Courtesy of Apple TV+

Emmy Analysis: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

An assassin, a drug addict, a TV host and the Queen (let’s not forget a cunning matriarch and an obsessed agent) walk into a bar, what do you get? Emmy gold. My favorite category of the night also happens to be the toughest to predict. After Rhea Seehorn, the snub heard around the world, failed to make the shortlist for her amazing work as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul, the race is wide open.

Last year’s race for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, where Jodie Comer took home the top honor, consisted of three actresses who also appear on this year’s nomination list. Any way you look at it, the category is stacked with recent awards winners, industry darlings, and a fresh face who surprised many with her first nod. The category that has seen seven different winners over the same number of years makes determining who will walk away with the Emmy the biggest challenge of the night. 

The nominees for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama include; Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy in The Morning Show, Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, Jodie Comer as Villanelle in Killing Eve, Laura Linney as Wendy Byrde in the Ozark, Sandra Oh as Eve Polastri in Killing Eve and Zendaya as Rue in Euphoria. An impressive group across the board, let’s take a closer look at the nominees.

JENNIFER ANISTON, Alex Levy / The Morning Show / AppleTV+
Aniston is no newcomer to the Emmy world. Her long-awaited return to television also marks her return to the Emmy race, one that is preceded by a whopping six Emmy nominations and one win in 2002 for a little show called Friends. AppleTV+’s The Morning Show has provided Aniston the opportunity to show off her drama chops in a juicy role as Alex Levy, a conflicted morning TV show host dealing with a sex scandal that may just be inspired by recent real-life events. Aniston delivers some of the best work of her career, silencing any remaining critics by completely shedding her Rachel Green persona from Friends. In The Morning Show she is strong, manipulative and fierce – a force to be reckoned with both on the screen and in the hunt for a second Emmy. After taking home the SAG and earning a Golden Globe nomination for the role, it’s hard not to place Aniston at the top of the predictions list.

OLIVIA COLMAN, Queen Elizabeth II / The Crown / Netflix
Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the Queen and Academy Award winner Olivia Colman. It would be impossible to ignore Colman’s awards pedigree, given how she boasts an impressive list of nominations and wins throughout her prestigious career. All you need to remember is one word, Favourite. Her work in the film was universally acclaimed, launching her into the global spotlight after years of being known as a British TV and film darling. This season on The Crown she grabbed the reins as the royal matriarch Queen Elizabeth II, a role that previously earned her predecessor, Claire Foy, a pair of Emmy nods and one win. Colman slipped comfortably into The Crown, playing the Queen during the 1960s and ‘70s, and bringing to the role a more reserved and regal performance than in seasons’ past. The question here is; has The Crown lost its luster with Emmy voters?

JODIE COMER, Villanelle / Killing Eve / BBC America
The relative Emmy newcomer has earned her second nomination for her portrayal of the quirky and seductive assassin Villanelle, who plays opposite fellow nominee Sandra Oh’s Eve. Their enticing game of cat and mouse is only slowed by their endless flirtations with each other. Comer shocked many winning her first Emmy last year, beating out names such as Viola Davis, Emilia Clarke, Robin Wright, and even Oh. The third season explores a different side of her character that focuses on her relationship with her long lost family. The storyline provides Comer the chance to dig deeper into Villanelle, exposing previously unexplored facets that include a heart-wrenching and poignant final shot that alone might be enough to catapult her to a second Emmy win in as many years. With love coming from across the awards radar (BAFTA, Golden Globes, and Critics Choice), there is no denying the allure of Comer and Villanelle.

LAURA LINNEY / Wendy Byrde / Ozark / Netflix
No one in this category can discredit Laura Linney’s nuanced work on Netflix’s Ozark. As Wendy Byrde, the family matriarch, we have watched her transform over the show’s three seasons from the seemingly picture-perfect mother who becomes involved in the world of crime to protect her family to a scheming cutthroat boss. But what are her chances of coercing Emmy into handing her another trophy? Working in her favor is her career body of work, specifically her work during the third season of Ozark, which many think is some of her best yet. Making it harder to forecast is how Linney’s long Emmy history will affect voting. She has seven nominations with three wins for lead actress and one as a guest. Emmy loves her. But will Emmy look elsewhere to spread the wealth or will the strength of her performance be too wickedly good to deny?

SANDRA OH / Eve Polastri / Killing Eve / BBC America
If there is one word to describe Sandra Oh’s relationship with Emmy, it’s overdue. She has racked up an incredible 12 nominations (nine for acting, three as a producer) since 2005. That is just six less than the record holder: the delightfully unlucky Angela Lansbury. While she did earn her third consecutive nomination for the titular role of Eve, it was unfortunately in a season where her character took a backseat to Comer’s Villanelle. While her work was again characteristically impressive, Oh’s best bet to walk away with the honor against such strong competition looks to be a concerted effort by voters to reward her for her body of work, something that would certainly be embraced by voters and viewers alike. Though, splitting Killing Eve fans’ votes with fellow nominee Comer certainly won’t help her chances.

ZENDAYA, Rue Bennett / Euphoria / HBO
One of the biggest shocks of Emmy nomination morning was the revelation that Zendaya would be joining this prestigious list of actresses in the hunt for the drama lead actress trophy. She turned a lot of heads with a layered performance as Rue Bennet, a high school student with a history of drug problems on HBO’s Euphoria. The former Disney star quickly and permanently shed her wholesome image to deliver some of the most powerful moments on television this year. Will her body of work be enough to convince voters she has earned her stripes? Emmy has been kind to newcomers in the past, especially to rising stars, which Zendaya undeniably is. Plus, she gave my favorite performance of the year. So, at least she has that going for her.

There is much more in play here than what’s been covered. We can analyze this category with a fine-tooth comb, but while Linney has the year’s showiest performance, Emmy voters will likely jump at the chance to give Aniston the win. Then again, all of these ladies deserve and have a shot to win. 

Prediction: Jennifer Aniston
Preference: Zendaya
Sleeper: Zendaya 

  1. Predicted ranking:
  2. Linney
  3. Zendaya
  4. Oh
  5. Colman
  6. Comer


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3 years ago

I honestly think that Zendaya might walk away with this. However, I’m terrified to predict her because I don’t want to get my hopes up only to be disappointed in the end. My favorite performance in this category by quite a bit.



Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Awards Circuit and Screen Radar. He has conducted interviews with some of the best in the business - learning more about them, their projects and their crafts. He is a graduate of the RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.

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