This decade of Emmy winners for Best Limited Series/Movie Actress could stack up with the latest Oscar winners for Best Actress. It’s no surprise that many of them have also won Oscars in the past. From Claire Danes in “Temple Grandin” to Nicole Kidman in “Big Little Lies,” many of these leading ladies deliver some of the best performances of their storied careers.
Danes, Julianne Moore and Sarah Paulson all won Emmys for playing real-life characters — Temple Grandin, Sarah Palin and Marcia Clark, respectively. Meanwhile, Kidman, Kate Winslet and Frances McDormand showed the benefit of long-form storytelling when it comes to complex female characters. As for the other winners, Linney gave a powerful send-off to her character, Cathy Jamison, on “The Big C” while Jessica Lange earned her second Emmy for “American Horror Story,” this time for her witchy role in “Coven.”
There are eight very strong performances here, but which is the best of the decade? Vote in our poll below, but first let’s break down each winner.
Claire Danes — “Temple Grandin” (2010)
Danes won her first Emmy in 2010 for her transformative role as the titular character in “Temple Grandin.” Grandin, who invented the hug machine to provide a more humane way of managing livestock on cattle ranches, is also autistic and was frequently misunderstood by her peers. Danes dedicated significant research into playing the role, matching Grandin’s speech patterns, mannerisms, and indomitable spirit.
Kate Winslet — “Mildred Pierce” (2011)
Winslet added the “E” to her hunt for the EGOT when she prevailed for the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce,” an adaptation of the 1941 novel of the same name. Playing Mildred Pierce, the hard-working, long-suffering mother of a monstrous daughter, Winslet is right in her element, having tackled similar characters in other domestic dramas like “Little Children” and “Revolutionary Road.” The actress creates a compelling woman out of Mildred, portraying her working ambitions, struggles with love, and enduring patience for her daughter with understated compassion.
Julianne Moore — “Game Change” (2012)
Four years after the tumultuous 2008 election, Moore earned her first Emmy for playing Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin in the HBO movie “Game Change.” Much like Danes, Moore’s performance was carefully crafted, nailing the accent and quirky idiosyncrasies of the former Governor of Alaska. Beyond those quirks, though, she also played Palin with humanity, giving depth to a political figure that had been used as a political punchline for years.
Laura Linney — “The Big C: Hereafter” (2013)
Linney became a four-time Emmy winner in 2013 for playing cancer patient Cathy Jamison in the final season of Showtime’s “The Big C,” subtitled “Hereafter.” She was initially nominated in Best Comedy Actress for the show’s first season in 2011 but she did not win until “Hereafter,” where Cathy’s emotional journey comes to an end. The final season features Cathy coming to terms with her imminent death, forgoing chemotherapy to live her life to the fullest, and Linney uses her expressive face to her benefit during both the joyous and tragic final moments of Cathy’s life.
Jessica Lange — “American Horror Story: Coven” (2014)
Lange won a supporting Emmy for the first season of FX’s “American Horror Story” in 2012, and two years later she earned a lead Emmy for “Coven,” the show’s third installment. Playing “the baddest witch in town” Fiona Goode, Lange is deliciously evil as the Supreme witch becoming more anxious and unstable as she ages. Of all the winners from the past decade, Lange’s performance is easily the most comedic, though the actress excels in some of the season’s more gruesome moments as well.
Frances McDormand — “Olive Kitteridge” (2015)
McDormand burrows deep into a hardened character as the title character in the HBO limited series “Olive Kitteridge,” a character rarely seen in cinema or television. Olive is a bitter woman, who suffers from depression and is continually baffled by the world, causing her to lash out at those around her. It’s not a likable role in the traditional sense, but McDormand inhabits Olive like only she can, with a wry sense of humor and a lived-in, blue collar sensibility. This was McDormand’s first Emmy win, also winning for Best Limited Series as a producer.
Sarah Paulson — “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” (2016)
Emmy justice prevailed when Paulson finally took home a trophy in 2016 after four years of losses. Fittingly she won the Emmy for her most well-known role to date, as prosecutor Marcia Clark in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” Paulson’s performance is entirely sympathetic, showing how a tough-as-nails prosecutor can become worn down by a sexist media. As Paulson said in her acceptance speech, the world was superficial and judgmental of Clark, and now we are able to see her in a more forgiving light.
Nicole Kidman — “Big Little Lies” (2017)
Kidman’s raw portrayal of domestic abuse victim Celeste Wright in “Big Little Lies” rightfully got her her first Emmy. While not a huge part of the first half of the HBO limited series, the layers of Kidman’s character show through during her amazing therapy scenes and her ongoing battles with her husband as the series reaches its conclusion. Kidman also won an Emmy for producing when “Big Little Lies” was named Best Limited Series.
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