The award for Best Drama Guest Actress was first presented at the 41st Primetime Emmy Awards in 1989, after years of the category going through various changes including mixing genders and lengths of appearances. Samira Wiley (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) would at the age of 31 become the youngest actress to win in this category, or if changes are taken into consideration, the youngest actress to win since Kathryn Walker (“Holocaust,” 1978). Wiley is nominated alongside two co-stars, Kelly Jenrette and Cherry Jones, as well as Viola Davis (“Scandal”), Diana Rigg (“Game of Thrones”) and Cicely Tyson (“How to Get Away With Murder”).
What may help her is that Alexis Bledel (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) is the defending champion and the youngest winner in this category to date, being 35 when she prevailed last year. This shows that voters may be willing to go for a younger person in a category where we have mostly seen veteran actresses such as Margo Martindale (“The Americans,” 2015 and 2016) and Allison Janney (“Masters of Sex,” 2014) take the gold. You have to go back 22 years to Amanda Plummer (“The Outer Limits,” 1996) and then back another seven years to Kay Lenz (“Midnight Caller,” 1989) in order to find a winner under the age of 40.
Emmy voters nominated Wiley in the Best Drama Supporting Actress category last year, which demonstrates support for her performance on the Hulu hit. Additionally, she may be helped by the fact that “The Handmaid’s Tale” received a total of 20 Emmy nominations this year. If voters just check off the show in every eligible category, we could see her take home the trophy, especially as they love it when shows repeat. What could be a problem for her is that she may split votes with Jenrette and Jones, although she might be at an advantage since she’s playing a character that has already been recognized by Emmy voters while Jenrette and Jones did not appear in the show’s first season. Then again, Jones is the veteran actress among the three. Working in her favor, she also has an incredible episode submission, “After,” and is also featured in Jones’ episode “Baggage.” If episode submissions mattered like they used to, then Wiley would absolutely have a shot at winning based on performance alone.
But there is always the possibility that voters might go back to their old habits and honor the veteran actress in the category. Tyson and Rigg have the perfect Emmy I.O.U. if we look at this category before Bledel won. Both actresses have been working for decades, are both previous winners and are very well respected in the industry. Rigg most likely has the edge over Tyson because she’s in a series nominee and had one of the classiest and most memorable death scenes on “Game of Thrones” to date.
And one you can never count out previous winner and Oscar winner Davis, who could get checked off on name alone. Bottom line is that Wiley’s win is a possibility but far from a slam dunk. According to the Gold Derby’s Emmy predictions, Wiley is a spoiler while Rigg is the frontrunner to win.
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