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Roundup of Emmy Contenders: Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Cat Elliott

For this installment of Roundup of Emmy Contenders, we’re sharing our top picks for the leading women of TV drama. The nominations for the 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced on July 13, and in the meantime, we’re giving you our take on whose work should be recognized. Keep reading for a roundup of the names we think should make this year’s list of nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.


Jurnee Smollett for Lovecraft Country

Jurnee Smollett stars in Misha Green’s genre-bending series Lovecraft Country, based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name. The HBO show centers on Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors), who sets off on a quest across 1950s Jim Crow America with his friend Letitia (Smollett) and Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to find Atticus’ missing father. They fight to survive both the racism and the terrifying monsters that they face along their otherworldly journey in a series that blends history, science fiction and horror. An IndieWire review of the series calls Smollett “pure dynamite” in her performance as Letitia and we couldn’t agree more. No spoilers here, but the third episode of the series’ inaugural season supplies strong support for such a description. Smollett gives Beyoncé a run for her money in the bat-wielding department during an incredibly satisfying scene in which Letitia wreaks havoc on the cars of some white supremacists.


Emma Corrin for The Crown

Emma Corrin made quite the leap from being a relatively unknown actor to playing opposite the likes of Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter in the hit Netflix series The Crown. She didn’t just hold her own against such names — she stole the spotlight. TVLine called her portrayal of Princess Diana in season four of the royal family drama “a fascinating, heartbreaking portrait” that “showed us fresh layers of a woman we thought we already knew so well.” Prince Harry even endorsed the series, in which Corrin plays his late mother, during an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden. “I’m way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family, or my wife, or myself,” he asserted. Considering Prince Harry’s relationship to the person Corrin portrays on screen, we think his endorsement speaks volumes about her masterful performance as the beloved “people’s princess.”


Billie Piper for I Hate Suzie

After British multi-hyphenate Billie Piper co-created and starred in her own series I Hate Suzie, some started comparing her work to that of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “To see the marvelous I Hate Suzie as a hopeful Fleabag successor, and not its own original, thrillingly vulnerable creation, would be a mistake,” reads one review. “Billie Piper isn’t Phoebe Waller-Bridge. She’s Billie Piper, and she’s electrifying.” The description rings true as the thespian’s energy is captivating from the moment she appears on screen in the pilot episode as singer and actor Suzie Pickles. Just after Suzie receives a call that she’s landed a big role, she also gets word that some of her intimate photos were hacked and leaked on the internet. The rest of the series deals with the aftermath as she struggles to move forward in her career and personal life.


Christian Serratos for Selena: The Series

Any role that involves portraying a real person comes with the added pressure to get the character “right.” Now add the stakes that that person was not only a public figure tragically killed at a young age, but her sister is also the executive producer on the project that tells their story. Those were the circumstances surrounding Christian Serratos’ portrayal of 90s Tejano music sensation Selena Quintanilla in Netflix’s Selena: The Series. Suzette Quintanilla, the singer’s sister who executive produced the project, applauded Serratos as a “fierce Latina” for taking on the challenge. “I loved [that] about her, and that’s definitely a trait my sister had as well, not afraid to step into a zone that she was not familiar with,” Quintanilla told Entertainment Tonight.


Whether they’re portraying beloved public figures like Corrin and Serratos, or fictional characters like Smollett and Piper, their work finds common ground in the masterful quality of their performances. We’ll find out on July 13 who makes it onto this year’s list of Emmy nominees, but they’re already all winners in our book.


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