Real-life women dominate TV Movie/Limited Actress Emmy race, with Amanda Seyfried on top

This year’s Best Movie/Limited Actress Emmy race is shaping up to be one for the record books, with a strong showing of actresses depicting real-life women in contention. Looking at Gold Derby’s combined odds, 11 of the top 15 spots are taken by performers who are playing such true-to-name nonfiction characters. If we broaden this definition to include characters who are merely inspired by living people, that number changes to 13.

Trending in the top spot, we have Amanda Seyfried portraying Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes in Hulu’s “The Dropout.” Television critic Lucy Mangan with The Guardian refers to Seyfried’s performance as “hugely skillful,” going on to say, “Seyfried makes it all work and keeps our attention – even our sympathy.” The actress is also riding high fresh off of her first Oscar nomination for her performance in 2020’s “Mank,” which can often boost a performer’s Emmy chances.

Following closely behind is Margaret Qualley, who plays Alex, a character inspired by Stephanie Land, in Netflix’s “Maid.” These two seem to be all but guaranteed nominations, with Qualley earning bids from Critics Choice, SAG Awards and Golden Globes, and Seyfried receiving near unanimous praise for her portrayal of Holmes.

Moving through the list of likely nominees, names such as Jessica Chastain (“Scenes from a Marriage”), Julia Garner (“Inventing Anna”), Lily James (“Pam and Tommy”) and Viola Davis (“The First Lady”) appear, each (minus Chastain) starring as women who are currently living. Chastain’s case is a bit tricky, as it has been speculated that her character is based on Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann, who originated the role in 1973. Garner is already an Emmy favorite, having won twice for “Ozark,” which could boost her chance of a bid in this category as con artist Anna “Delvey” Sorokin.

James (as actress Pamela Anderson) and Davis (as First Lady Michelle Obama) play women who the media has on one hand scrutinized and villainized, and on the other hand praised and glorified. There is an emphasis on this dichotomy in their performances, showcasing the arduous life of a polarizing public figure. James received unanimous approval from the moment photos of her and her co-star (Sebastian Stan) were released. But Davis was met with mixed reviews over her performance, particularly on social media. My personal view on both performances tends to skew positively, especially in the case of Davis, but we’ll have to see if voters side with me or with the general public.

Rounding out Gold Derby’s Top 13 are Claire Foy (as Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll on “A Very British Scandal”), Julia Roberts (as Martha Mitchell, wife of the Attorney General, on “Gaslit”), Michelle Pfieffer (as First Lady Betty Ford on “The First Lady”), Toni Collette (as victim Kathleen Peterson on “The Staircase”), Gillian Anderson (as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on “The First Lady”), Anne Hathaway (as Rebekah Neumann, wife of WeWork’s co-founder, on “WeCrashed”) and Renée Zellweger (as accused murderer Pam Hupp on “The Thing About Pam”). In any other year, most of these actresses would be locks for a bid, each of them being major awards players, with Oscar wins and nominations, as well as Emmy attention for various roles. Of the last seven names mentioned, each is portraying a historical figure, or a woman made famous by true events.

In the case of Foy, Pfeiffer, Roberts and Anderson, a plethora of images, recordings and general information exist, providing material for viewers and voters to compare and contrast, setting a metric for who “gets it right.” We have seen this happen in recent years with television and film projects alike, most notably “The Crown,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Fosse/Verdon.” Each title featured one or more transformative performances by their lead performers, resulting in Oscars and Emmys, and praise from audiences for their accuracy. Comparatively, Collette, Zellweger and Hathaway all play characters who don’t have as much name recognition, and less footage to juxtapose their performances, especially in the case of Collette. But all do remarkable jobs, and have a solid chance of making the cut.

Other performers that could net nominations include women made famous by major scandals: Beanie Feldstein (as White House intern Monica Lewinsky on “Impeachment”), Elle Fanning (as defendant Michelle Carter on “The Girl from Plainville”), Sarah Paulson (as White House aide Linda Tripp on “Impeachment”), Olivia Colman (as accused murderer Susan Edwards on “Landscapers”) and Jessica Biel (as accused murderer Candy Montgomery on “Candy”). Fanning in particular gives an impressive turn as Carter, with Variety’s chief television critic Daniel D’Addario stating that she does “superb work balancing her character’s desire to project empathy with her own deep need to be perceived and understood.”

The Emmys have recently awarded several biopic performances, including Michelle Williams as dancer Gwen Verdon for “Fosse/Verdon,” Paulson as prosecutor Marcia Clark for “The People v. O.J. Simpson,” Julianne Moore as Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin for “Game Change” and Claire Danes as the self-titled animal behaviorist for “Temple Grandin.” Going back a bit further, between 1999-2009, seven out of the 11 winners were depictions of women who actually lived.

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