Emmys: Weighing the Odds in the Lead Comedy and Drama Actress Races

8:30 AM 8/8/2019

by Scott Feinberg

New blood or old favorites? The Hollywood Reporter’s awards guru outlines the pros and cons of the two categories, which are rife with competing co-stars and veterans.

Julia Louis-Drefus, Rachel Brosnahan, Sandra Oh
Julia Louis-Drefus, Rachel Brosnahan, Sandra Oh
Courtesy of HBO; Courtesy of Amazon Studios; Courtesy of BBCAmerica

  • Christina Applegate

    Comedy Actress Nominee for 'Dead to Me' (Netflix)

    Netflix

    PROS The beloved vet of network TV, who has now been nominated five times, is up this year for her performance as Jen Harding, a real estate agent grieving over the recent loss of her husband, on this rave-reviewed rookie Netflix show. She also is one of the EPs of the black comedy, for which she came out of semi-retirement.

    CONS She accounts for her show's only nom and is the category's only nominee whose show wasn't also nominated.

  • Rachel Brosnahan

    Comedy Actress Nominee for 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' (Amazon)

    Courtesy of Amazon Studios

    PROS Last year's winner — who also picked up Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Critics' Choice awards over the past year — is nominated again, for her show's sophomore season. Maisel is 2019's most nominated comedy series and second-most-nominated program after Thrones.

    CONS Season two dropped in December, longer ago than any other nominee's show. And she faces a force she didn't in 2018: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus

    Comedy Actress Nominee for 'Veep' (HBO)

    Courtesy of HBO

    PROS This beloved vet is up for her seventh and final season as Selina Meyer. Acting win No. 7 for Veep (she's also a producer) and No. 9 overall would set a record for most wins by an actress and extend hers for most wins by an actress for the same role on the same series.

    CONS Selina was less likable than ever this season, which comprised just seven episodes and garnered eight fewer noms than its last one (the first time the number has declined for the show).

  • Natasha Lyonne

    Comedy Actress Nominee for 'Russian Doll' (Netflix)

    Netflix

    PROS The Orange Is the New Black alum (she scored a guest acting nom five years ago) became an auteur, co-creating this new critics' darling on which she also stars as a woman who finds herself in a time loop, reliving a night during which she dies. Three of the show's 13 noms are hers — not only this one for acting, but also producing and writing mentions.

    CONS The show, like its froggy-throated and thickly accented leading lady, is a bit divisive.

  • Catherine O'Hara

    Comedy Actress Nominee for 'Schitt's Creek' (Pop TV)

    Pop TV

    PROS It took until season five, but this improv legend finally landed a nom for Moira, the irrepressible matriarch on Pop TV's tiny Canadian show, the profile of which exploded after it hit Netflix. (This category's oldest nominee at 65, she won 37 years ago for writing on SCTV.) No nominee starred in more episodes than her 14. And the show's series nom suggests broad support.

    CONS Pop is not in a position to finance a big campaign.

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge

    Comedy Actress Nominee for 'Fleabag' (Amazon)

    Courtesy of Steve Schofield/ Amazon Prime Video

    PROS Three years after her series' first season received zero noms, the second and final season of this British phenom's show landed 11, including best comedy and five for acting. Her portrayal of the title character is both hilarious and heartbreaking. For this show, she also earned a writing nom — as she did last year for Killing Eve.

    CONS She appears in a category-low six episodes, each less than a half-hour. And Maisel appears to remain Amazon's top priority.

    Lead Drama actress nominees below... 

  • Emilia Clarke

    Drama Actress Nominee for 'Game of Thrones' (HBO)

    Helen Sloan/HBO

    PROS The actress who became a star playing the Mother of Dragons landed her fourth nom for the part (and first as a lead), one of 32 for the show (the most that any program has ever garnered). Expect HBO to fight hard for its most successful series to get a big sendoff.

    CONS No Thrones actress has won, and the show's final season — just six episodes — took flak for feeling rushed.

  • Jodie Comer

    Drama Actress Nominee for 'Killing Eve' (BBC America)

    Gareth Gatrell/BBCAmerica

    PROS This category's youngest nominee, at just 26, is in the running for her portrayal of deliciously evil Villanelle. The Brit was named best actress (drama or comedy) at the BAFTA TV Awards for the show's first season, and its second is nominated for the best drama series Emmy.

    CONS She did not get an Emmy nom for the first season, while co-star Sandra Oh did, and must now compete against her.

  • Viola Davis

    Drama Actress Nominee for 'How to Get Away With Murder' (ABC)

    ABC/Mitch Haaseth

    PROS One of the most respected thesps in the biz (she is now just a Grammy shy of an EGOT) won this award in 2015 for the same part for which she's nominated this year. Her fifth overall Emmy nom, for the show's penultimate season, makes her one of just two network stars in this category.

    CONS The show has only two other noms and its ratings have been steadily declining.

  • Laura Linney

    Drama Actress Nominee for 'Ozark' (Netflix)

    Jessica Miglio/Netflix

    PROS This four-time winner had more opportunities to shine in her show's second season than she did in its first — hence her sixth Emmy nom, which comes on the heels of a SAG nom. For Netflix's only nominee in this category who hails from a show that also has a series nom, expect a big push.

    CONS It's disconcerting that she wasn't nominated for season one — but then again, neither was the series.

  • Mandy Moore

    Drama Actress Nominee for 'This Is Us' (NBC)

    Courtesy of NBC

    PROS She shone in her show's third season, portraying Rebecca Pearson over the course of 18 episodes, a heavier workload than any of her fellow nominees'. Her show, which also has a series nom, was almost certainly seen by more viewers than any other contender's save for Clarke's.

    CONS The fact that she wasn't nominated for previous seasons, when the show was even more popular, is concerning.

  • Sandra Oh

    Drama Actress Nominee for 'Killing Eve' (BBC America)

    Taghizadeh/BBCAmerica

    PROS Her portrayal of Eve Polastri has earned her a second consecutive nom, a year after she became the first woman of Asian descent ever to crack this category. She won this year's Golden Globe, SAG and Critics' Choice awards, and is also Emmy-nominated for hosting SNL.

    CONS It won't be any easier to win this season than it was last, when she didn't have to compete against co-star Comer.

  • Robin Wright

    Drama Actress Nominee for 'House of Cards' (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    PROS Wright has now been Emmy-nominated for her work as Claire Underwood on all six seasons — but has yet to win. The final season, shot after the Kevin Spacey scandal saw him written off the show, offered her more meat than ever.

    CONS The show fell off the map after Spacey went down — this is its first season without a series nom and with as few as three total noms.

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