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Category: Mildred Pierce

Emmy battle: 'Mildred Pierce' vs. 'Downton Abbey'

Mildred vs downton

When it comes to the movie/miniseries categories, Emmy voters love to take a trip down memory lane. Just take a look back at recent winners like "The Pacific," "Temple Grandin, "Grey Gardens," "John Adams," "Recount," "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and "Elizabeth I" to see the trend in action.

It is more apparent than ever this year because all six nominees are period pieces in the newly combined category of best TV movie/miniseries. Of the 2011 candidates, four are multi-part miniseries and only two are movies. They all come with healthy pedigrees in both their stories and creative talents.

Most Emmy pundits predict victory for HBO's "Mildred Pierce," which has 21 nominations, the most of all programs competing this year. Academy Award-nominated director-writer Todd Haynes ("Far From Heaven") adapted the book by James M. Cain that was a film in 1945, winning an Oscar for Joan Crawford. Another Oscar winner, Kate Winslet, stars as the title character as the story follows her romances, tragedies and estranged relationship with her overdemanding daughter (nominee Evan Rachel Wood) in 1930s California.

However, watch out for an upset by "Downton Abbey," which was the most buzzed-about, critically hailed show on the BBC last year. Airing on PBS in America, it focuses on aristocratic family members and their servants. Academy Award-winning writer Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") penned "Downton Abbey," which is set in England after World War I and is nodded in 11 Emmy categories. It is favored to win some major awards itself, especially for writing and supporting actress Maggie Smith.

Emmy voters are suckers for snooty British fare, as proved by recent upsets in this category by "Little Dorrit" (2009) and "The Lost Prince" (2005). "Downton Abbey" looks a lot like the original "Upstairs, Downstairs," which won the Emmy for best drama series three times (1974, 1975 and 1977) and best miniseries once (1976). However, "Downton Abbey" is vulnerable on the contemporary awards scene. Last year, when it competed at BAFTA as a drama series, it got usurped by "Sherlock." Now at the U.S. Emmys, there's much controversy over it being repackaged as a miniseries.

Another contender in this category, with 11 bids, is "Too Big to Fail," an HBO movie directed by Oscar- winning screenwriter Curtis Hanson ("L.A. Confidential"). Emmy nominee William Hurt leads an all-star cast, which also includes nominees Paul Giamatti and James Woods in the behind-the-scenes story of the 2008 financial meltdown and its effects on Wall Street and Washington.

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Emmy contenders: The nominees speak their minds

Sue Sylvester 
With all the excitement over their Emmy nods, the nominees have a lot to think about these days. But more important than what they will wear or who they will thank at the Sept. 18 ceremony were far more pressing questions such as, “Is Jane Lynch going to tease me?” The Envelope had a chance to run this and other thoughts past some of the Emmy contenders; here's what they're thinking:

As Sue Sylvester on “Glee,” Jane Lynch can be downright mean. With her as host, are you nervous that she’ll poke jabs at you during her monologue? And what would she tease you about?

“Who could be the meaner person.”
— Margo Martindale, “Justified”

“She probably could talk about my [character’s] terrible wardrobe. Or the fact that I never smile.”
— Mireille Enos, “The Killing”

 “I love her, I think she’s going to be incredible. But we should all be a little worried.”
— Connie Britton, “Friday Night Lights”

“Bring it! It’s all in good fun.”
— Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”

Betty white “Oh, she’s a great gal; she’s fun. I’m not afraid of her. I’m a big fan.”
— Betty White, “Hot in Cleveland”

"I’ve known her for a long time. She’s certainly a searing character. She’s always been very sweet to me in person, so I’m hoping she might give me a 'get out of jail' card [otherwise] I’ll just have to roll with the punches."
-- Johnny Galecki, "The Big Bang Theory"

“If she brings me up in her monologue, I’ve got reason to be nervous. But she’s very funny. I hope I can be recognized by her. That would be an honor.”
— Kyle Chandler, “Friday Night Lights”

“I’ve worked with Jane. She’s a great broad and hilarious. She can do anything she wants. She can sit on my lap. Or maybe I can sit on hers.”
— Amy Poehler, “Parks and Recreation”

“I’d be so happy to get a hard time from Jane Lynch. She could say anything and I’d laugh. I adore her!
I’m sooo excited. I’m such a huge fan!”
— Evan Rachel Wood, “Mildred Pierce”

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Emmys: Evan Rachel Wood is rewarded for bad behavior

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Evan Rachel Wood's role in the HBO miniseries "Mildred Pierce" may have been her flashiest to date. After all, as Veda Pierce, she got to sing opera, act imperious and, oh yes, sleep with her mother's husband. It was enough to earn her an Emmy nomination for supporting actress in a miniseries, and it's a project she's very proud of.

The show did very well.

I know! It was a little like the day before Christmas. You hope for the best -– they certainly all deserve it. But you don't know. You never know. I haven't had a chance to talk to anyone yet. I'm so happy -– I'm really looking forward to that.

What were the challenges of working on this kind of long-term period piece? 

The schedule is grueling, but also so is the story. Especially with Kate and I -– it's all very heavy. Veda was especially hard to play -– she's a very dark person. She's warped. She doesn’t have a lot of light in her life. Trying to find a way to make her human and sympathetic was hard.

Also, all the musical stuff was really hard. I had never played the piano -– I mimicked it, but it has to look right. I had to basically learn the songs. It was a lot to take on. And it's a real actor's piece, there was a lot of dialect. You had to completely shed every bit of yourself.

You also played a vampire queen on "True Blood." Those projects are very different.

Some people want to make a comparison between the two characters, but the only thing even remotely similar is their hair! "True Blood" is fun, but it's like being on the playground. I'm a wide-eyed fan of the show when I'm on the set. "Mildred" is a whole other ballgame -– more intense.

 What was it like working with Kate Winslet?

She's incredible. She's my favorite actress -- even before I started this show! She's also an amazing human being -– just inspiring to be around. She has this incredible strength and amazing sense of humor which is really rare. And she's brilliant and beautiful.

Your "Mildred" costars Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham also received nominations today.

They're both incredible, wonderful actresses. We're just sharing it. It was such long hours and so intense -– for Kate it was like doing five movies back to back -- so it was hard not to bond.

Who do you feel was overlooked?

I have to give a shout out to Morgan Turner, our young Veda. I see great things for her in the future. She's such a funny sweet girl and really smart and cool. But I haven't seen the full list of nominees yet, so I don't know.

What other projects are coming up?

I have a film George Clooney directed coming out in October -– it's called "The Ides of March." I play Molly. She's an intern on George's political campaign. He directs and stars. The cast is incredible: Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei. It's based on a play. It's about the politics of politics.

RELATED: 

Emmys: Louis C.K. was taken by surprise

HBO dominates the Emmy nominations

Emmys: For 'Parks and Recreation's' Amy Poehler, it's about validation ... and 'Carmageddon'

-- Deborah Vankin

Photo: Evan Rachel Wood. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times



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