Emmys: Taraji P. Henson, Mandy Moore, More Top Actresses on Favorite Scenes and Aha Moments

8:30 AM 6/9/2017

by Gregory Ellwood

Fourteen leading ladies discuss the pivotal scenes in bringing their characters — which include a queen, a robot, a police detective, a single mom and an activist — to life.

Taraji P. Henson, Claire Foy, Mandy Moore, Keri Russell and Evan Rachel Wood - Split - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix (Foy), NBC (Moore), FX (Russell), HBO (Rachel Wood), FOX (Henson)

This story first appeared in a June standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

  • Christine Baranski

    After thinking she'd be able to spend her golden years retired in Italy, Diane Lockhart (Baranski) loses almost all of her equity in a financial scam and is forced to roll up her sleeves and un-retire in this sequel series to The Good Wife.

    FAVORITE THING ABOUT HER CHARACTER: "The first episode is just a series of spectacular setbacks for Diane, even having to formally end her marriage. It really was a wonderfully challenging thing to explore that for the character, who we've seen over the course of seven years [on The Good Wife]. We've seen her suffer a lot of ups and downs — the death of Will Gardner, her own bankruptcy issues with the firm — but she's always landed on her feet. And she somehow was a character that the audience assumed was the most stable, the most fixed. She had the most graceful moral compass. The pilot upends a lot of what we know about Diane, and I think that's a great way to start a spinoff of a beloved show. You simply have to shake things up. It's familiar, and yet suddenly we're in unfamiliar territory with the character."

  • Rashida Jones

    In season three, Jones' titular character tries to retire as a police detective and become a stay- at-home mom, but a major case about a deadly virus calls her back to duty in this irreverent cameo-filled comedy.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "There's one moment in the episode with [guest star] Ed Helms where we are about to enter a precarious zone. We all put on our hazmat suits and there's a waiting room where you close one door and open another so that you don't get any contaminants in the room. That room, of course, in our show, is like a money-grabbing room where there's just air flowing around dollar bills. I love that; it's just a great gag where you're in the middle of a super intense conversation about a virus that's killing the world and then you close the door and all of a sudden you're like on a game show and grabbing for money."

  • Claire Foy

    Foy portrays a cool and collected Queen Elizabeth II during the first eight years of her reign in this sweeping epic from Peter Morgan and Stephen Daldry.

    FAVORITE THING ABOUT HER CHARACTER: "Oh, I love doing the festivity of her. I love that there are certain things she would never say or do. I love the fact that I'm restricted in how much emotion or how much anger I can express. I find that completely a challenge, because obviously you want to be able to be swinging off the chandelier and be raging one minute and crying the next. You want that release, but I found it's very liberating the way you play someone who doesn't show their emotions and allows people to come to them. It's a very interesting tactic that she uses. I just love the joy of her life and what she likes and how she spends her time and her duty."

  • Taraji P. Henson

    Cookie (Henson) continues to be the rock keeping the Empire family together, as much as she can, in the melodrama's third season.

    FAVORITE THING ABOUT HER CHARACTER: "Cookie is so complex. It's not cut-and-dried with her. It's not black and white. It's always a challenge for me [to play her,] and I think the producers love to challenge me. That's the magic, that's what keeps me coming back, that's what makes me excited. Cookie is so big. How do you continue to write her so that she can out-top herself, or stay just as good as the last one-line zinger she said? It's just a constant for the writers and producers to challenge me and challenge themselves."

  • Justina Machado

    Machado plays a single mom, military veteran and nurse trying to raise her two kids with help from her live-in mom (Rita Moreno) in this Cuban-American update of Norman Lear's 1970s sitcom.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "The one [in the pilot] where Rita tries to get me to go back to my ex-husband, and I explain to her how it doesn't work, but I still miss him. That's one of my favorite scenes because that, to me, is the show. When I read that scene, I was like, 'OK, yeah, this is going to be that kind of show.' It's also my audition scene, so I have a soft spot for it."

  • Mandy Moore

    Moore portrays Rebecca, who loses one of her triplets during delivery. She and husband Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) adopt a newborn African-American boy who has been abandoned at the hospital on the same day. The family's story is told from the current day back to 1970s-era flashbacks.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "Just a big moment for me was the 12th episode ['The Big Day'] that sort of went back to the 24 hours before Rebecca and Jack went to the hospital and delivered the babies. It really allowed us to expand upon this monumental moment. It just drew a more fully realized picture about who this woman was. She was really scared about motherhood and so terrified of making a million mistakes and messing up her children. I have this two-page monologue basically to my unborn children right before I go into labor. Just the whole idea of that episode really set it apart."

  • Brit Marling

    Marling plays the title character, who regains her sight, is kept prisoner with others in the basement of a mad doctor obsessed with their ability to return from the dead and discovers powers through a complex series of physical movements.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "It's at the end of episode five when Scott [Will Brill] dies and OA is faced with death — the death of her friend but also her own mortality. They may all just die down there, and there isn't any hope for escape. Then she sort of wills herself to stand in the face of that despair and starts moving. She does it unconsciously, and she does it full of feeling, and it inspires [fellow captive] Homer [Emory Cohen], and they work through their rage and they keep doing the movements as a kind of meditation. It was a very challenging moment to perform."

  • Kaitlin Olson

    The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia mainstay stars in a new comedy about Mickey, a brash Rhode Island woman not prepared to care for her fugitive sister's bratty Beverly Hills-raised kids.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "I thought the pilot was really great. I was so excited for it to finally air. I knew a lot of critics of network comedies and fans of Sunny were nervous about whether they were going to enjoy the show. I thought the Mickey arc in that episode was so good; it really defined all of the characters well. I like when I get to do lots of physical stuff — getting hit by a car is fun, eating an owl is pretty cool. Stuff like that. The basics."

  • Sarah Jessica Parker

    Twelve years after the end of Sex and the City, in which she played the iconic Carrie Bradshaw, Parker returns in another HBO comedy as Frances, a woman going through a messy, extended divorce from her husband, Robert (Thomas Haden Church).

    FAVORITE THING ABOUT HER CHARACTER: "She is direct and in some ways much more transparent a character than I've played before. She can appear withholding and exacting, and she's not as cozy a friend as Carrie. I know for some people it was hard to understand Frances. In the first season, people magnified her flaws and shortcomings, and I was so curious about that, given that men have played murderers and been loved despite it. But I liked that she struggles. She doesn't pretend that her past doesn't exist."

  • Keri Russell

    Russell plays Elizabeth, a Russian spy running covert operations in the U.S., who deals with the unexpected impact of revealing her true identity and purpose to her teenage daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), in the series' fifth season.

    FAVORITE THING ABOUT HER CHARACTER: "In my mind, Elizabeth has this deep need now for her daughter to know her and to be known. Everything has been so secret. It's impressive because Elizabeth doesn't have many friends. She's truly opening up and experiencing what that is with Paige in some way. I think that it complicates things. I think she sees that Paige is struggling with [who her mom really is] but, in her own way, she's really proud of what Elizabeth does."

  • Alia Shawkat

    In this comedy mystery, Dory (Shawkat) becomes obsessed with finding out how former college friend Chantal (Clare McNulty) has disappeared. In the finale, her assumptions about Chantal's fate are proven wrong — after she has killed the man she thought was Chantal's kidnapper.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "What I interpreted from [the finale script] was that Dory finally discovers herself: 'Oh, you figured out the truth that you've been looking for.' All of a sudden she realizes it amounts to nothing. She went to such an extreme because [Keith, played by Ron Livingston], who she killed by accident, turns out was just an innocent guy who had a crush on [Dory]. There's this body in the closet and she has this moment of, 'What the f— did I do?' For me, the scene frames the whole show."

  • Freida Pinto

    Pinto plays Jas, a political activist during the black power movement in 1970s London. Jas helps to free and then hide a political activist who was in police custody, thereby forming an underground cell.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "In episode five, it's this moment when Omega [Zawe Ashton] questions Jas about what she thinks she's doing. Jas shoots back, 'What do you think you're doing?' You know? 'I'm doing something. What are you doing?' Then she finally talks about how she really feels about this whole revolution and what it means to her and what she's been reduced to feeling. I felt like that was a very raw moment. For the first time, Jas is really in this male-dominated underground cell. She's not just fighting the revolution and the system, she's also fighting the deep-seated misogyny in it. For me as a woman, as a female actor, I was so grateful to [showrunner] John Ridley for writing the scene so instinctively."

  • Susan Sarandon

    Many of the buried details of the rivalry and antagonism between Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and Bette Davis (Sarandon) surface in Ryan Murphy's behind-the-scenes series about the making of the campy 1960s cult fave Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "There is a scene where Bette goes to director Robert Aldrich [Alfred Molina] and says, 'I don't know. Am I just f—ing with Joan or is this a brave choice?' And I think that happens when you're making choices that are extreme. In the context of the scene, you have one feeling and then you start to have doubts whether it's working. That equation was very much Bette and an insight into how she attacked the circumstances of her life and attacked the role. She just made these bold decisions and went for it. She did have some doubts later about whether it was the right thing. There were times when maybe things were condensed or were left out, or events were placed in a different context, but [the making of the film] actually happened the way it unfolded in the series."

  • Evan Rachel Wood

    Wood portrays Dolores, a robot in a futuristic theme park who may or may not have achieved sentience as the walls of her simulated Old West existence break down around her.

    FAVORITE SCENE THIS SEASON: "It was definitely the one with the Man in Black [Ed Harris], when it's revealed that he's [an older] William [Jimmi Simpson]. Jimmi and I worked together so closely, building this romance and these characters. I knew that moment [of realization] had to make your jaw drop, otherwise all of this work that we had done to build it up wasn't going to pay off. The whole speech she gives to the Man in Black — if you do that wrong, it's cheesy. I wanted to find a new part of myself. After watching it, I felt really good about it. I felt like it was some of the best work I've done in my career."