Claire Foy, Sandra Oh, More Top Actresses on Difficult Scenes, Surprising Responses to Their Shows

7:00 AM 8/6/2018

by THR staff

Across comedy, drama and limited series, 17 nominated actresses reveal their greatest challenges, favorite scenes — and the luminaries they're hoping to encounter on Emmy night.

Top Actresses on Difficult Scenes-Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of BBC AMERICA/Sid Gentle Films Ltd; HBO; Robert Viglasky/Netflix

Written by Daniel J. Fienberg, Rebecca Ford, Lauren Huff, Katie Kilkenny, Hilary Lewis, Michael O'Connell, Brian Porreca, Bryn Elise Sandberg, and Jackie Strause

A version of this story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Pamela Adlon

    Better Things' second season found Sam dealing with a string of awful men and, in many ways, anticipated the #MeToo conversation. In hindsight, as you were working on the season, did you sense something in the water?

    I didn't at all. It's a very interesting thing to reflect on because my show, the throughline is male shittiness. It's always been the thing. That anytime Sam can shit on men, I have wanted to kind of put the lens on that. I have this motto that every mom is a single mom because even if they're married, they're single. Where's the dads? I think [#MeToo] blindsided everybody. Things are so different. What's stunning is when certain things remain the same after this massive evolution. So, I'm fortunate because in my show I still have those kinds of stories to tell.

    The scene with Sam and Jeff [Greg Cromer] at the end of the episode "Blackout," where she rebuffs his advances by saying "No!" dozens of times, both assertive ?and humorous, it's such an amazingly cathartic scene.

    Oh, my God, it's so satisfying. People go nuts because they think it's going to end, and then it keeps going. It's so fun. Greg Cromer's stupid face, and his eyes bulging out, it kills me. It's hilarious. You know, the scene where I'm telling off John Ales [who plays Rodney] in the parking lot at Musso & Frank? So many women are fucking nuts about that scene. One woman told me that the next day she broke up with her boyfriend. I like when people use my show as a tool.

    How fully planned and choreographed was the season-closing graduation dance?

    From the first day of prep, which was in February, until the day we did it, which was in June, it was a well-cultivated and curated secret. I did secret choreography every weekend. Mikey Madison knew nothing about it until the day we did it. We pulled the pages when I released the script to my crew. So, it just really ends with Mikey opening a box and saying, "It's so beautiful." It was a lot, a lot of work, and worth every single second.

    Click here to read Adlon's full Q&A.

  • Jessica Biel

    You said in June that you want to find characters you're "terrified" to portray. What terrified you about Cora?

    The most terrifying thing about Cora is her unreliability — her complicated psychological situation where she doesn't even know the truth. The idea of trying to untangle the web of this woman's brain seemed very terrifying to me. Could I actually do this? Would I be able to make it happen and be able to create a character that people would want to follow, would want to watch for eight episodes after she commits this heinous [act]?

    How did being a producer change your relationship to the final material?

    It's an entirely different, unique experience because I was able to be a part of it from the ground up on every level, with every decision — being walked through the marketing, the publicity, the whole game plan — that I had never really been privy to before. The experience was a million percent different and more engaging and more creative. It was a real confidence-building experience.

    What was your favorite scene to film in the series’ first season and why?
    The scenes in the past tense with Nadia [Alexander], who played my sister, and the last episode, where we’re in a full flashback and going through that crazy party night, that had more of a fun energy and vibrancy to it than our scenes in the present, which felt so much heavier. That was the time where it was really like, what is her mind doing, where is she in the moment, do we trust or do we not trust her, do we like her or do we not like her? All this back and forth that I felt that we had to contend with with this character. 
    How has The Sinner changed the kinds of projects you're being offered in Hollywood?

    It always happens that the most recent thing you've done is basically then the same thing that then gets offered to you. For whatever reason, people in my industry that I wanted to work with responded to that character, so I was having some really cool conversations about similarly dark and complex female characters, which is the dream.

    Whom would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    Edie Falco. She's a big influence of mine.

    What's the one thing you never want to be asked about again on the red carpet?
    Politics. It’s too intense of an experience to have a thoughtful answer.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    The people in your life who support you to ?be able to work in this capacity. Because you can't do it without a ?huge support system helping at home when you're gone a million ?hours a day.

  • Rachel Brosnahan

    What was the most challenging scene for you to shoot?

    It's a tie! The first scene at the Copa was a very extensive single shot that involved a crane and dancers where no one could drop a line or miss a mark or we had to start over. It took us almost nine hours to get it right, but it looks amazing! There was also a scene where Imogene (Bailey De Young) and Midge are packing goody bags: so many tiny props, so many words. It was like patting your head and rubbing your stomach.

    Amy Sherman-Palladino is known for her rapid-fire dialogue. Were there any exchanges that were particularly tough to get through?

    All of them? Amy and [her husband and producing partner] Dan [Palladino] have a love affair with tongue twisters and alliteration, and they love watching me suffer. One of the hardest was in the same goody bag scene. The line is "Imogene! You're putting the Tiny Tina baby carriages in the boys' bags!" ?Half the takes I accidentally said, "Tina Turner."

    What do you hope for Midge in season two? Happiness? Contentment? Success?

    All of the above, but I feel like success is what she's most immediately concerned with as we leave her in season one. Success and growth — both personally and professionally.

    What was it like filming part of season two in Paris?

    It was a dream! We ate all the baguettes, drank a lot of espresso and got to shoot all over beautiful Paris [in March and April].

    Whom would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    I'm awkward at parties. I'll be too busy eating sushi and cupcakes in the corner.

  • Laura Dern

    What's the most unexpected response you've gotten to The Tale?

    Unexpected friends reaching out with their own stories of childhood abuse and trauma. It's opened up relationships in a profoundly deep way.

    Which of your co-stars is best suited to run for office?

    Common because he has an important voice in the world. He is incredibly brilliant politically and he would be as revolutionary as he is in his art.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    Well, my wish has come true this year. I hope to continue to use the opportunity to talk about how voices matter and culturally support each other in this paradigm shift that has been happening — that the red carpet can be a place that is authentic and about things that ?matter at a time that we're seeing a lot ?of brokenness.

    And what's the one thing you never want to be asked about again?

    I mean, I guess, unless he's on my arm and super lovely, I don't think you need to be asked about your relationship on the carpet. Gossipy question in the middle of a lovely day.

    Whom would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    I was so excited to see a tribe of friends nominated. David Lynch at the top of the list. Bill Hader, Ted Danson, Issa Rae.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Revolutionaries. I'd put David Lynch on that list. I wish there was a category for people who broke boundaries because that's what keeps art and culture going. We need our radicals.

  • Michelle Dockery

    Why did you want to take on Godless after Downton Abbey?

    I was instantly hooked and drawn to Alice. But I certainly didn't expect to do a Western at that point in my career or, to be honest, at any point. It's not a genre that I would necessarily expect to play in. The Western genre is something that to me is so American — it's so far from the British drama.

    Why were you drawn to Alice?

    Alice was a challenge to play because much of her was internalized. She was one of those women of that time who have been through so much, and that establishes them with something that I was really drawn to. [Director] Scott [Frank] was most of the time telling me to do less, which is sometimes hard to do — you feel like you're not doing anything.

    What's the worst part of shooting a Western?

    The dust. Mostly the characters have bandannas and scarves around their necks — that wasn't just character choice. That was because so often the wind would sweep past, and it goes everywhere. You're just covered in dust the whole time.

    What's the one thing you never want to be asked about again on the red carpet?

    I am so relieved to be able to answer the question of "Is a Downton [Abbey] movie happening?" It's something that has been rumored for so long, and now it's been announced. So that will be a relief.

  • Edie Falco

    Leslie Abramson, the attorney you portray, didn't participate in the making of this. Do you hope she has watched the show?

    I don't really go there. I don't want to intrude ?on anybody else's experiences. I think this ?was a tough time in her life, and though I think it's sort of interesting and important to tell the story to the viewing public, I have certain reservations about wanting to mess with that period of time in her life. Whatever she decided to do was fine with me.

    Was it difficult getting into her mind-set?

    No, not really. I'm a mom, so I could relate to a lot of the maternal stuff that she was feeling toward these boys, and especially when it ?is discovered just how poorly these kids had been raised and the horrible stuff they went through. Pretty much anyone could find that easy to care about.

    What did you find surprising about this case?

    I think the reason I did it is because I found everything surprising. Everything about the case was new to me, and that's why I was interested in telling the story.

    You've been nominated for 14 Emmys. Do you have any fond memories from awards past?

    For The Sopranos the very first year [1999], a lot of us were nominated. Everything about being on that show was exciting. All the attention [the series] got that first year was pretty thrilling.

    Whom would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    What I love about it is that I never really know who I'm going run into. I finally watched The Handmaid's Tale and it's just chilling. Every year there is something I've been watching closely, and I get a little bit knock-kneed around seeing those actors.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Every production assistant on set: the guys who really keep the whole thing running. I ?had this lovely woman Teresa on Menendez. If you have one that's really nice, it can change the entire experience.

  • Claire Foy

    What were some of the challenges in portraying the queen this season?

    The second season felt much more real in the sense that it was a bit messier, especially with Elizabeth making decisions, not really believing in herself and going back on things. Because of that, she was very, very isolated. She had a very lonely storyline because she realized that ultimately the buck stops with her, and all the people that she wanted to help her, protect her and look after her hop off, essentially, because of the distance that's created by the role. It was a challenge [to] keep people interested in someone who isn't just struggling outwardly with something that everybody can understand, but to ask the audience to go along with someone who is internally struggling with their own place in the world and her lack of understanding about herself — that, I think, is a big arc for an audience. And so it was therefore a bit difficult for me: I was like, "God, are people going to care as much?" But they cared more, which has been the most amazing thing.

    On the reverse side of that, what was your favorite scene this season?

    I loved the birth scene because it felt quite cathartic for her as a character. We saw two births in this series, and one of them was owned by the state [the heir to the throne], and the second one was her own — it was hers and her husband's. But also, any of ?my scenes with Matt [Smith]. They were always so full of all sorts of stuff, and so I always loved doing those scenes with him.

    Obviously, it’s your final season on The Crown. How did it feel to say goodbye to Elizabeth on your final day of work?

    It was such a special experience and such a real honor of a character, so I don’t think I will [say goodbye], and I don’t know if I want to, either. I’m very, very sentimental about all of the characters I play and the experiences I have [playing them], so I don’t really want to let go of them. I’ll just cling on for dear life.

    Have you given any advice to Olivia Colman, who is going to be taking over the role?

    No, none. It’s not her first rodeo. She is an incredibly accomplished and gifted actress, so nothing I could say would help her. All I can have is warm thoughts and feelings about her, and hope she gets them every once and a while.

    How has portraying Elizabeth for two seasons changed how you approach? the roles you're being offered or the way you work?

    It taught me so much about being brave and trusting my instincts ?and not second-guessing myself because I didn't have a chance ?to second-guess myself when I was shooting that. I'm always going ?to be on the lookout for complacency or thinking that I always have the right answer, and I definitely struggle. But I think what that job gave me is a healthy dose of "I'm ?not always wrong," whereas before, ?I just thought I was wrong all the time. I was given a sort of agency over my own acting. I had never really felt that before.

    What are some of the unexpected reactions you’ve gotten to The Crown this season? 
    Someone who shall remain very nameless said they had a bit of a thing for Queen Elizabeth. I was like "What? I'm very much middle-aged." And they were like "Hey, don’t ask me! I’m just as surprised as you." It’s not quite the same as when someone tells you they find you attractive — [in this case] they find you dressed as the queen weirdly alluring. That was quite unexpected. 
    What’s one thing you’d never want to be asked on the red carpet again?
    “How do you feel?” 
    Which of your cast is best suited to run for office and why?
    John Lithgow. I think the time’s right, and he just needs to do it now. 
    Who would you most like to chat up at Emmys afterparties?
    Viola Davis.
  • Allison Janney

    What do you enjoy most about the show?

    This world of recovery is such a big part of so many people's lives and the show has found an important place in American television history. It resonates with so many people and it makes me feel so great when people come up to me and say, "Thank God for Mom." It's so rare getting to do something that makes people feel better during this time. Even now, more and ?more people are talking about people in recovery, and people are in recovery for so many things. We're really talking about it on this show and not shying away from it. And aside from that, just getting to work with some of these fucking fantastic women.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    I get red carpet anxiety. I don't like to be asked anything at all. (Laughs.) I would rather just take pictures and go in and have fun.

    Whom would you like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    I want to talk to Sandra Oh about Killing Eve because I fucking love that show so much. It's such a great role and I'm so excited for her that she's the first [woman ?of Asian descent] to be nominated for a lead. I started watching Handmaid's Tale, and I just can't do it! I don't want to see all these people get hanged. On [Game of Thrones], I fast-forward through any difficult scenes. For some reason, the killing scenes on Killing Eve, I mean, ?I had to close my eyes for some of them, but the way she did it, it's like, "What the fuck?! I can't believe she just did that!"

  • Regina King

    Why did you want to take on this role after American Crime?

    As an artist, when you have the opportunity to do something to express your art in spaces that are socially conscious, I tend to gravitate to those opportunities. It allows me to feel like I'm doing more than just art.

    How did you let go of such a dark role after you were done shooting?

    I don't think I ever let it go because until the real-life narrative changes, I ?don't think I ever will. I was doing press for the show, Live With Kelly, maybe two months ago, and they were showing a clip before I came out, and the emotion came back up. So that's what makes me feel like I don't think it's ever gonna go away. It really was heavy lifting. I was calling my son just with random things just to hear his voice.

    Whom would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    What has given me so much joy is seeing Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae nominated. Both of those women are friends of mine and are so talented.

  • Tatiana Maslany

    Is this nomination more meaningful ?than your others given that it's for ?the final season — and comes months after Orphan Black ended?

    Yes! It's such a surprise because we haven't been on for a while and it means so much. The last season meant so much to us; we really wanted it to be a good sendoff for all the characters, and for it to resonate with people means a lot.

    Which of your co-stars is best suited to run for office?

    Kevin Hanchard as Art [his Orphan ?Black character] and as himself. Or Jordan Gavaris. Everything Jordan says is so smart and articulate, and I'd trust Kevin.

    What's the best part of FYC season?

    Getting DVDs and getting to watch other people's work is very exciting.

    What's your one piece of advice for Emmy hosts Michael Che and Colin Jost?

    Make sure you eat food before and during the show. I'm worried about you guys!

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Best animal reaction shots!

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    I'd like to be asked about working with Kathryn Alexandre [her Orphan Black clone double].

    And what's the one thing you ?never want to be asked about again?

    "How do you keep allllllll the ?clones straight in your head?"

  • Elisabeth Moss

    What was the hardest scene this season to film?

    The entirety of episode 11 [in which June gives birth in an abandoned house]. It was a very physical episode, and I was in almost every scene. It was kind of fun doing a one-woman show. And then I gave birth! Which was actually quite physically difficult. But I did feel silly complaining when I'm sure actually giving birth is much more difficult.

    What do you hope for June next season?

    I hope that she finds the strength to do what she has to do but at the same time not lose her humanity. I think that she's going back a different person. She's found herself in this very unique position. She's the only person, the only handmaid, that can fight from the inside. She could leave and deal with the bureaucracy and the red tape from Canada, and that's a valuable thing to do, but there are people that are doing that from Canada. And there's only sort of one person who can stay, who knows the ropes and the lay of the land and who potentially has help, has an army and who knows how to play the game. And that's why she goes back — she goes back for Hannah, but she goes back for all those kids who need to be returned to their families. I think that, in order to do that, she may need to become a person who is colder, she may need to cross lines that she's never crossed before, she's going to have to lose a part of herself and become stronger and tougher, and I hope that that happens for her, but I also hope that she doesn't lose that spark of humanity that makes her who she is.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you'd be asked about?

    Things that are more about the work, than like, how long did it take you to get ready and what jewelry are you wearing? And the answers usually are, too long and I don't know. (Laughs.)

    ... and what's the one thing you never want to be asked about again?

    Team Nick or Team Luke. I am never going to answer that question, because I work with two wonderful actors and I just can't answer it. (Laughs.)

    Which of your cast is best suited to run for office? Why?

    Ann Dowd. She's the most warm, intelligent, funny, generous person and she takes no prisoners and she does not put up with BS and she's smart and honest. She could really give a great speech.

  • Sandra Oh

    Were you familiar with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's work before you signed on?

    Fleabag was this very specific voice, but the parts that I enjoyed about it I could tell were the same in the Killing Eve pilot. This woman is capable of writing a completely different genre while keeping her own voice. She's doing the new season of Fleabag right now, and we have a wonderful new writer named Emerald Fennell who's stepping in.

    Now that you've had time to sit ?with the nomination, how do you feel about the significance of being the first woman of Asian descent up for this category?

    I was really happy to chat with my mom and dad. Seeing them smiling at me was just manna. I'm ?so grateful that they're here and I'm able to share it with them. Digesting it on that level, sharing it with the people closest to me, has been terrific.

    What's the most unexpected response you've gotten to your series this season?

    So I'm in South L.A., just east of Crenshaw, and I'm just killing some time. I go into a beauty shop and the Asian owner points to?me and goes, "Are you that lady on ?Killing Eve?" She then tells her African-American clientele, "You need to see this show." It was so unexpected. She was watching it, and now maybe the woman buying hair products watched it. I want both of those ladies to watch the show. I watched word-of-mouth happen in front of me.

  • Sarah Paulson

    American Horror Story is always provocative, but Cult was provocative and timely with its politically charged election theme. Do you think that relevance kept AHS top of mind for Emmy voters?

    We were certainly mirroring a lot of what the country was experiencing in its most extreme form — because of the horror component of our show. On the one hand, I think most people like to watch television to immerse themselves in a world that they don't actually live in. But in this particular instance, it might have been cathartic, and a little bit therapeutic, for people to watch other people be immersed in a world in which they did find enormous parallels to their own experience. Ally was being literally driven mad, and ?I think some of us feel that happening when you turn on the news.

    Cult saw you facing some of your real-life phobias, such as clowns and bees, on top of reliving the election results. How did this season challenge you in new ways?

    There's this misconception — and I held this belief myself — that playing someone close to home would be easier. What I realized in playing her was that I had to confront things that I might want to push away. I had to invite some of those things to live and breathe in my mind and in my body and try to embody this character with all those things that I usually spend time keeping at arm's length. That was very challenging and uncomfortable. But it helped to make it ?resonate with people more because I was accessing things that a lot of us spend time and attention on keeping out of the realm of consciousness.

    On red carpets, what is one question you never want to be asked again?

    I wish I were better at not answering questions I don't want to answer. I sometimes have that problem of feeling the pressure of giving the person who is asking me the question what they want. Also, my feet ?are in so much pain and I'm sweating and I just want to go sit down, so I guess it's always easier to take ?the path of less resistance.

    Read Paulson's full Q&A.

  • Issa Rae

    What's something you've discovered about yourself by playing your character in Insecure?

    That I can be inconsiderate sometimes and that I don't really like attention.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    Other castmembers. And afterparty plans.

    And what's the one ?thing you never want to be asked about again?

    What I'm wearing, who I'm excited to see, what I'll say if I win, blah blah blah, give me shots.

    Whom would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    My friends. I don't ?really like to chat. I like to dance and sing. So I'm always looking for anybody who's down ?to do that.

    Which member of your cast is best suited to run for office?

    Amanda Seales and Natasha Rothwell. They're outspoken, have clear points of view, are very knowledgeable and active in rallying people around causes and keeping people informed. And they're funny. 

  • Tracee Ellis Ross

    What was your initial response to the marital separation storyline on this season of Black-ish?

    It was bold, but it was not bold for us. If you look at the list of subjects we’ve tackled on the show, you’d think we were a drama. I’m not going to lie, though. I was concerned about it. It sounded hard! Another complication was that I directed the first of the four episodes of the story. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the DNA of our show takes things people deal with on a daily basis, puts it on the middle of the kitchen floor and sees how the family deals with it. This time, the conflict just happened to come from within the family.

    Five seasons in, what’s been your experience working with this cast of kids who’ve grown up so much?

    Watching them all thrive has been incredible. My heart explodes for all four of them. I had the distinct honor of being asked to write a college recommendation letter for Marcus Scribner. To find the language to articulate how proud I am of the leader he’s become and his extraordinary talent, it really was a special moment for me. 

    Whom would you most like to chat up at Emmy parties?

    Last year, Dolly Parton was there and I just wanted to sit on her lap. I feel like it should be mandatory that the nominees in each of the categories go out together for lunch before the Emmys. Maybe not a lunch, maybe just drinks. Yeah! Let’s put that out there.

    Which member of your cast is best suited to run for office?

    I think the obvious answer would be Yara [Shahidi], but I’m going to say me. (Laughs.) She’s 18. She has my endorsement now, but let’s put me in the ring. Let’s give her a second. We don’t need to put it all on her shoulders yet. 

  • Keri Russell

    What moment from this final season did you find particularly challenging?

    The Americans is always challenging — that’s the beauty of the beast, shooting late nights and cold New York winters. It becomes part of the character of the show, this tightness and stressful quality that everyone has. They were trying to make Elizabeth so tired, and I was tired for most of it because I was pulling the weight where normally I shared it with Matthew [Rhys]. There was so much more to do and so many different disguises, but I really loved it.

    How will your future choices be influenced by your work on The Americans?

    This is going to be a tough one to beat because it was just so rare on so many levels. I relished getting to be that strong character, who was many things, but I don’t think I ever had to really sell out and be some soft, doting, self-sacrificing, nice mom. And the variety of it all: There were really sexy things; there were really emotional scenes.

    There ought to be an Emmy category for …

    Worst shooting conditions. There were so many times where it was 4 in the morning and there’s a blizzard warning and I’m wearing some bad 1980s pleather jacket and freezing. You should get an award for having to even speak, let alone emote anything other than “I’m so fucking cold, get me the fuck out of here and into bed.”

    Click here to read Russell's full Q&A.

  • Evan Rachel Wood

    How do you feel about Dolores’ evolution on the show so far? Is she the villain?

    I think you’re supposed to feel torn about Dolores right now. She’s not really a hero or a villain, she’s just doing what has to be done in order to be free. There are misconceptions about what a revolution looks like to people, and usually it is painted in a very heroic way, but there’s a reality to it as well that is very violent and brutal and ruthless. I think she has evolved to the point where she sees the endgame and she knows how to get there and nothing can stop her at this point. A lot of it was hard to act and hard to watch just because of the Dolores that I know and became intimate with. To have her completely shift into this other character, it was an adjustment and at times felt weird and wrong, but I also knew that this was just where the character had to go. And I think sometimes that she's torn about what she’s doing, and it weighs heavily on her, and I think that’s what we wanted to show. 

    Compared to last season, how clued in were you to this season’s twists?

    Really not at all. I had an idea of what was going to happen in the finale, I think because they didn’t want me to be scared that I wasn’t coming back, but I really didn’t know much at all. I found out as we went along, like last season. It’s showing up to work asking, “Who am I today?” (Laughs.)

    What do you hope for Dolores next season?

    I’m hoping she has gotten out. I want to see her maybe less in control. She’s in new territory now and in a world that she’s been in before but never in this way. I’m excited to see what it means now that she has the information she has, and now that she’s sort of an alien in this world.

    On red carpets, what do you wish you were asked about more often?

    It’s always refreshing when I’m asked about my actual job and not the fantasy built around it because, yes, a part of what we do is giving people an escape and they shouldn’t necessarily see the work and really know what goes into it, but there are moments, like when we’re celebrating awards, I think it’s a great opportunity to delve into that a little more. 

    Which of your cast is best suited to run for office? Why?

    Shannon Woodward [who plays Elsie]. I would vote for her in a heartbeat. She’s one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met and also just a loving, loyal human being and she’s funny, she has a great personality. She just has all the elements there. I would completely trust her to kind of roll her eyes and pull an Elsie and go, “Let me fix it.”

    Finish this sentence: There ought to be an Emmy category for...

    On-set morale.