If I Had an Emmy Ballot: Longform Lead Acting

Emmy voting has just completed. Over the next few weeks, I'll be laying out who I hope gets nominated in the drama, comedy, and limited series categories in this space, looking specifically at achievements in acting, writing, and directing. Below are my six personal picks for lead acting in a limited series or TV movie, with my preferred winner in bold.

Longform Lead Actress

Bryce Dallas Howard, Black Mirror

Nicole Kidman, Big Little Lies

Jessica Lange, Feud: Bette and Joan

Sanaa Lathan, Shots Fired

Oprah Winfrey, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Reese Witherspoon, Big Little Lies

(alt: Shailene Woodley, Big Little Lies)


Hard to deny that this Best Actress field is better than any that the Oscars have provided in the past several years. While actresses like Jessica Lange and Bryce Dallas Howard can’t get good film roles, here they were on the small-screen this past season, offering reminders of their talent with career-best work. Sanaa Lathan and Oprah Winfrey were spectacular in the otherwise-middling Shots Fired and Henrietta Lacks, respectively, and the fantastic Big Little Lies provided a pair of powerhouse but nuanced central performances. Reese Witherspoon was a cackling delight, but in the end, the show became Nicole Kidman’s vehicle, and goodness was she devastating. Tough category, but with a clear victor. 

Longform Lead Actor

Babou Ceesay, Guerrilla

Robert De Niro, The Wizard of Lies

Robbie Coltrane, National Treasure

Michael Gambon, Churchill’s Secret

Ewan McGregor, Fargo

John Turturro, The Night Of

(alt: Geoffrey Rush, Genius)


I admired De Niro and Ceesay’s performances in otherwise subpar productions, and very much enjoyed the scenery-chewing work of Michael Gambon and Ewan McGregor. But for me, this one came down to the two subtlest performances of the bunch: John Turturro’s beautifully modulated Night Of turn, and Robbie Coltrane’s delicate handling of a familiar sort of monster in National Treasure. Coltrane is excellent in National Treasure, but his show isn’t even on the ballot (call him and the show a write-in), and Turturro — always a special actor — is really what brings The Night Of to life, eczema and all.