series, there was one scene with Zoey [Merritt Wever] where I personally felt so emotional. I didn't know that I could separate myself from the character and do the scene. The idea of not working with her anymore was really more than I could manage. I'm so fond of her as a person and as an actress. I have all kinds of scenes to do all the time, and sometimes I have personal feelings around them, but it never gets to the point where it's an issue, so I was surprised. I had to pull myself away for a minute and buck up. There were, like, 200 people standing there, waiting for me to do my job. We ended up shooting that scene a lot, so it got easier as we went on. I don't ever like to feel like I can't pull myself together, especially at work. That was a close one."

Vera Farmiga
Bates Motel (A&E)

"When was I not panicked? I learned Rachmaninoff's 'Prelude in C-Sharp Minor' on the piano when I was 13, and that was infinitely easier than the torture to my soul that was season three. If I had to pick, it's a tie between two scenes where Norma spills her beans. They're these pivotal truth-telling scenes, the first one with Sheriff Romero [Nestor Carbonell], who confronts Norma about her deceptive behavior. He corners her and she comes out swinging like she's in a bona fide MMA match. The other one was with James [Joshua Leonard]. Norma divulges that her son killed her husband. I always know when my salivary glands stop working that I'm nervous, that there's a big task at hand. That scene left me completely busted. Acting's such an elusive sport. I always start from a personal place and just consider my own children. And music is huge for me. For the James scene, I listened to something — I don't want to say cheesy, because I really like this song, but it was something I'd seen on The Voice. I can't believe I'm going to divulge this. It was Taylor John Williams singing 'Mad World.' For whatever reason, the solemn quality of his voice was really instrumental in that scene. Whatever works, right?"

Sutton Foster
Younger (TV Land)

"I had to do my first sex scene, and I got myself so worked up about it. It's TV Land, not HBO, so it's not like I had to worry about exposing my body or anything. I'm a 40-year-old married woman, but suddenly, I felt like I was 15 and completely incapable, like I didn't know how to kiss or touch a boy. I said to the director, 'Please don't leave me to my own devices. Specifically tell me what you want.' The day came, and you just have to push that crap in your head aside because there are people waiting for you to get in the bed and just do it. And it ended up being not a big deal. It was a closed set. All the camera guys were great, and my co-star, Nico [Tortorella], was phenomenal. Now I'm excited if something like that comes up again. At least I'll have a frame of reference."

Lauren Graham
Parenthood (NBC)

"The first thing that comes to mind is Mae Whitman's character gave birth, and we had about 20 minutes to do it because of restrictions that had to do with the baby and the abandoned hospital we were shooting in. That was a panicky moment technically. But to me the biggest challenge was restraint, and that's something I learned over time on Parenthood. Especially after people crying — both the actors in scenes and the audience watching — became a thing. I tried to really ask myself, especially in the last six episodes, was it necessary? And was my emotion, in some way, going to rob the audience? I have a close relationship with my dad, and going through that journey of Zeek being sick with Craig [T. Nelson] was very personally emotional. You have to be disciplined. Those scenes with Craig, I just thought, 'If someone is ill, you don't show them how worried you are' — not even my character, who had her limitations."

Felicity Huffman
American Crime (ABC)

"Gosh, there were so many. American Crime felt like a tightrope walk. There's a scene in the first episode where Russ [Timothy Hutton] and Barb get out of the car and have this fight on the side of the road. John Ridley said, 'I'm going to shoot it in one [take].' I thought, 'Wow, whatever one he uses, there's no helping with the editing. What you see is what you have.' That scene was incredibly specific as to where you stopped, where you turned. All these choreographed moves. And then there were the usual challenges of trying to act well. There was so much painful history between Barb and Russ, which was not seen, but I felt the audience needed to have a taste of it. Otherwise, she just comes off as a bitch. Getting to that place was challenging. I never overcome anxiety or fear. You just have an objective that's bigger than your fear. And remember, it was the pilot. I thought, 'Nobody's ever going to see this thing!' "

Lisa Kudrow
The Comeback (HBO)

"There was the scene in the desert when Valerie's bound and gagged in the trunk. The trunk was rigged, so someone had a button and it would just pop open, except it wasn't working. I'm in the trunk with tape around my mouth. My hands are tied. Not that tight, but still. I knew I was fine because there was air conditioning, but I kept hearing everyone sitting around the monitors: Kachink, kachink. 'It's not working.' Kachink. And I started getting panicked for that girl inside the trunk. And I knew very soon we were going to have a live snake in there with me. It was like, 'I don't care how long it takes. Fix the trunk for when I'm in there with the snake.' They figured out a different rigging, and we ran it through a couple times. Then Michael Patrick King came over and said, 'We need the snake close to your face.' I said, 'No, you don't.' Michael's like, 'Trust me. You'll be happy we did this.' I said, 'I'm not happy now. Let's just do it.' And that's when we got the perfect shot. Then when we were done, I stepped away and had a little cry."

Amy Landecker
Transparent (Amazon)

"We call it 'Dildo Day.' We got our scripts at the beginning of the year, and I came upon my second love scene with Tammy [Melora Hardin] where I say, 'Get the dick, get the dick, get the dick!' You realize you're going to be saying that out loud over and over again on camera. Then you realize this dick is actually going to be some sort of plastic member because, of course, you're in a lesbian love scene. I'm a pretty experienced human being, but I had no relationship to dildos before this. I remember the prop person coming to set — literally, this is one of the funniest moments of my life — asking me to pick out the dildo that I'd like to have used. I'm laughing, going, 'I don't know!' Like, they always offer, 'What wedding ring do you want? What would you like to drink? What would you like in your coffee?' Now it was like, 'What dildo would you like?' Of course, the one that I pick, to add to the comedy, was already taken by Gaby Hoffmann's character. Like, 'No, that's the giant sparkly one for her scene later in the season.' So I settled on a purple thing I thought might add to the humor of the scene. That's a moment I'll remember the rest of my career. And now people call out to me, 'Get the dick!' That's my catchphrase."

Queen Latifah
Bessie (HBO)

"The natural inclination would be to say the nude scene. Everything that led up to it might have been a little worrisome. 'OK, is the spray tan on well?' I'd never been spray-tanned in my life until this movie. I'm butt-ass naked, and yeah, there was a little anxiety about putting it onscreen. But it actually was kind of a day off compared to all the things I'd been shooting up until that point — fighting, loving, drinking, getting battered and bruised. So actually, that was one of the most peaceful moments in terms of what I had to do. It was quiet. It was calm. There were only a couple people in the room. It was dimly lit, so I didn't feel them so much. And I really felt like Bessie by then. I felt like I was in her skin. I was like, 'We're good. I'm going to let it all hang out.' I'm a person who enjoys being naked anyway. Clothes kind of get on my nerves sometimes."

Keri Russell
The Americans (FX)

"The first thing I think of is that scene when we have to tell our daughter, Paige [Holly Taylor], this incredible truth that's going to change her life forever: We're spies. It felt like such a big moment in the story. My favorite thing about our show is when the spy stuff falls back and it becomes a family or marriage drama. I had to watch this teenager who's in so much pain and realize that, as parents, we're a cause of that because of all these lies. It was complicated on many levels. Holly's a sensitive, graceful creature, so watching her cry, instantly I'm crying and trying to stuff it in. You just want to make sure she's OK. And also, I was a kid actor, which I think is Creep City anyway. It's a complicated way to grow up, and it's not something I think I'd ever let my kids do. So there was that part of me watching her on this tightrope, and my heart was going out to her. As painful as it was, it became easy to shoot because you're just reacting in a human way. The character of Elizabeth can be perceived as a not-great mom, but I feel like in that moment, she was trying to be there for her daughter."

Kristen Schaal
The Last Man on Earth (Fox)

"'Panicked' is a pretty good word for how I felt about the proposal scene! My character Carol realizes that she and Phil (Will Forte) should move forward with the repopulation of the planet, but Carol says they have to be married first. I had that script for a while, and I really couldn't understand why she'd want to be married before they have sex. I wanted it to come from a real place. I didn't want people to think she was just batshit crazy. I was talking to my mom, and she was like, 'I know a lot of women who'd want to be married.' It just hit me how important it was for Carol to start the legacy off in the new world in the right way. She's such a rule-follower. She was very lonely in the old world, and now she wants it to go down the way she always dreamed it would. Shooting it was easy because I'd spent so many hours rolling it around in my head."

Gabrielle Union
Being Mary Jane (BET)

"There was the scene where my character, Mary Jane, moderates a panel about 'ugly black women.' Trying to control my own personal rage was a challenge. Not that Mary Jane always is objective, but trying to make sure that my personal feelings were not overwhelming the moment — I don't know if I was successful. I think in that instance, Mary Jane and I became one. My bible for my character is [former CNN anchor] Soledad O'Brien, so I watched YouTube clips of her Black in America. All of my nerves — I wouldn't say they disappeared, but I'd done the work and it just came out. After it aired, I was just relieved I didn't screw it up and that we kept that particular conversation going. We helped shape a very important and necessary dialogue. That was cool."

Kerry Washington
Scandal (ABC)

"I felt a little bit out to sea with the kidnapping episode. I had to ask myself: Who is Olivia without all the things that normally define her? None of our usual actors were in the episode. I didn't have my usual wardrobe or office. I didn't have any of the armor that helps me be Olivia. Our writing is so great that you just have to lean into it. I thought, 'Whatever I'm fearing in terms of being in unknown territory, she's experiencing something similar.' It was almost as if Shonda [Rhimes] had dropped in this little feature for me in the middle of a season where I got to be in an entirely different world, yet I was playing someone I have grown to love. Another big moment for me last season was the Ferguson-inspired episode. Olivia went from being a hired fixer for the police to crossing the picket line and being part of the protest. I think in the beginning it was very important for us not to talk a lot about race on the show. Everybody had to be able to identify with Olivia. But we've had a coming-of-age. It was no longer necessary to have Olivia be the everywoman. She could simultaneously be everywoman and a black woman. There's something really special about that."

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