It is almost certain that Showtime will have another guest acting Emmy winner this year, but the question is which of their ladies has the best chance — Joan Cusack (“Shameless”) or Julia Stiles (“Dexter”).
Of the two frontrunners for Best Drama Guest Actress, Cusack is a veteran actress with a 25-year career and two previous Oscar nominations (“Working Girl,” 1988; “In and Out,” 1997). She easily fits the profile of voters rewarding older actresses in this category (Ann-Margret and Ellen Burstyn are the most recent winners). Stiles is just 30.
Cusack played the recurring role of Sheila Jackson, an agoraphobic woman who is asked to babysit a toddler in the episode “Frank Gallagher: Loving Husband, Devoted Father.” When the baby accidentally wanders off outside, she has a panic attack and ultimately ties herself to the house with bedsheets so she can leave and save the child.
Stiles had a season-long guest arc as a young woman who escaped a serial killer and latches on to Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) to help her cope and also to find the people responsible. She has some great scenes in her episode “In the Beginning” where they track down another victim and go after one of the killers, murdering him in the final scene. “Dexter” guest John Lithgow won last year.
If anyone is primed for an upset, it is Loretta Devine. She has played the recurring role of Adele Webber on “Grey’s Anatomy” since season two. In the episode “This Is How We Do It,” she finds out she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease from her husband Dr. Richard Webber (James Pickens, Jr.). While her screentime is limited, it is very emotional.
Two-time Oscar nominee Mary McDonnell (“Dances with Wolves,” 1990; “Passion Fish,” 1992) is nominated as Captain Sharon Raydor on “The Closer.” In her episode “Help Wanted,” she has a lot of screentime but the entire performance is passive as she considers Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) for a possible promotion. McDonnell also received a previous guest nod in 2002 for “E.R.”
Two “Mad Men” actresses are nominated: Cara Buono as Faye Miller, an advertising consultant who becomes another flame for Don Draper (Jon Hamm), and Randee Heller as Miss Blankenship, an older secretary at the agency who provided much comic relief during the fourth season. As Heller’s character dies halfway through her episode “The Beautiful Girls,” she barely has anything to show Emmy voters. Buono is in a similar situation in her episode “Chinese Wall” and has little more than filler material.
Alfre Woodard has won four Emmys (including two in this race — “L.A. Law,” 1987; “The Practice,” 2003) over 16 nominations. She also received an Oscar bid as a supporting actress for the 1983 film “Cross Creek.” In “True Blood,” she played Ruby Jean Reynolds, mother of Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis), but only had two brief scenes in her episode “Everything is Broken.”
Senior editors Rob Licuria and Chris Beachum dish all this and more in the video below.