12 Lead Actors Who Won Emmys for Portraying Real People on the Small Screen

Take a look back at some of your favorite award-winning TV performances of real people

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Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II

Winning for her popular series in 2018, the regal Foy said, “I had the most extraordinary two-and-a-half years of my life … I was given a role that I never thought I would ever get a chance to play and I met people who will love forever and ever and ever.” With her role on the series ending, she dedicated her award to the “next generation” of the series.

Winning for her popular series in 2018, the regal Foy said, “I had the most extraordinary two-and-a-half years of my life … I was given a role that I never thought I would ever get a chance to play and I met people who will love forever and ever and ever.” With her role on the series ending, she dedicated her award to the “next generation” of the series.

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Darren Criss as Andrew Cunanan

The star took home the 2018 Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie for his stirring role as murderer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.                        Ahead of the Emmys, Criss opened up about taking on the role, telling PEOPLE, “Human beings are so complex. We are capable of so many different emotions and the reasons behind those emotions. I’m not asking people to empathize or pardon anything that Andrew has done, but I do like people unconsciously figuring out how much they can relate to this person whether how little or how much.” He added: “It is my job to humanize him, but the hope is that we’re not glamorizing anything.”

The star took home the 2018 Emmy Award for outstanding lead actor in a limited series or movie for his stirring role as murderer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

Ahead of the Emmys, Criss opened up about taking on the role, telling PEOPLE, “Human beings are so complex. We are capable of so many different emotions and the reasons behind those emotions. I’m not asking people to empathize or pardon anything that Andrew has done, but I do like people unconsciously figuring out how much they can relate to this person whether how little or how much.” He added: “It is my job to humanize him, but the hope is that we’re not glamorizing anything.”

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Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark

One of the most recent actors to win an Emmy for her portrayal of a real person, Paulson nabbed her award for her spot-on performance of Los Angeles prosecutor Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Paulson’s win had a special touch: After she met and bonded with Clark during filming, Paulson brought the prosecutor as her date to the ceremony.

One of the most recent actors to win an Emmy for her portrayal of a real person, Paulson nabbed her award for her spot-on performance of Los Angeles prosecutor Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Paulson’s win had a special touch: After she met and bonded with Clark during filming, Paulson brought the prosecutor as her date to the ceremony.

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Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran

Paulson wasn’t the only one — Vance also took home an Emmy for his role as O.J. Simpson’s lead defense attorney in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Cochran won his Emmy for best performance by an actor in a limited series or a movie, while costar Sterling K. Brown won the supporting equivalent of the same category for his portrayal of prosecutor Christopher Darden.

Paulson wasn’t the only one — Vance also took home an Emmy for his role as O.J. Simpson’s lead defense attorney in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story. Cochran won his Emmy for best performance by an actor in a limited series or a movie, while costar Sterling K. Brown won the supporting equivalent of the same category for his portrayal of prosecutor Christopher Darden.

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Claire Danes as Temple Grandin

Danes won her second Emmy for playing Temple Grandin‘s titular character, an autistic scientist who rises to the top of her field — the livestock industry — as well as becoming an outspoken advocate for autism. 

Danes won her second Emmy for playing Temple Grandin‘s titular character, an autistic scientist who rises to the top of her field — the livestock industry — as well as becoming an outspoken advocate for autism. 

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Jessica Lange as Edith Bouvier Beale

Playing socialite-turned-recluse Edith Bouvier Beale — nicknamed “Big Edie” — in a dramatized adaptation of the iconic documentary Grey Gardens, Lange was up against costar Drew Barrymore, who played her character’s daughter, “Little Edie.”

Playing socialite-turned-recluse Edith Bouvier Beale — nicknamed “Big Edie” — in a dramatized adaptation of the iconic documentary Grey Gardens, Lange was up against costar Drew Barrymore, who played her character’s daughter, “Little Edie.”

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Michael Douglas as Liberace

In Behind the Candelabra, Douglas plays legendary pianist and performer Liberace. The role earned him both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. His costar, Matt Damon, who plays Liberace’s longtime lover, Scott Thorson, was also nominated.

In Behind the Candelabra, Douglas plays legendary pianist and performer Liberace. The role earned him both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. His costar, Matt Damon, who plays Liberace’s longtime lover, Scott Thorson, was also nominated.

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Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin

Game Change detailed Palin’s rise from relative political obscurity as the governor of Alaska to a household name as the running mate of Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Moore, as a near exact look-alike of Palin, nabbed an Emmy for the film, and costar Ed Harris, who played McCain, scored a nomination. 

Game Change detailed Palin’s rise from relative political obscurity as the governor of Alaska to a household name as the running mate of Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. Moore, as a near exact look-alike of Palin, nabbed an Emmy for the film, and costar Ed Harris, who played McCain, scored a nomination. 

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HELEN MIRREN AS QUEEN ELIZABETH I

She’s best known for her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth II, which won Mirren an Oscar in 2007 (for The Queen) and a Tony in 2015 (for The Audience). But she’s also portrayed Elizabeth I, giving an equally-lauded performance in Elizabeth I that scored her an Emmy (just a few months before she won her Oscar.)

She’s best known for her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth II, which won Mirren an Oscar in 2007 (for The Queen) and a Tony in 2015 (for The Audience). But she’s also portrayed Elizabeth I, giving an equally-lauded performance in Elizabeth I that scored her an Emmy (just a few months before she won her Oscar.)

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Albert Finney as Winston Churchill

As Winston Churchill in a movie based on the World War II account that Churchill himself wrote, The Gathering Storm, Finney depicted the iconic leader’s life in the years leading up to the breakout of World War II.

As Winston Churchill in a movie based on the World War II account that Churchill himself wrote, The Gathering Storm, Finney depicted the iconic leader’s life in the years leading up to the breakout of World War II.

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Halle Berry as Dorothy Dandridge

In the 1999 TV movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Berry played Dandridge, the first black actress to be nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards — a milestone she hit in 1955, for her film Carmen Jones. Though Dandridge lost the Oscar, Berry won the Emmy. Interestingly, in 2002, Berry herself became the first black actress to win the Best Actress Oscar.

In the 1999 TV movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, Berry played Dandridge, the first black actress to be nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards — a milestone she hit in 1955, for her film Carmen Jones. Though Dandridge lost the Oscar, Berry won the Emmy. Interestingly, in 2002, Berry herself became the first black actress to win the Best Actress Oscar.

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Paul Giamatti as John Adams

Playing the nation’s second president in an HBO miniseries about Adams’ life, Giamatti acted opposite his Abigail, Laura Linney, who also won an Emmy for her performance.

Playing the nation’s second president in an HBO miniseries about Adams’ life, Giamatti acted opposite his Abigail, Laura Linney, who also won an Emmy for her performance.

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