Big Little Lies, Handmaid's Tale among Emmy front-runners with Canadian ties

Some of the biggest contenders at Sunday's Emmy Awards in Los Angeles have major Canadian connections, including Big Little Lies and The Handmaid's Tale.

Quebec director Jean-Marc Valleé, Toronto-born late-night host Samantha Bee among this year's nominees

Nicole Kidman, left, Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon star in the Emmy-nominated, Canadian-directed miniseries Big Little Lies. (HBO/Bell Media)

Some of the biggest contenders at Sunday's Emmy Awards in Los Angeles have major Canadian connections, including Big Little Lies and The Handmaid's Tale.

The miniseries Big Little Lies, which is up for 13 awards and won another three at the Creative Arts Emmys earlier this month, was directed by Quebec filmmaker Jean-Marc Valleé. Valleé, who was behind the Oscar-nominated film Dallas Buyers Club (2013), is nominated for an Emmy as director, editor and executive producer.

The series stars Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley and Nicole Kidman as mothers and friends in an affluent California town. Witherspoon and Kidman were also co-producers.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee (Wild, Dallas Buyer's Club) is nominated for Emmys as director, co-executive producer and an editor for Big Little Lies. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

"Reese and I fought like crazy with our producing partners to get this thing made," Kidman told CBC News. "It was like pushing a rock up a mountain but when we got it there, we were like, 'We did it.' And I said to Reese at the end, 'Wouldn't it be great if this was a big success? Can you imagine sharing that?' And we get to share it, and that's fantastic."

French-Canadian cinematographer Yves Bélanger is also up for an award, along with many of the Montreal-based post-production staff involved with editing and sound mixing.

Big Little Lies, about the secrets and lies of families in an affluent California community, is nominated for 13 Emmys Sunday. It already won three at the non-televised ceremony. (HBO/Bell Media)

'Extraordinary' performances

Even though it's an American series, The Handmaid's Tale is based on Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel and the entire show was filmed in and around Toronto.

Among its 13 nominations, three of which it already won at the non-televised ceremony, is a lead actress nod for Elisabeth Moss.

The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood, left, makes a cameo appearance in the series alongside Offred, played by Emmy nominee Elisabeth Moss. (George Kraychyk/Hulu)

"There's so many amazing performances in my category, and also so many incredible performances that were not included this year," said the American actress, who was also nominated several times for her role as Peggy Olson on Mad Men. "To be chosen as one out of all of those is sort of a crazy, surreal thing."

Moss is considered a front-runner in her category, but the series has serious competition in the contest for best drama series. The Handmaid's Tale is up against Better Call Saul, The Crown, House Of Cards, Stranger Things, This Is Us and Westworld, all of which enjoy a strong following and critical acclaim.

Claire Foy plays Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, alongside Matt Smith as Prince Philip. (Robert Viglasky/Netflix)

The Crown's Claire Foy is nominated in the same category as Moss.

"All those performances are extraordinary and I've watched every single one and I just think they're all amazing," Foy told CBC News. "So to be quite frank, I'm just lucky to go."

The strength of women in multi-dimensional roles and behind the scenes is further evidenced by Toronto-born Samantha Bee and her cutting sense of political humour and delivery.

Samantha Bee has enjoyed strong ratings and critical praise for her late-night show Full Frontal. Her special, Full Frontal's Not The White House Correspondents' Dinner, already won her a writing Emmy at an earlier ceremony. (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)

She already took home a writing Emmy for her variety special Not The White House Correspondents' Dinner and she's up for several more for her late-night show Full Frontal.

Saturday Night Live, with Canadian Lorne Michaels at the helm, received the most nominations (tied with Westworld), with 22. The comedy sketch series won five of those earlier.

SNL's take on politics, including Melissa McCarthy's popular impression of Sean Spicer, helped the comedy show earn 22 Emmy nominations, five of which is has already won. Canadian Lorne Michaels is the executive producer. (SNL/Facebook)

Missing from the race

Fans of Game of Thrones will have to wait another year before potentially seeing the epic fantasy series in any categories. After its record-breaking Emmy wins last year, the seventh season didn't meet the cutoff for submissions. To qualify, a show had to premier between June 1, 2016 and May 30, 2017. GoT premiered in July.

The Game of Thrones cast at the 2016 Emmys, after winning the award for outstanding drama series and becoming the most awarded show in Emmy history. (The Associated Press)

The clone drama Orphan Black also missed the deadline, which means Regina-born Tatiana Maslany isn't among the nominees this year. She will, however, take the stage as a presenter. Maslany, who plays multiple roles on the cult hit, took home the 2016 Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series.

Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany won an Emmy in 2016 for Orphan Black but didn't quality for nominations this year because of the show's late premiere date. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

There were a few clear snubs this year, a sign of the surplus of great television out there. HBO's ground-breaking hit Insecure, co-created by Issa Rae who also stars in it, didn't get any love from the academy. The comedy, which has a mainly black cast and weaves racial struggles into the story lines, follows the awkward and relatable experiences of a group of friends in L.A.

Insecure, starring co-creator Issa Rae (R) and Yvonne Orji (L), was snubbed at the Emmys despite having a breakout season. (Justina Mintz/HBO)

The mystery drama series The Leftovers and Halt and Catch Fire, about the tech industry in the '80s and '90s, were also among the acclaimed shows that went overlooked.

The 69th annual Emmy Awards will be broadcast live on CBS from Los Angeles Sunday evening and hosted by Stephen Colbert.

Nominees from the top categories can be found below.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

Pamela Adion, Better Things
Tracee Ellis Ross, black-ish
Jane Fonda, Grace And Frankie
Lily Tomlin, Grace And Frankie
Allison Janney, Mom
Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Donald Glover, Atlanta
Zach Galifianakis, Baskets
Anthony Anderson, black-ish
Aziz Ansari, Master of None
William H. Macy, Shameless
Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Keri Russell, The Americans
Claire Foy, The Crown
Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale
Robin Wright, House Of Cards
Viola Davis, How To Get Away With Murder
Evan Rachel Wood, Westworld

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Matthew Rhys, The Americans
Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan
Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us
Anthony Hopkins, Westworld​

Outstanding Comedy Series

Master of None
Modern Family
Silicon Valley
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Outstanding Drama Series

Better Call Saul
The Crown
The Handmaid's Tale
House Of Cards
Stranger Things
This Is Us

For a full list of 2017 Emmy nominees, click here.

With files from Eli Glasner, Salimah Shivji and Jelena Adzic