This category is supposedly a lock for Frances McDormand and her icy performance in the HBO limited series Olive Kitteridge. This is not without cause considering McDormand utterly transformed her typical likeable persona into a vindictive, passive-aggressive woman who is incapable of experiencing happiness. McDormand provided multiple layers of depth to her character, suggesting to viewers that her character may suffer from undiagnosed bipolar syndrome and borderline personality. While viewers were hardly capable of identifying with or finding sympathy with her character, one cannot deny that McDormand still managed to captivate viewers into wanting to see more. That is the true achievement of her performance in that she portrayed an individual who continually vilified others, yet viewers couldn’t help but keep their eyes on McDormand the entire time. Already McDormand has won the SAG back in January for her performance, which makes her odds of winning in this category very good.
While McDormand is considered a shoo-in for the win, she still lost the Golden Globe to Maggie Gyllenhaal for her performance in the limited series The Honourable Woman. Gyllenhaal has become a media darling in recent years, having proved herself as an actress with performances in The Dark Knight and Crazy Heart. Her performance in The Honourable Woman is a complete deviation from Gyllenhaal’s previous work by her portraying an aggressive and somewhat ruthless business owner, who seeks to find unity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her performance captures the concept of an individual who desires to bring peace in the world, but having to do it amidst people or cultures that may be hostile towards her. Gyllenhaal’s performance isn’t overtly showy, but rather the opposite: It is a subtle performance that aims to convey the humanity and compassion of the title character. If voters want to deviate from the more showy performances of this category, as the Golden Globe voters did, Gyllenhaal may see herself with a win.
Felicity Huffman is the exactly opposite of both Gyllenhaal and McDormand in that her performance within American Crime is a blatant and in-your-face performance of a woman infuriated by the death of her son, which evokes her internalized racism. Huffman’s performance was a perfect combination of grief and anger, many times directed at those who didn’t deserve to be discriminated against. Huffman’s performance may be off-putting to many voters due to the show’s angry tone, but Huffman still was able to add dimension to a relatively unlikable character by at least creating an understanding as to why she is the way she is.
While McDormand, Gyllenhaal, and Huffman have excellent chances, they are still at a disadvantage to the other three nominees for one reason: There is no musicality to their performances. The remaining three nominees are all performances that hinged upon proper vocals and effective singing. Of the remaining three nominees, Emma Thompson is the least likely to grab any traction from her nomination considering the lack of accessibility to her performance and very rarely does a live performance win the Emmy, especially for roles (Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd) that have been done many times before.
In contrast, Jessica Lange may benefit from a macabre musical performance that she delivered throughout American Horror Story: Freak Show. Lange, who was last year’s surprise winner in this category, shouldn’t be underestimated for a variety of different reasons. First, she is the sentimental favorite in this category and is highly regarded as the reason as to why American Horror Story has become what it is today. Second, her recent announcement of leaving the American Horror Story franchise may entice voters to vote for her one final time for her contribution to the popular show. Third, Lange’s performance in Freak Show was undoubtedly one of the best performances of this past year. Of her four seasons on American Horror Story, this was Lange’s first performance that showcased her portraying a vulnerable woman who is desperate to make a name for herself. Lange not only established a subconscious motivation for her character’s ambitions, but also attached sentiments of feeling isolated and alone as a result of her tormented past. There is no doubt Lange may have given the most effective performance this year, but the likelihood of her winning is slim considering she won the previous year and a back-to-back Emmy win in this category would be an unprecedented feat in itself.
However, the one nominee who has the musical advantage and the acting chops to pull off a worthy upset in this category is Queen Latifah and her astounding performance as Bessie Smith in the HBO film Bessie. Latifah captured the role of the troubled blues singer to perfection, especially in the context of singing capability and range. Latifah was sure to deviate her singing from the swing style of music she sang in the 2002 film Chicago in exchange for a more soulful and compelling blues sound. Latifah’s singing alone could award her the win in this category. What additionally aids her is the complexity of her performance by portraying Bessie Smith’s desire to be with the woman she truly loved, the friction with the possessive man she ended up marrying, dealing with the psychological wounds of her past, and trying to be a strong woman in an era where being both black and a woman were treated as a societal disadvantage. Latifah’s performance was not eligible for the Golden Globe or the SAG (they will be in 2016), which gives Latifah’s Emmy chances an edge of uncertainty amongst the other nominees. It is very much possible Latifah is going to sneak the win away from McDormand due to Latifah’s acting range and singing in Bessie. In contrast to the other nominees in this category, Queen Latifah is among the more worthy to win this Emmy.
Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Honourable Woman
Felicity Huffman – American Crime
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Freak Show
Queen Latifah – Bessie
Frances McDormand – Olive Kitteridge
Emma Thompson – Live From Lincoln Center – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Will Win: Queen Latifah
Could Win: Frances McDormand
Should Win: Jessica Lange
Could Upset: Maggie Gyllenhaal