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Emmy Circuit: Mothers Dominate a Strong Supporting Actress in a Limited Series Field


Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series. We are now in the Emmy post-nomination phase, where we watch all the nominated Emmy episodes and predict their chances of winning. The Creative Arts Emmy winners will be revealed Saturday, Sept. 14, while the Primetime Emmy Awards airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. Tune in week after week as we tackle all things Drama, Comedy, Limited Series and Variety.


This year’s Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie has a refreshing mix of Emmy newcomers and familiar faces. It features three actresses who are receiving their first Emmy nominations, alongside the Patricias (Clarkson and Arquette), who have seven nominations between them, as well as Vera Farmiga, who has been nominated once before for her work on “Bates Motel.”

The beauty of all the categories associated with the limited series is that because of their very nature, the nominees always feel fresh and different. “American Horror Story,” one of the most popular anthology series of the decade, received eleven nominations in this category alone since 2010 but each season was effectively an entirely different show. Here, you don’t see the sort of shows whose nominees become entrenched in one character for their entire ten-year run.

Because of this, it’s difficult to gauge which way the wind will blow when it’s time for the awards to be handed out. But that’s what makes it so exciting – there’s no such thing as certainty when it comes to the limited series.


  • Patricia Arquette – “The Act” – Episode: “Teeth”
  • Marsha Stephanie Blake – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Three”
  • Patricia Clarkson – “Sharp Objects” – Episode: “Closer”
  • Vera Farmiga – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Two”
  • Margaret Qualley – “Fosse/Verdon” – Episode: “Where Am I Going?”
  • Emily Watson – “Chernobyl” – Episode: “Open Wide, O Earth”

Patricia Arquette – “The Act” – Episode: “Teeth” 

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Episode Synopsis: Gypsy is given the “Child of the Year Award,” but a dental emergency that gets the attention of a skeptical doctor could expose Dee Dee’s secrets. (IMDb)

When we first meet Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette), she seems every inch the doting mother to a child with a disability. Almost saint-like in her self-sacrificing nature, she lives her entire existence taking care of her daughter, Gypsy. But in the show’s second episode, “Teeth,” the veil drops, and we can see how manipulative she can be. 

Arquette puts on a masterclass here: every word to the doctors is carefully constructed to maintain the lies she’s built up around the two of them. She redirects the conversation, successfully deflecting questions she doesn’t want to answer and somehow managing to con physicians into taking her word in the absence of any medical documentation. Arquette’s performance as Dee Dee in these moments is of an expert juggler, somehow managing to keep all the balls in the air through sheer force of will. 

But Arquette’s interpretation avoids the straightforwardness of malevolence, and although Dee Dee’s actions are reprehensible she never becomes a cartoon villain. Because Dee Dee possesses genuine concern in protecting her daughter in every way possible, even when her actions do far more to hurt Gypsy. We don’t see her as just a ruthlessly manipulative mother essentially torturing her daughter, but also as an anxious, tired, and very ill woman. This is all thanks to the depth of Arquette’s performance.

Marsha Stephanie Blake – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Three”

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Episode Synopsis: Antron, Yusef, Kevin and Raymond struggle being behind bars. They eventually are let out and have a hard time adjusting to life outside. (IMDb)

The miniseries “When They See Us” is a massive ensemble piece packed full of devastating performances, from the young actors playing the Central Park Five, to their bewildered and terrified parents, to the actors taking on the faces of those that represent the ugly racism ingrained in the justice system.

It takes a lot for any one person to stand out from the crowd, so the fact that you walk away from “When They See Us” remembering Marsha Stephanie Blake as Linda McCray, mother of the unjustly convicted Antron McCray, is a testament to the strength of her performance. The scene she has with her son in the juvenile detention center is incredibly moving, and her speech where she promises to be with him through everything is perhaps the year’s most heart-wrenching depiction of pure love.

What could prevent her from winning is, in the end, the nature of the show itself: it’s an ensemble piece. With the vote in this category split between her and Vera Farmiga and the narrative of the awards focused primarily on the actors playing the Central Park Five, she may be hard-pressed to find a path to victory.

Patricia Clarkson – “Sharp Objects” – Episode: “Closer”

sharp objects 14Episode Synopsis: Despite a possible killer on the loose, Wind Gap gathers for their annual southern-pride festival, hosted by Adora. (IMDb)

For many months now, Patricia Clarkson has seemed to be the frontrunner in this category. For her work as Adora, a dry, old-money Southern socialite obsessed with appearances in HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” she won a Golden Globe and has received widespread praise that has yet to fade away since the show went off the air. The only potential problem for Clarkson’s Emmy prospects is exactly how long ago that was. 

“Sharp Objects” ended in August 2018, leaving a full year between the finale and this year’s Emmy voting. Everyone loved Clarkson’s performance as the imperious, overbearing mother to Amy Adams’ determined and fractured Camille. But the question remains, will they remember it well enough to reward her at the Emmys? After all, a year is a terribly long time in the entertainment industry. 

But Clarkson is well-liked by Emmy voters: she’s won twice before for her work as Aunt Sarah on “Six Feet Under,” and is the most nominated of the actresses in this category. It’s certainly possible that in the absence of a clear alternative, voters may elect to give the award to Clarkson, who seems particularly well-utilized in “Sharp Objects,” bringing emotional nuance to a role that we’ve seen only too often become one-note.

Vera Farmiga – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Two”


Episode Synopsis: The New York City police are shown mounting a conspiracy with prosecutors, to fudge timelines and to ignore conflicting evidence, in order to expedite a guilty verdict against five boys. (IMDb)

Vera Farmiga was brought in on “When They See Us” to do a seemingly thankless job: bring to life an ever-so-slightly fictionalized version of Elizabeth Lederer, the district attorney who was in charge of the Central Park Five trials. Five young black teenagers were convicted of rape, despite overwhelming evidence that police had acted illegally in obtaining coerced confessions from children as young as 14. So it takes a special kind of willingness to be hated to play such a character. 

Farmiga in “When They See Us” is unquestionably up to the task. She brings an amorality and a complete lack of empathy to the role — it’s only too clear that she is willing to say and do anything to have these boys convicted. With an even tone and a smile that doesn’t quite reach her dead eyes, she serves as a stand-in for the unfeeling and biased judicial system that throws the lives of young black men away on a daily basis. 

What could potentially hurt her? Well, voters like a good villain, but usually gravitate towards the malicious characters that have a bit of charm to them or some other element that makes them inherently compelling to audiences. It’s possible that Elizabeth Lederer is too cold and unfeeling to have made a tremendous emotional impression on Emmy voters.

Margaret Qualley – “Fosse/Verdon” – Episode: “Where Am I Going?”

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FOSSE VERDON “Glory” Episode 4 (Airs Tuesday, April 30, 10:00 pm/ep) — Pictured: Margaret Qualley as Ann Reinking. CR: Michael Parmelee/FX

Episode Synopsis: As old friends reunite for a weekend at the beach, new tensions emerge between Bob and Gwen. (IMDb)

There are a lot of big performances in “Fosse/Verdon”, as one might expect from a series depicting the famously fraught relationship between theatrical powerhouses Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Margaret Qualley as Ann Reinking, a young dancer and Bob’s latest girlfriend, does not deliver one of them.

Instead, Qualley is a model of restraint, putting in a naturalistic yet nuanced performance that makes it clear just how much potential this young actress has. She excels in the quieter moments, as she tries to subtly navigate the incredibly awkward position she’s been put in and determine exactly what her place is in these people’s lives. She serves as a calm center to the chaos of Bob and Gwen’s drama with a maturity that belies her years. And what’s more, she has the instinctive awareness of a trained theatrical performer: she knows when to seize her moment, and when to fade into the background and let others shine.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that she’ll win the Emmy here. “Fosse/Verdon” is excellent, but has been overshadowed by the other series in its category. And with so many other, more established actors nominated, Qualley may find herself one of the first to fall out of contention.

Emily Watson – “Chernobyl” – Episode: “Open Wide, O Earth”


Episode Synopsis: Valery creates a detailed plan to decontaminate Chernobyl; Lyudmilla ignores warnings about her firefighter husband’s contamination. (IMDb)

In a way, Emily Watson has the toughest job of all on HBO’s “Chernobyl,” a miniseries documenting the horrific effects of the world’s most devastating nuclear disaster to date. Watson plays Ulana Khomyuk, who, within the show’s narrative, is a nuclear physicist investigating the Chernobyl explosion, but is actually a composite for the many dozens of scientists who worked to mitigate the fall-out from the disaster.

In this episode, she is effectively playing a nation’s conscience, advocating for policies and protocols to be put in place that will save lives, and continuing the push for answers that will explain the explosion so that they can prevent it from happening ever again. Playing a group of people or an idea is a lot harder than portraying a character, and it’s a credit to Watson’s ability that she imbues Ulana with such humanity.

Although she’s not the front-runner in this category, and she’s perhaps hurt by the fact that, unlike her co-stars, she isn’t playing a real person, her situation is far from hopeless. “Chernobyl” was so well received and Emily Watson has such respect from her contemporaries within the entertainment community that she’s well-positioned as a dark horse to take home an Emmy award for her performance.


  1. Patricia Clarkson – “Sharp Objects” – Episode: “Closer”
  2. Emily Watson – “Chernobyl” – Episode: “Open Wide, O Earth”
  3. Patricia Arquette – “The Act” – Episode: “Teeth”
  4. Vera Farmiga – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Two”
  5. Marsha Stephanie Blake – “When They See Us” – Episode: “Part Three”
  6. Margaret Qualley – “Fosse/Verdon” – Episode: “Where Am I Going?”

WILL WIN: Patricia Clarkson – “Sharp Objects” – Episode: “Closer”

SHOULD WIN: Patricia Arquette – “The Act” – Episode: “Teeth”

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: Chloe Sevigny – “The Act” – Episode: “La Maison du Bon Reve”

Who do you think will win Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie this year? Let us know in the comments below.


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Written by Audrey Fox


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