If I had an Emmy ballot 2011: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama

Last week, the Emmy ballots were sent out to voters in the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The voting deadline is June 24, and the nominations will be announced on July 14. You can download the full performers ballot to see which actors did and didn’t choose to submit themselves (Charlie Sheen, for instance, declined to submit himself this year), and in what category (Rob Lowe, as he always does, submitted himself as a lead, while both of the arguable leads of “Breaking In” submitted themselves as supporting actors).

As we did last year, Fienberg and I are going to approach this phase of the process in two different ways. Dan will tackle the idea of who will be nominated do his usual series of exhaustive galleries of potential nominees, starting with the most likely and then ranging on down into longshots and then plain wishful thinking. I, on the other hand, will stick with the idea of who should be nominated by pretending like I’m an Academy member and trying to winnow my hypothetical ballot down to six actors/shows per category. (You can see an example of this in my hypothetical ballot last year for Outstanding Drama Series, which has links to all the earlier posts.) 

We’re going to aim to do one of these a day, give or take, until we get through the eight comedy and drama acting categories and then comedy and drama series themselves. First up: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama. Dan’s gallery is already up, and my six picks (plus some of the actresses I was sorry to leave off), along with supporting video evidence where available, are after the jump…

In case the picture wasn’t an obvious giveaway, my first pick – and not only my favorite performance in this category, but one of my favorites in any category this year – is Margo Martindale, who played a villain for the ages as “Justified” bootlegger Mags Bennett. Just a perfect blend of backwoods charm and cold-blooded menace, and the way her character exited the series (don’t watch the embedded clip if you don’t want to know) was one of the best examples I can think of of putting a human face on a character who could have been a two-dimensional monster in lesser hands:

My next choice is an actress who also isn’t likely to be eligible for the same character a year from now: Michelle Forbes as grieving “The Killing” mom Mitch Larsen. I’ve actually had some major problems with how Mitch has been written, but that’s not on Forbes. She’s been so raw, so powerful at showing a woman whose life and personality have been completely wrecked by her daughter’s murder, that half of my frustration with the writing is because I wish the scripts were up to the level of that amazing performance.

Condensing a huge novel like “Game of Thrones” into 10 hours of television is no mean feat, and no character arc has felt more condensed than that of Daenerys Targaryen, who has gone from terrified child bride to proud warrior queen in less than a season. But the transformation hasn’t felt rushed at all, thanks to the breakout performance by Emilia Clarke. She’s made Dany’s evolution feel natural, and she commands the screen every time she’s around. Clarke is one of the least-known members of the impressive “Thrones” ensemble, but she’s giving one of the show’s biggest breakout performances.

Khandi Alexander is arguably the least likely of my 6 choices to have a chance at a nomination, if only because she’s on a David Simon show and David Simon shows tend to be ignored by the Emmys. (She couldn’t even get nominated for her incredible work on “The Corner,” which was the one Simon project the Academy actually gave a lot of love.) But she was superb last season, and in many ways has been even better this season at showing her usually strong character struggling to hold herself together in the wake of a brutal attack. One of the big themes of “Treme” this season is the rise in violent crime in New Orleans; Simon chose Alexander’s character to put a face on that trend, and she’s been fantastic – saying so much with her body even as the writers deliberately let her say little in terms of dialogue.

Alexander is one of two women in this category I chose a year ago to repeat (a third submitted herself elsewhere this year; smart readers can deduce her identity before we get there). The other is Sandra Oh, who had probably her best year to date on “Grey’s Anatomy” as the focal point of the show’s commitment to dramatizing the prolonged emotional aftermath to the big shooting at the end of the previous season. Terrific, vulnerable work.

For the final spot, I debated for a long time between a pair of very different “Mad Men” actresses, ultimately choosing Kiernan Shipka over Christina Hendricks. (I’m not bothering with my self-imposed “only one actor per show” rule this year; it just so happened that the other 5 were locks.) You will rarely find me saying a bad word about Hendricks, who was again great this year as Joan struggled with her role at the office and at home, so this choice was more about how wonderful Shipka was as Sally Draper. I don’t usually have much use for child actors, but she’s not just any child – and, in her spotlight episode “The Beautiful Girls,” expertly straddled that line between the girl she is and the woman she wants so badly to be. Shipka was so good, in fact, that I was glad to still have Betty Draper relatively prominent post-divorce; even though Betty has always been one of my least favorite “Mad Men” characters, she in turn provided an excuse for more Sally. As I said above, Martindale’s my favorite (and I believe she’ll win if she can actually get nominated, since voters have to watch each nominees’ submitted episode), but I think I’d be almost as happy to see young Shipka walking up to the stage in September.

Tough omissions: In addition to Christina Hendricks, I wish I could have found room for “Boardwalk Empire” kept woman Kelly Macdonald, who had her own Daenerys-like transformation over the course of a season; for “Big Love” wives Ginnifer Goodwin and Chloe Sevigny, who so often rose above irritating writing; for “In Treatment” therapist Amy Ryan, who was both a match for co-star Gabriel Byrne and a worthy replacement to former Emmy winner Dianne Wiest; for “Good Wife” investigator Archie Panjabi, who won the actual Emmy last season and was even better this year; for “The Walking Dead” survivor Laurie Holden, who kept that show as grounded as she could in its problematic later episodes; and (in an omission from the original post) Laura Allen, for providing so much of the heart of “Terriers” as Britt’s girlfriend Katie.

Up next: The drama supporting actor category.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com