Emmys: Maslany, Louis-Dreyfus, Henson and Other Lead Actress Contenders Open Up — "You Really Do Have to Risk Falling Apart"

Courtesy of FOX; Robert Viglasky/SundanceTV; Courtesy of ABC
Taraji P. Henson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Felicity Huffman

In their own words, this season's female talent reveal their proudest show moments, backup career plans and on-set antics, including a joke one admits "went over like a turd in a punch bowl."

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

Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

Proudest show moment: I had a particularly difficult and emotional scene to do with [actress] Merritt Wever at the end of the series and my real-life emotions got the best of me. But I was proud I'd allowed that to happen. I sometimes think I'm too professional and keep my real emotional life so far from the workplace, so I was pleased my real feelings about Merritt and working with her [entered] the workday. I eventually recovered and we finished the scene. But it was rough, as Merritt is my hero.

Playing this role, I learned: That I do care about others' perceptions of me, at least to some extent. Because [Jackie] clearly didn't!

I couldn't get into character without: Jackie's stethoscope.

Favorite way to kill time on set: I always hung out by video village. The show's actors and producer/writer types are some of the funniest, most engaging individuals I've encountered. We'd laugh our fool heads off, especially if Paul Schulze [who plays Eddie] was working. He's one of the funniest people alive.

Three things always in my trailer: Lots of bottled water for my small dog, Sami. Treats for Sami. And Sami's water bowl.

Coolest fans: I was pleased to find fans, friends and others who weren't big TV watchers watched the show. And Madeleine Albright. Kidding! I don't know if she's ever seen it.

How I spent my first big check from acting: I paid off my student loans. One fell swoop. Thrilling.

Dream TV role: Selina Meyer on Veep. But only if [star] Julia Louis-Dreyfus would play it with me.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Meditate. Or eat.

Must-watch TV: American Ninja Warrior. Huge fan.


Maggie Gyllenhaal, The Honorable Woman (SundanceTV)

Proudest show moment: The very end of The Honorable Woman. I'd never worked on anything of this scope before. Most of the projects I work on are two hours, not eight. By the time we got to the end, we were in Morocco and we'd all come to trust each other. We had to shoot two really difficult, complicated scenes in the last two days, and I trusted everyone at that point so much that I just walked into shooting them totally open to figuring them out as we went along. I was like, "This is amazing!"

Playing this role, I learned: So much. You really do have to risk completely falling apart in order to find out who you actually are. Playing someone going through that, I could see the beauty in it, which is harder to see when you're going through it yourself.

I couldn't get into character without: Nessa's clothes. You know what I took home and have since bought three more pairs of? Her shoes — these Acne pumps, which have a pretty low heel but are still very sexy.

Funniest on-set moment: When we were shooting in the middle of the Moroccan desert, all of the women would go together en masse to pee. Going back to the trailers would've taken, like, 40 minutes, so we'd all go walking off into the desert together and find someone's little car to hide behind.

Favorite way to kill time on set: We didn't have any money, so we were shooting really fast. I'd be in the makeup chair learning lines for the next day — or even the day after — because Nessa talks so much and has such a facility with language. There was a PA who'd help me as I sat in the makeup chair and just drill lines.

Three things always in my trailer: I had this huge three-ring binder that I put all eight hours of script in. It had my notes in it, and I couldn't be without it because we'd shoot a piece of episode 1, episode 3, episode 8 — sometimes all in one day. And music helped me a lot, so I had my iPhone. What else was in my trailer? I have no idea. My brother [Jake Gyllenhaal] always makes his trailer so nice, but I don't care about mine. I don't do anything to them. I need to care more!

Coolest fan: I was thrilled that Meryl Streep liked The Honorable Woman.

How I spent my first big check from acting: I went to Paris.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Learn to speak Italian.

At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Amy Schumer. I've never even seen her show all the way through, just different clips my babysitter has played for me on YouTube. But I really like her. I also love [Transparent and Girls actor] Gaby Hoffmann. My husband, Peter [Sarsgaard], sent me a text saying, "Repeat after me: I. Will. Watch. Transparent." Seriously, there was a period after every word.

Taraji P. Henson, Empire (Fox)

Proudest moment this year: That Viola [Davis] and I are the first two African-American actresses to be nominated for lead actress in a drama at the same time.

Playing this role, I've learned: That truth is everything.

I can't get into character without: Cookie's fabulous hair and wardrobe. She comes alive, and we are ready to go.

Favorite way to kill time on set: I think it's pretty well documented that I'm a social media queen.

Coolest fan: I hear Michelle Obama loves Empire!

How I spent my first big check from acting: I bought a Yukon SUV. My car at the time had broken down driving to my first acting job.

Dream TV role: I want to play a man … Penguin on Gotham!

Career plan B: I tried plan B — electrical engineering — and that didn't work out, so I'm sticking with this plan A acting thing.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Sleep.

Must-watch TV: House of Cards, Derek, Everybody Loves Raymond and Orange Is the New Black.

Three things always in my trailer: Room-temperature water, phone and gummy bears.

Felicity HuffmanAmerican Crime (ABC)

Proudest show moment: Being a part of American Crime, which changed the face of network TV.

Playing this role, I learned: That to be still in the moment-to-moment work of a scene, and to rest in whatever is actually happening, takes a great deal of courage. And that I do nonsense, busy stuff to distract me from that fear and discomfort.

Funniest on-set moment: [Co-star] Tim Hutton and I broke character and started dancing during a take on the last episode as a joke. It was such an intense season, there was no joking around on set, so that one moment stands out... It actually went over like a turd in a punch bowl. But we had fun.

Favorite way to kill time on set: Listen to music.

Most surprising fan: The teller at Chase Bank on La Cienega, who hated my character but loved the show. I believe he said, "You are not a nice woman."

How I spent my first big check from acting: I invested in Fannie Mae. Big mistake.

Dream TV role: Jon Snow in Game of Thrones.

Career plan B: Beauty school or Harvard neuroscientist.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Go running.

At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: [Husband and Shameless actor] William H. Macy because that guy is the real deal. And [American Horror Story: Freak Show actor] Sarah Paulson because that girl is ah-mazing!

Must-watch TV: Shameless.

Three things always in my trailer: Yoga mat, coffee and self-loathing.

Lisa Kudrow,The Comeback (HBO)

Proudest show moment: The day I shot 15 pages. I was proud that I could remember all of the lines.

Playing this role, I've learned: That when something bad happens, acting like "It's OK, that's not a problem!" is actually soothing.

I can't get into character without: A big phony smile.

Favorite way to kill time on set: Talking with the other actors.

Coolest fan: Seth Rogen.

How I spent my first big check from acting: I leased a sensible car.

Dream TV role: If he were still on TV, Donald Trump would be fun to play. But I'd never get cast.

Career plan B: Do research in some area of neuroscience.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Watch more stuff on the Internet.

At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: [Grace and Frankie star] Lily Tomlin.

Must-watch: TV Reruns of The Brady Bunch.

Three things always in my trailer: Chargers, Nicorette gum and water.


Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Freak Show (FX)

Playing this role, I learned: You should be willing to try anything, whether it works as well as you would want it to. I had to perform music by David Bowie and Lana Del Rey — that's way outside my wheelhouse! But you can't limit yourself with ideas you have about what you can and cannot do.

I can't get into character without: The voice. Whenever I'm discovering or inventing a new character, I try to find the voice first. The accent, but also the timbre, pitch, cadence, rhythms and music. It really has to do with where the voice lives in the body.

Funniest on-set moment: Obviously [co-star] Sarah [Paulson] didn't have two heads talking to me at the same time. To keep track of which of her characters was talking, and where I was supposed to be looking, was funny but also extremely frustrating from time to time.

Favorite way to kill time on set: Photographing the most magical set, costumes and characters. If I wasn't shooting, that's what I'd be doing. It was difficult because I was trying to photograph so you weren't aware it was a set, so I had to shoot around the crew, lighting and cables. Some of the photos have turned out really beautiful.

How I spent my first big check from acting: I rented a real apartment for the first time, in New York, as opposed to living on people's floors and in illegal sublets. I bought some furniture. And I remember I got my first checkbook. I'd never had a checking account or a credit card.

Dream TV role: Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy! I'm not a comedienne, but we can dream.

Career plan B: Photographer. I'd started as a painter in art school then became interested in photography. If acting hadn't worked out, I would've pursued that 100 percent.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Work in the garden, spend more time with friends and family — depends on where I am!

At the Emmys, I will be rooting for: Certainly Sarah Paulson. I'd love to see her recognized. And [AHS co-star] Denis O'Hare.

Three things always in my trailer: My two dogs — a hound and a very old standard poodle. They're big and shouldn't be trailer dogs, but they had to be there. Also, photos of family and reference books on the Weimar Republic and freak shows.


Queen Latifah, Bessie (HBO)

Proudest moment: I'm just so proud the project was made. My partner Shakim [Compere] and I have been trying to make this movie for 20 years.

Playing this role, I learned: That Bessie and I had a lot in common. We are both very true to ourselves and never really cared what people thought. I felt a real closeness to her and her spirit.

I couldn't get into character without: The costumes. They really helped shape Bessie.

Favorite way to kill time on set: Listening to Bessie Smith. Obviously.

Three things always in my trailer: Bessie Smith records, false eyelashes and coffee. We worked long hours!

Dream TV role: Tony Soprano.

Career plan B: Rapper.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Sleep.

Must-watch TV: Judge Judy.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO)

Proudest show moment: When I walked by the craft service table without stopping.

Playing this role, I learned: It's hard for me to resist glazed doughnuts.

I can't get into character without: Glazed doughnuts.

Funniest on-set moment: I've signed a nondisclosure agreement and cannot comment on this project except to say, to the best of my knowledge, Tony Hale never did anything illegal.

Favorite way to kill time on set: Get crazy with Tony Hale.

Most surprising fan: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

What I did when I got my first big check from acting: I shit my pants.

Dream TV role: LeBron James in that show The NBA Finals.

Career plan B: The NBA.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Cry.

Must-watch TV: Nurse Jackie, The Comeback, Parks and Recreation, Inside Amy Schumer and Grace and Frankie.

At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Three things always in my trailer: My counsel requires that I refer you to my answer to the fourth question.


Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America)

Proudest show moment: Episode 6. Working with [director] Helen Shaver always blows my mind. She respects our cast and crew so much and challenges us to dig deeper, and be more honest, vulnerable and brave in our work. I always learn so much working with her.

Playing this role, I learned: That I struggle to slow down. The stamina Orphan Black requires of me has to be balanced out with quiet time or I burn myself out.

Favorite way to kill time on set: I barely have downtime, but when I do, I'm usually hiding away with my headphones listening to podcasts.

Coolest fan: Amy Schumer!

Dream TV role: I would love to play [actor Ian McShane's character] Al Swearengen on [HBO's] Deadwood.

Career plan B: I toyed with the idea of journalism, but nothing made me as happy as performing.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Eat sitting down.

At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler, Jeffrey Tambor, Keegan-Michael Key and Gaby Hoffmann.

Must-watch TV: Transparent, Key & Peele and Inside Amy Schumer.

Three things always in my trailer: A pillow, chocolate and a couple books I'll never get to.


Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men (AMC)

Proudest show moment: My final scene. Perhaps strangely, this girl Peggy felt like she became my friend, and I was really proud of her and how far she had come. How much she had changed and how much she hadn't. Her flaws, mistakes, strengths and accomplishments.

Playing this role, I learned: Peggy became such an integral part of my life that it wasn't just a job or a role. But if I had to single something out, I would say I learned an ability to not let go of an idea: that when Peggy believed in something, a particular [concept] or approach, she hung onto it with everything she had.

I couldn't get into character without: Coffee.

Funniest on-set moment: At the end of each season, we toilet-papered someone's car. This year it was [creator] Matt [Weiner's]. It was an honor to have your car chosen.

Favorite way to kill time on set: Napping.

Coolest fan: David Lynch. That was a very cool one.

When I got my first big check from acting: I bought a pair of Prada boots — like 10 years ago — that I still have.

Dream TV role: I'd say anything [actor] Connie Britton ever does, but I could never do it as good as she does. So I'll go with Rainbow Brite because of the costume and boots.

Career plan B: Being a dancer, but that sort of stopped when I was 15. So I was basically screwed if acting didn't end up working out.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: That's so easy — sleep!

At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: It's such an incredible group of women in the lead actress category, but there are so many incredible performances that aren't there, too. I feel really lucky to be a part of a time that has so many incredible roles for women, and it would be impossible to choose just one or two. So I'm rooting for the continuation of complex, well-written female characters on television.

Must-watch TV: I loved Empire and Better Call Saul. I also watch Nashville, The Good Wife, Scandal — all shows led by a female character, by the way.

Three things always in my trailer: Diet Coke. Phone charger. My clothes?


Emma ThompsonSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street — Live From Lincoln Center (PBS)

Proudest show moment: Managing to control my bowels on the first night was good enough for me. That's what singing with [co-star] Bryn Terfel and the New York Phil can do to a girl.

Playing this role, I learned: I have stronger bowels than I thought.

I couldn't get into this character without: Baking.

Favorite way to kill time on set: I floss. Often obsessively.

Most surprising fan: Sean Penn. I'd always thought of him as more Aerosmith than Sondheim.

Dream TV role: I have no idea, but am available starting spring 2016.

Career plan B: Stand-up comedy was actually my plan A, but plan B, acting, took over.

If I had an extra hour in the day, I'd: Why would I tell you that?

At the Emmys, I'll be rooting for: My mate Maggie G., who was astounding in The Honorable Woman.

Must-watch TV: House M.D., House of Cards and Breaking Bad.

Three things always in my trailer: Floss. Tea. Spare knickers.