The ups and downs of competing with Mirren


Lately, it's got to be both gratifying and utterly disheartening to end up in a category with Helen Mirren. On the plus side, clearly you've got chops -- Mirren is no slouch (nor is any of her competition). On the other side, this is the woman whose dual royal performances in 2006's "The Queen" and "Elizabeth I" have in the past year racked up an Oscar, a BAFTA, two Golden Globes, two SAG Awards and an Emmy. But cheer up, fellow lead actress category nominees: You've got solid, traditional roles going for you here -- the saintly (Queen Latifah and Gena Rowlands) and the sinful (Debra Messing and Mary-Louise Parker). They're choice parts. And the good news for supporting actresses? The small screen holds no supporting charm for Dame Mirren.

Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

Queen Latifah, "Life Support" (HBO)
Debra Messing, "The Starter Wife" (USA Network)
Helen Mirren, "Prime Suspect: The Final Act (Masterpiece Theatre)" (PBS)
Mary-Louise Parker, "The Robber Bride" (Oxygen)
Gena Rowlands, "What If God Were the Sun" (Lifetime)

For all of the Mirren buzz out there, her portrayal of Deputy Superintendent Jane Tennison hasn't exactly been an Emmy lock before. She's earned five nominations for the PBS "Prime Suspect" series on "Masterpiece Theatre," but she has won just once, in 1996 for "Prime Suspect: Scent of Darkness." Still, the prevailing sentiment is that Mirren's name already has been engraved on that statuette.

Upsets do happen, though, and the three of the four actresses nominated alongside Mirren are previous Emmy winners, the lone exception being Latifah (with her first nomination). Parker, Rowlands and Messing have 17 nods and five wins between them. Messing might be in the best position to pull off a stunner, given her high profile from the years on "Will & Grace" and the perception that she stretched her acting muscles for her role as jilted wife Molly Kagan in the 10-time nominated "Starter Wife."

This is Messing's sixth Emmy nomination; she won in 2003 for "Will & Grace."

"I was just over the moon to get nominated after having invested so much time and hard work to get this character right," Messing says. "This woman and even the comic voice were as far away from Grace as I could get. 'Starter Wife' was about pushing myself and scaring myself out of any complacency."

Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

Toni Collette, "Tsunami: The Aftermath" (HBO)
Judy Davis, "The Starter Wife" (USA Network)
Samantha Morton, "Longford" (HBO)
Anna Paquin, "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" (HBO)
Greta Scacchi, "Broken Trail" (AMC)

The heavyweight in this group no doubt is Davis, a 10-time Emmy nominee who has won two statuettes, most memorably in 2001 for her incandescent portrayal of Judy Garland in the ABC mini "Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows." Davis does another splendid turn as alcoholic Joan McAllister in "Starter Wife," but she could well have a tough time preventing Morton from taking home the gold for her performance as British murderess Myra Hindley in "Longford." Morton has been nominated twice for Academy Awards; this is her first Emmy nomination.

There are two other Oscar nominees in this field: Collette, who was nominated in 2000 for "The Sixth Sense," and Paquin, who memorably won for "The Piano" in 1994. Both actresses are up for HBO projects, though "Wounded Knee," for which Paquin is nominated, has the higher profile. Both have a shot at winning in a category that's fairly evenly matched.

That leaves Scacchi, who won an Emmy in 1996 in the same category for "Rasputin" in her only previous nom. She could ride across the finish line on the coattails of the highly acclaimed "Broken Trail," provided voters embrace the project.   


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