[In Week Two of Cultural Learnings’ 59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations Preview, we’re looking at possible contenders for the Supporting Actress awards in both drama and comedy. Today, we present our fifth set of candidates. For last week’s Supporting Actor candidates, and an index of all candidates, Click Here]
Supporting Actress in a Drama
Patricia Wettig (Holly Harper)
Brothers & Sisters
Fans of FOX’s Prison Break will know Patricia Wettig from her stint as (Vice-)President Reynolds on the show’s first season before she mysteriously disappeared in its second, returning only for a brief cameo. Well, for those fans who might not be so interested in primetime family dramas and who skipped ABC’s Brothers & Sisters, it was the reason why she was absent. With her husband Ken Olin (A prolific director/producer on Alias) producing the ABC series, Wettig was drawn away from her presidential role for one somewhat different. And, while I’m sure it mucked things up over at Prison Break, Wettig made the right decision in the end. In Holly Harper, Wettig has a character with emotional depth beyond her introduction. Beginning as a volatile plot device from the Walker family’s departed patriarch’s past, Holly has since developed into an honest-to-goodness part of this ensemble cast. While some of the other supporting performances were perhaps more showy (Mainly Rachel Griffith’s turn), Wettig brought to Holly a sense of loss and independence worthy of Emmy contention.
Holly Harper was the other woman, the one that Nora Walker knew existed and yet didn’t believe was ever a real problem. The key theme of the season was Nora dealing with her husband’s past haunting her even after his death, and Holly was a big part of this. As she became an inheritor, and as she bought herself into the family business, Holly was a thorn in Nora’s side in a real fashion. However, Holly was rarely out to get Nora in the beginning. Wettig brought to the role a sense that she was willing to be civil, willing to be honest, willing to let things slide. Then, of course, things hit the roof and Nora couldn’t take it anymore.
Their tension was palpable, and it drove the show forward. As Holly battled with Sarah and Nora, she was often somewhat vindictive and it would be easy for Wettig to fall into that pattern. However, once Holly’s daughter Rebecca entered the picture, Wettig was given a more emotional side. We began to see the life she led without having to relate to this family, the life as the other woman with a daughter and a life to live. It is easy to immediately condemn the other woman, but I found myself warming to Holly by season’s end. Wettig brought to the role a sense of honesty, a knowledge of her sins and yet an acknowledgement of needing to move on from it. From beginning to end in her series run, Patricia Wettig embodied Holly Harper in a way that she could never have achieved with Prison Break’s cold-hearted president. Not only did Wettig make perhaps the best career move of the year, but she also delivered a performance worthy of Emmy consideration.
Episode Selection: “Grapes of Wrath” (Aired May 6th, 2007)
Holly is at her most vicious here, reeling from the news that her daughter has moved in with the Walkers and the tension between her and Nora is most certainly at a fever pitch. Wettig has a lot of fun seducing Nora’s date for the weekend, her creepy writing teacher, but the real kicker comes from an end of episode food fight that is both funny and yet evolves into something much more substantial. Holly breaks down after the fight, realizing that she still misses William (Nora’s husband, her lover). That breakdown is the first time I really looked at Wettig for this award, and I think it convinced me she deserved it. It puts into context Holly’s actions, Holly’s inability to move on, just as it did Nora’s inability to move on before she put William behind her at some point earlier. Actually, Holly’s actually better at moving on than Nora is. And Wettig makes this very clear, matching Sally Field line for line and delivering an Emmy-worthy performance.
YouTube – “Grapes of Wrath”
Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Vanessa Williams (Wilhemina Slater)
There is something to be said for an actress finally finding the right role for them. Vanessa Williams has jumped around, struggling to find her role in the television and film universe. Outside of appearances in films such as Soul Food or Shaft, or her short-lived runs on Boomtown or South Beach (Which existed, believe it or not), she has never found a niche in the acting world. As a result, most people know her best from performing ‘Colours of the Wind’ in Disney’s Pocahontas and her other singing accolades. However, Williams is not happy just being another Pebo Brison; she appears to have been waiting for the right role to finally come along. And, well, come along it has: as the scheming Wilhelmina Slater, Williams has elevated her game with a conniving and devious performance that skirts the line between villain and hero so well that I’m still not sure where I stand. However, either way, Vanessa Williams has finally found the right role, and it is one worthy of Emmy Awards attention.
What makes Wilhelmina stand out amongst the show’s ensemble is that she is always fighting for something. Her constant fight is her attempts to take over Mode Magazine, believing that the job should have been hers as opposed to that of the boss’ son. This fight provides some strong work for Williams, and some quality scheming opportunities, but there are other fights to be had. A mid-season arc showed her strained relationship with her daughter Niko, but more importantly was the conflict that makes Williams’ performance shine: Wilhelmina vs. Herself.This character struggles, constantly, with her own devious high-cultured side and her own desires. When she was tempted by a beer-guzzling Southerner, and then eventually losing out to his wife and kids, you felt her heartbreak as she returned to her former stuffy self. When at the end of the season she traded away her assistant Marc for a wedding date in her scheme to marry Bradford and take over the magazine, you could tell that her connection with him went deeper than any plot they might hatch (You don’t just toss aside someone who you had bitchslap you down a set of stairs like that). Williams perfectly portrayed this character so willing to go over the top to get her way, despite having never quite found the right direction in which to travel. That blend of comedy and drama is the perfect role for Vanessa Williams, and the character of Wilhelmina Slater has given her an honest to goodness shot of getting Emmy consideration.
Episode Selection: “Secretaries’ Day” (Aired May 3rd, 2007)
Williams has actually submitted a different episode for consideration, but I have a problem with that selection. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” features a great scene with her taunting Claire Meade with alcohol (She’s an alcoholic, get it?), but it is unfortunately light on one thing: comedy. Secretaries’ Day, meanwhile, offers a much more comic take on the proceedings as Wilhelmina attempts to gain Bradford’s sympathy. The episode is still a bit too scheming for my liking (I think that some of her mid-season over-dramatic work might be better if it wasn’t also a little blanc), but I think that it is the light-hearted witchery that Emmy voters can relate to. Although snubbed at the Golden Globes (I blame the idiotic practice of having a supporting category for Drama, Comedy and Miniseries/TV movies), Williams has a chance with this episode, and in particular this one scene.
YouTube – “Secretaries’ Day”