Emmy Award-winning Best Performances in a 2000s Drama Series, Ranked

When watching TV series such as Grey’s Anatomywhich has been going on for over 18 seasons now, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit , which has been on the air for over 23 years, it’s becoming clear that one of the main reasons these shows can thrive for so long is because of the emotional attachment that audiences feel for the characters. A strong cast is key to having a successful drama series, and these eight actors on our list are prime examples.



Every year the Primetime Emmy Awards honors and recognizes drama series actors in four different categories: Outstanding Lead Actress, Outstanding Lead Actor, Outstanding Supporting Actress, and Outstanding Supporting Actor. Our list considers all of the winners in these categories from the 2000s and highlights the eight most deserving and memorable recipients. From Glenn Close to James Gandolfini and Mariska Hargitay, there are a number of TV legends on this list who have turned in Emmy-worthy performances.

8 Katherine Heigl – Grey’s Anatomy

From 2005 to 2010, Catherine Heigl played arguably the most memorable role of her career as Dr. Izzie Stevens in the ABC television medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. Currently, the show is in its 18th season, which proves that it’s been going really well since Heigl left in season six, but most fans will agree that the first two seasons she’s been in for were definitely the best in the series. There’s no doubt that Heigl is a talented actress, but, per Looper, her on-set attitude has been questioned many times over the years. Despite this, the actress won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2007, and her work as Izzie Stevens is a big part of that. Grey’s Anatomy that fans will always remember.

Related: Emmy Award-Winning Best Performances In A 2010s Drama Series, Ranked

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seven Terry O’Quinn – Lost

Actor Terry O’Quinn has worked on several successful projects throughout his film and television career, his best-known role being his portrayal of John Locke on the hit series Lost. The show, which premiered in 2004, is a mystery series that ran for a total of six seasons and, in addition to O’Quinn, starred Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly, Matthew Fox, Naveen Andrews and Daniel Dae Kim. O’Quinn received three Primetime Emmy nominations for her role, including one in 2007. In total, Lost received four Emmy wins and 24 nominations during its run.

6 Dianne Wiest — In process

Diane West is arguably one of the most critically acclaimed actresses on this list, with her three Academy Award nominations and two Best Supporting Actress wins for her work on Hannah and her sisters and Bullets on Broadway. In 2008, she took on the role of Gina Toll in the drama television series In Treatment​​​​​​. Wiest played a smart and sensitive doctor who works to care for another doctor and help him deal with his unpredictable personal life as well as the information he receives from his own clients. Wiest received her Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2008 for the role and was nominated again in 2009.


5 Sally Field—Siblings

Another extremely talented Oscar-winning actress on our list is Sally Fieldwho won two Best Actress Oscars in 1980 and 1985 for her roles in Norma Rae and Places in the heart. While her first Emmy win was in 1977, her best-known TV role came later in 2007 on Brothers and sisters. Field played Nora Walker, a now-single mother who learns of her late husband’s affair and his secret daughter. The show primarily revolves around Nora and her children and ran for five seasons in total.

4 Glenn Close—Damages

Glenn Close is a beloved actress with a hugely successful career that spans from 1982 to present. She’s starred in tons of movies over the years, including Deadly Attraction, The Paper, Nine Lives, The House of the Spirits, Paradise Road, Low Down and Hillbilly Elegy. She has also acted in many television series, the most successful being damage. The drama series ran for five seasons and centers on attorney Patty Hewes, played by Close, and her relationship with her granddaughter and son. Close made the show what it was and delivered incredible performances in every episode.

Related: Emmys: 8 Most Deserving Wins In The 2010s Acting Categories

3 Bryan Cranston—Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranstonwith the rest of her co-stars, shot breaking Bad in one of the most popular and talked about television series to air in the past 20 years. The drama series has become a phenomenon, and all five seasons are as intriguing as each other. In 2008, Cranston won his first Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Walter White. He won the award three more times in 2009, 2010 and 2014 for the same role.

2 Mariska Hargitay — Law and Order: SVU

Law and order is one of the most famous television series of all time, and Mariska Hargitay has become its face. Everything about the show, from the theme song to the cast, is iconic and memorable. Hargitay starred in Law and Order: SVU since 1999 and now earns $500,000 per episode, as she is the longest serving cast member on the show. In 2006, the actress finally won the Emmy for her portrayal of Olivia Benson and has been nominated for the award a total of eight times over her career.


1 James Gandolfini – The Sopranos

Getting to number one on the list is Jacques Gandolfini for his legendary role as Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Tony is an Italian-American mob boss and father of crime, struggling to manage both his professional and personal life. The Sopranos, which first aired in 1999, is still celebrated and watched today, over 20 years later. Gandolfini made the show what it was and that’s one of the main reasons it was so successful. The late actor won three much-deserved Emmys for his role in 2000, 2001 and 2003, further showing what an incredibly talented actor he was.