Emmy Actresses Laugh Through the Tough Times

Actress Nominees Bring Touch of Reality to Outlandish Women

The women vying for the lead actress in a comedy series Emmy play roles ranging from a suburban drug dealer to a fashion magazine assistant to a head writer on a TV show -- and a couple of moms challenged by child-raising.

What they have in common is their ability to make audiences laugh at their trials and tribulations.

Twenty-three-year-old America Ferrera is the newbie of the group, which includes past Emmy winners Mary-Louise Parker, Felicity Huffman, Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Ms. Ferrera rose to prominence in the past year with her endearing performance as the title character in "Ugly Betty," a Colombian telenovela that had been adapted for various international audiences before hitting the U.S. airwaves via ABC. Earlier this year she scored both Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild awards. As she accepted those honors, most viewers saw her for the first time without the wig, fake eyebrows and faux braces she dons as Betty Suarez, the fashion-challenged young woman from Queens trying to make it in Manhattan as the assistant to the editor of glossy fashion magazine Mode.

"She is a very special girl, so smart about life and the business. She has instincts and intuition as an actress that I have rarely seen," said Judith Light, who plays Claire Meade, Betty's boss's mother. "She understands moments from her heart and gut. She is being the character, rather than analyzing the character, and she breathes the life into it. She's warm and a joy to be around. That's what people feel and why the show is such a hit."

"America is a wonder," said Vanessa Williams, a supporting actress nominee for "Betty." "She is so mature, welcoming, grounded and smart that you fall in love with her and root for her from the get-go. People identify with her, laugh with her and want to fight along with her. It's brilliant casting for Salma Hayek to say, 'This is the girl we want.'"

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus took home the Emmy last year in this category, 10 years after winning for her iconic performance as Elaine in "Seinfeld," thus breaking what was commonly referred to as "the Seinfeld curse." As Christine in the CBS comedy "The New Adventures of Old Christine," she finds herself in a common situation as a divorced mother trying to raise a child and reignite her love life.

"Julia herself is so fun to watch get beaten down and pick herself up again. She's so strong, yet she'll humiliate herself and dig her way out it," said executive producer Kari Lizer. "First and foremost she's trying to do right by her kid, and that's why she can do a lot that's not particularly likable or flattering. As long as we remember she's coming from that place, people continue to root for her, and we try to remember that here when we're torturing her."

On ABC's "Desperate Housewives" it's the kids who torture Ms. Huffman as Lynette Scavo. Ms. Huffman won the Emmy in 2005 for her performance as the harried businesswoman turned stay-at-home mom, and took home the SAG Award in 2006.

Ms. Fey brought home an Emmy Award in 2002 as a writer on "Saturday Night Live." Now she plays one on NBC's "30 Rock," which she developed with "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels.

"From a writing standpoint, Liz [Lemon] is sort of close to me," said Ms. Fey. "She's the antithesis of those 'Sex and the City' ladies, not having a lot of sex and not wearing fabulous clothes. She's more regular. She's a person whose only successes in life have been in the realm of work, so she's a little stunted in her personal endeavors. She's like me, obedient and cautious, and with a real jealous streak that needs to be tamed. I like trying to use her uglier qualities as a jumping-off point for stories."

As Nancy Botwin in Showtime's "Weeds," Ms. Parker has a job not many people would list on a resume: dealing drugs to suburbanites.

"She's very real, a gifted actress, and we're finding that as she works on this show she's a gifted comedic actress and her secret is keeping it real," said Roberto Benabib, "Weeds'" executive producer. "She makes it real and relatable, and that's why it cuts so deep. She was known as a dramatic actress, in 'Angels in America' and 'Proof' on Broadway. This tapped into her abilities as a comic actress more than any other project. She's such a phenomenal actress, and fantastically funny."

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