Emmys: Keri Russell, Sarah Paulson and 7 More Actress Nominees Reveal Favorite Scenes, Biggest Challenges

8:00 AM 8/9/2016

by Anna Lisa Raya

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kerry Washington, Kirsten Dunst, Ellie Kemper, Audra McDonald, Lily Tomlin and Laurie Metcalf also open up about what helps them get into character — from the right shoes to a dab of gin on the wrist — and which other TV show they'd like to see their character step into.

Courtesy of FX

  • Kirsten Dunst

    Fargo (FX)

    Chris Large/FX

    Favorite line of dialogue
    "'It's just a flying saucer, Ed. We gotta go.' That line is so Peggy. It just shows you where her mind is, nothing will stop this lady. I also liked filming the actualized scene in the car. We kept playing the song 'Jump Into the Fire' by Harry Nilsson before each take to get us pumped."

    Toughest scene
    "The hardest scene for me was coming out of the freezer after Ed dies. I've never had to play so much anguish and fury before in a scene."

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    "The accent helps. I remember thinking Peggy walked like a Scooby-Doo character to me. Also, my acting lady, Greta Seacat — her method of teaching is the most inspiring to me."

    What other TV show would you like to see your character step into?
    "Baskets — I love that show. I'd like to see Peggy and Louie Anderson's character, Mrs. Baskets, go to Costco and load up on Kirkland products."

  • Ellie Kemper

    Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix)

    Eric Liebowitz/Netflix

    Favorite line of dialogue
    "I so enjoyed Kimmy's opening monologue to episode two of this season. She is applying for a job at a Christmas store and fervently pleads her case to the store's manager: 'They say there's a war on Christmas. Well, sir, put me on the front line. 'Cause if any Grinches or Scrooges dare come over that hill, I'll make them wish they'd never been born!' This is signature Kimmy: resilient, determined and incredibly passionate about things like elves."

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    "It's as simple as putting on Kimmy's clothes. Her outfits are so specific and so descriptive. Tina Nigro, our costume designer, makes Kimmy come alive."

    What other TV show would you like to see your character step into?
    "The Affair, just to see what would happen."

  • Kerry Washington

    Confirmation (HBO)

    Courtesy of HBO

    Favorite scene?
    "There was a moment near the end of the film that still sticks with me, when Anita Hill comes back to her office and finds all these letters people wrote to her. We shot that at a point in production where we needed her to have a moment of vulnerability. She always appeared so stoic and so composed — that was the truth of her — so to have a private moment like the scene in her office was tricky. We didn't want to show it as a moment when she cracked; instead, it worked because of the real weight of me diving into what she was thinking and feeling. We were all shocked and relieved at how well that scene turned out. Those are the moments I really love, when you've done all your homework and know who this person is and what she thinks and feels. Then you let go and just dance."

    Most helpful thing for getting into character?
    "Capturing the hearings was even more difficult, partly because they are something that exists for everyone to see — go on YouTube, and there they are. I wanted to be truthful to what happened in this story, but at the same time we were taking the most difficult weeks of these people's lives and living in it for three months. It helped me to read Anna Deavere Smith's writing because she's like a cultural anthropologist. She helped me find the right rhythms and the right breathing to really capture Anita Hill."

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    Veep (HBO)

    Lacey Terrell/HBO

    Favorite line of dialouge
    "I'll tell you something, Amy. A lot of people don't want me to be president. And you know why. Because fundamentally, people hate women, right? I mean, they'll just stop at nothing to get me out of here. Everybody's trying to get me, but I'm not gonna let them."

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    Tequila blanco

    What other TV show would you like to see your character step into?
    The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story

  • Audra McDonald

    Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill (HBO)

    Michele K. Short/HBO

    Favorite scene
    "One of my favorite moments in the show was singing 'God Bless the Child.' It's one of Billie Holiday's most iconic pieces, so you can't sing it without feeling her there. It wasn't my least favorite moment, but singing 'Strange Fruit' was the most difficult — it's such a powerful song and becomes a very poignant moment in the show."

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    "I started listening to Billie all the time. At first, the voice was hard to find, but then I realized that she sounded a lot like my grandmother. Before the performance each night, I would start to get very sleepy — not because I was tired, but because Billie was heavy to put on. I did my full vocal warm-up — as if I were preparing for an opera — put gin and Billie's perfume on my pulse points, and then I felt ready."

  • Lily Tomlin

    Grace and Frankie (Netflix)

    Melissa Mosely/Netflix

    Favorite line of dialogue
    "Grace [Jane Fonda] is complaining about my huge and abundant head of hair, and Frankie says: 'I can't help if I have memorable hair.' "

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    "First, I think of all the things in my life that have moved me to a state of wonderment and empathy. And when that doesn't work, I knock back a couple of martinis."

    What other TV show would you like to see your character step into?
    "I'd like to see Frankie go on America's Got Talent and do her barefoot tap dance. That's the way I started off."

  • Keri Russell

    The Americans (FX)

    David Russell/FX

    What do you like best about your character?
    "The show does a really good job of reversing the typical roles of males and females, and I think it's a very complicated, in-depth look at a messy, real relationship. What appealed to me in the beginning is that the female was a little less invested in the relationship. That's such an interesting take because it's always the woman who is pining after this guy who is cheating on her. And it wasn't that. She's like, 'No, this is our job, and I'm in love with someone else, and that's what I get from that.' And [Matthew Rhys' character, Philip] was the one who was really sweet and sensitive. But then where we ended the fourth season — and I love that it took four seasons for her to finally have emotions — there was so much jealousy for that character and so much pain in him having true feelings, or whatever it was that he had, for the Martha character. That is such a great arc for a character to get to play that."

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    "One of the most enjoyable parts is the trying on of the wigs and 1980s glasses that we do in the hair and makeup trailers. Almost all of them are really bad, and we just sit and laugh with each other and tell each other how bad we look."

  • Sarah Paulson

    The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX)

    Byron Cohen/FX

    Favorite line of dialogue
    "'You just said that … out loud,' in response to an argument made by Robert Shapiro that Marcia Clark found particularly inappropriate, not to mention asinine."

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    "The shoes. It sounds goofy, but the way you stand can inform so much of your physical impulses. I like working from the outside in — that and finding a scent that moves me in some way that relates to the character. In this case, I found out which fragrance Marcia Clark actually wore during the trial, and I wore it every day. I was always sniffing my own wrist before takes. I'm sure everyone thought I was nuts."

    What other TV show would you like to see your character step into?
    "I would have loved to see Marcia defend Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones. I like to think she would have helped exonerate him, and if not, she would have put up one hell of a fight."

  • Laurie Metcalf

    Getting On (HBO)

    Lacey Terrell/HBO

    Favorite scene
    "One of my favorite scenes in season three was the symposium one. Because she had spent many years dedicated to improving and enlarging the Bristol Stool Chart from a measly 17 examples to an impressive 32, [my character] Jenna James was certain she would win the coveted Helen Tillman Award for 'he or she who has contributed the most to geriatrics.' Her Anal Horn Booth is on display, and she is in full hosting mode and way too excited for her moment in the spotlight, only to be thwarted by her nemesis, Dr. Pippa Moore, who has also added to the Bristol Stool Chart. Jenna is reduced to whining, 'Tarry? Tapered? Tawny? Don’t these look like the same stool to you?' "

    Most helpful thing for getting into character
    "Even though we only worked on six episodes a season, stepping into the lab coat and walking onto the hospital set and seeing the same beautiful patients' faces made it easy to snap back into character."

    What other TV show would you like to see your character step into? 
    "Jenna could easily step into any procedural on TV, but I would love to see her on Wife Swap or Survivor. Fireworks!"

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