Emmys Rematch: Kyra Sedgwick vs. Julianna Margulies

SAG Awards | Los Angeles, Jan. 30
Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Dewar's

“I was so overwhelmed; last year seemed like a fluke,” said “The Good Wife” winner Julianna Margulies (left) with Kyra Sedgwick at the Weinstein Co.’s soiree co-sponsored by Dewar’s.

When TNT's The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick beat CBS' The Good Wife's SAG and Golden Globe-winning frontrunner Julianna Margulies for last year's lead drama actress Emmy, nobody was more shocked than Sedgwick.  "It was a total surprise, I never thought I'd win," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I just thought I would be that nom girl." She had four prior Emmy noms (all for The Closer), to Margulies' five prior noms and a win (all for ER).

This year Sedgwick and Margulies are again frontrunners, with Margulies looking ahead by a nose (she won best actress in Monday's Critics Choice Television Awards, a spinoff of the influential Oscar precursor Critics Choice Movie Awards). Also coming on strong, in approximate order: Globe nom Elisabeth Moss, who couldn't have a more impressive episode than Mad Men's "The Suitcase" (and has better odds than Mad Men lead-actress contender January Jones); The Killing's Mireille Enos; Law & Order: SVU's Mariska Hargitay; Sons of Anarchy's Katey Sagal; Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton; Treme's Melissa Leo; Kathy Bates of Harry's Law; and Emily Rossum of Shameless.

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But the race is Margulies' and Sedgwick's to lose, so let's analyze why Margulies lost in 2010. "Basically, Julianna Margulies blew it last year by giving Emmy judges the wrong episode," Emmyologist Tom O'Neil of GoldDerby tells THR. "She submitted 'Threesome,' in which she has a nice little confrontation with her cheating hubby, but she might have won if she’d submitted the pilot, a much stronger episode."

"Boomer [pundit Chris "Boomer" Beachum] and I made a boneheaded call thinking Margulies might somehow surmount this poor submission and win," adds O'Neil. "We knew that Sedgwick had the episode submission with the most emotional fireworks, but Margulies had swept the precursor awards." This year, Margulies won SAG, which nommed Sedgwick, and Globes gave both actresses noms, not wins.

Sedgwick's Emmy-winning episode out-cried her rival's. "Well, it was kind of an obvious choice," Sedgwick tells THR.

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And her choice this year? "Episode 8, 'War Zone,' where [Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson] drops off a gang member in his own neighborhood unprotected, knowing they'd assassinate him." The episode aired right after she won last year's Emmy. "It's an intense episode, emotionally charged, a smart one."

But…does she cry? "I don't cry in that one. And I do think tears can be helpful. I hate to -- but it's the stronger episode." Either kidding or serious, Sedgwick adds that maybe she should choose a different episode to submit for the Emmy. "There are others that perhaps I will look at again and try to find one where I turn on the waterworks."

Not that winning the Emmy changed Sedgwick's work a bit. "It didn't change. Actors are desperately insecure, and also have big egos, but I certainly didn't change my process. My God, no. Thank God we don't just do it just to win awards." She's pumped for the show's killer final season, which features six extra episodes. "It's not like we just got cancelled. The show's creator said five years ago if he ever had a chance to end it, he knew exactly how he was going to do it." As executive producer on the show, Sedgwick may have an edge over rivals because she presumably has more creative input on her role.

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The supersized final season is a creative bonanza, Sedgwick testifies. "This really gives the opportunity to make some bold choices, on the runaway train of how is this story going to end?"

Any how is that? "Brenda is functioning under the shadow of this lawsuit. The ways she elicits confessions are creative, and many of her old cases come back to haunt her. The darkest side of her is her denial, that she really confronts in the season, and her inability to be intimate and embrace her relationship. She's married to this wonderful guy, but puts her work first. Work becomes such a battlefield and so unstable, so she has to cling to the port in the storm, and that's her husband."

Sounds tearful, and potentially Emmy-inducing. "But it can't be about awards," says Sedgwick.