If I had an Emmy ballot 2012: Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Time for part 4 of our look at the Emmy nominations process for 2012. As always, Fienberg and I are going to approach things in two ways. I’ll pretend that I have an Emmy ballot and make my picks for the six actors or shows I would put on my ballot, while Dan will rank the potential nominees from most likely to least. And, as always, we are working off of the actual Emmy ballot, so we can’t consider people who didn’t submit themselves, nor can we reassign anyone to a more suitable or easier category.

Having covered the drama supporting actors last time, we move onto Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. Dan’s predictions are here, and my preferences are coming right up…

This category isn’t as brutal as its male counterpart, but almost no category this year comes remotely close to that, and there are still around a dozen actresses I’d be perfectly happy to see get nominations.

As a result, I was again tempted to pick only one performer per show, but as with supporting actor, there was a pair of co-stars I ultimately couldn’t choose between. Maisie Williams was one of my favorite parts of “Game of Thrones” season 1, and she was even more of a treat as Arya Stark became a more prominent part of season 2. Williams is so  composed and charming, especially for her age, that even though Arya didn’t have much of a storyline in this season, it was just a pleasure to watch Williams play opposite Charles Dance as Tywin and Tom Wlaschiha as Jaqen.

Lena Headey, on the other hand, was an actress I wasn’t entirely sold on in the first season, in part because I was still thinking of her underwhelming work as the title character of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” But she was gangbusters this year, as Cersei Lannister had to deal with the triumph and the horror of watching her beloved but sociopathic son Joffrey sit on the throne. Cersei’s a bad person, but she was raised to be, and in a variety of scenes, Headey got to show the many ways that Cersei regrets who and what she’s become, even as she does everything in her power to stay where and who she is.

It’s been funny watching “Bunheads” the last couple of weeks and seeing a different tall, versatile brunette play a fast-talking, self-deprecating Amy Sherman-Palladino heroine. But it’s a credit to Lauren Graham that I stopped thinking of Sarah Braverman on “Parenthood” as Lorelai Gilmore 2.0 a long time ago. “Parenthood” is a show that doesn’t always gracefully shift gears from comedy to drama, from story to story, but Graham always sells every emotion she’s given, often with no dialogue, and just a few changes of expression. She continues to be one of the best parts of that show.

It’s funny to think back to the early part of “Mad Men” season 5, when a lot of the complaints about Jessica Paré’s screentime were specifically lamenting that it was coming at the expense of Christina Hendricks. By the end of the year, we certainly didn’t have to worry about Joan being forgotten. She kicked out her husband, delicately fended off Lane’s advances, flirted marvelously with Don, prostituted herself for a partnership stake in the agency, then grieved Lane and assumed his duties. And even if a plot occasionally felt jury-rigged, Hendricks was magnificent throughout, doing some of her best work of the series to date. No “Mad Men” actor has yet won an Emmy for their work on the show; given both her performance and the field, I would say Hendricks has the best chance of ending that streak.

I’ve been working on multiple categories at once for this project, and it will surprise exactly none of you that Bryan Cranston is going to be on my list of drama lead actor nominees. In looking for appropriate clips to go along with his blurb, I couldn’t help being reminded of just how good Anna Gunn is opposite him in iconic scenes like the end of “Crawl Space” or (below) Walt’s “I am the one who knocks!” speech. Walter White’s become quite the monster over the course of the series, and someone has to reflect and react to that transformation. Often, that’s been Jesse, but the two partners spent much of this season apart, while Skyler was busy inserting herself into Walt’s criminal activity, and Gunn did a tremendous job of showing Skyler’s increasing horror at realizing what her husband’s life was like, and who and what he had become.

Like her “Boardwalk Empire” partner Steve Buscemi, Kelly Macdonald has the difficult task of playing a character who not only doesn’t always make her motivations known to the audience, but to herself. Margaret Schroder is in a near-constant state of transformation, only sometimes aware of why she’s becoming this new person (abused wife, meek shop clerk, grateful mistress, willing co-conspirator, guilt-ridden Catholic, etc.), and Macdonald has to make all the personas fit together, often with little chance to explain in dialogue what she’s thinking. And she does it, consistently. An excellent, if often mysterious, performance.

Others considered:
Morena Baccarin from “Homeland,” Christine Baranski from “The Good Wife,” Kristin Bauer van Straten from “True Blood,” Erika Christensen from “Parenthood,” Megan Hilty from “Smash,” Regina King from “Southland,” Gretchen Mol from “Boardwalk Empire,” Sandra Oh from “Grey’s Anatomy,” Archie Panjabi from “The Good Wife,” Monica Potter from “Parenthood,” Kiernan Shipka from “Mad Men,” Maggie Siff from “Sons of Anarchy,” Maggie Smith from “Downton Abbey” and Mae Whitman from “Parenthood.”

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com