Julianne Nicholson has crashed into the top 10 of the Best Limited/TV Movie Supporting Actress race. Prior to the “Mare of Easttown” finale on Sunday, Nicholson was in 12th place in the odds, but she has since risen to ninth place following her gut-wrenching performance in the highly anticipated closer that temporarily crashed HBO Max.
As Lori Ross, the best friend of thorny detective Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet), Nicholson played a seemingly quiet role, a dutiful wife and mother whose world implodes in the finale when her 13-year-old son Ryan (Cameron Mann) is arrested for the murder of Erin McMenamin (Cailee Spaeny). The revelation that Lori’s husband, John (Joe Tippett), a serial philanderer, had an affair with 17-year-old Erin, who’s also the daughter of his cousin Kenny (Patrick Murney), and fathered her hearing-impaired son, DJ, was only one of the blows Lori had to withstand in the emotionally charged episode. Prior to Ryan’s arrest, John took the fall for Erin’s murder and asked Lori to care for DJ. What’s a mother to do? Stoic Lori is soon arranging for ear surgery for the child.
The episode’s turning point was Mare’s discovery that the murder weapon, a Colt Detective Special gun, was briefly missing from Glen Carroll’s (Patrick McDade) shed the night of the murder. Only two people had access to the shed: Carroll and the boy who cut his lawn, Ryan. A deeply conflicted Mare has no choice but to drive over to her best friend’s house and arrest the boy. That’s when Lori goes to pieces. After her son is taken to a juvenile detention facility, she sobs alone behind the wheel of her car. Mare attempts to offer words of comfort. Wrong move.
“Why didn’t you come to me?” Lori screams at her. “This one thing. Why couldn’t you just leave it alone? You have John. Why couldn’t you just leave it alone? It’s Ryan. It’s Ryan! It’s my Ryan! My Ryan! It was an accident. He doesn’t even know how to hold a gun. Why couldn’t you just leave him alone? My whole family is gone now because of you.” Utterly distraught, she tells Mare to “get the hell out of my car.”
“Mare of Easttown” was way more than a crime series. It was about how families and friendships in a small town can be forever torn apart by one act of violence. Lori Ross is the face of that anguish. Nicholson’s monologue was unforgettable and the episode ends with another moving moment when Lori collapses in Mare’s arms onto the kitchen floor; the acclaim on social media was instantaneous, with Clayton Davis at Variety suggesting that Nicholson should really be up for an Oscar. Can one fantastic episode take an actor all the way to the Emmys? You bet.
If you don’t think Emmy voters judge a performance by the actor’s ability to effectively deliver a monologue, think again. James Spader won three Best Drama Actor Emmys for the monologues David E. Kelley wrote for him on ABC’s “The Practice” and its spin-off “Boston Legal.” Regina King collected her first (out of four) Emmys for a bracing monologue she executed in the first season of ABC’s anthology series “American Crime.” Most recently, Jharrel Jerome won a Best Limited Series/Movie Actor for his performance as real-life Central Park Fiver Korey Wise in “When They See Us,” which featured a gripping courtroom meltdown scene.
Nicholson, whose TV career includes stints on two Dick Wolf series, “Masters of Sex” and “Ally McBeal,” is still three spots out of the predicted lineup of six, which features Kathryn Hahn (“WandaVision”), Marielle Heller (“The Queen’s Gambit”), Letitia Wright (“Small Axe”), Weruche Opia (“I May Destroy You”) her “Mare” co-star Jean Smart and Renee Elise Goldsberry (“Hamilton”). Expect her odds to improve greatly in the coming weeks as we get closer to nomination day. In the end, she could very well be the woman to beat.
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