Meredith has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Meredith may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.

On Feb. 26, Los Angeles will become what La La Land promises: A city of stars. But before the envelopes are opened, we've got inside intel on the nominees. Below, read about the nominees for Best Supporting Actress, and come back to throughout the week for spotlights on the other major categories.

Viola Davis

ALL CROPS: Viola Davis plays Rose Maxson in Fences from Paramount Pictures. (screen grab) (CR: Paramount Pictures)
Credit: Paramount Pictures
  • Starring In: Fences
  • Age: 51
  • Oscar Past: 2 nominations; 0 wins
  • Role Call: Rose, a wife and mother in 1950s Pittsburgh who endures her husband's erratic moods and volatile behavior

Viola Davis has filled her two-decade film career with roles that ache with humanity. As Rose, a woman whose destiny rises and falls on the acts of her husband, Troy (Denzel Washington), Davis elevates that ache into artistry. "When Rose comes out of the house in the first scene, I didn't want her introduced as a sad, downtrodden black woman," Davis says. "I wanted this to look like a marriage with a lot of joy, a lot of frustration. I wanted [to show] it all so that when the tragedy happens, you feel the loss." Although she won a Tony award for playing Rose on Broadway in 2010, Davis jumped at the opportunity to reprise the role for the big screen under the guidance of Washington as the director. "Most actors, we get one great narrative that comes along in a lifetime, so when it does come, you grab it, you lunge for it," she says. And her Rose refuses to let us go. — Nicole Sperling

Naomie Harris

  • Starring In: Moonlight
  • Age: 40
  • Oscar Past: 0 nominations; 0 wins
  • Role Call: Paula, a boy's negligent single mother, spiraling downward due to crack addiction

At first, Naomie Harris didn't want to play Paula in Moonlight. She preferred the character of Teresa, the kind surrogate-aunt role (eventually played by Janelle Monáe), but after reading Barry Jenkins' screenplay — and wiping tears from her eyes — Harris realized her resistance to Paula was crucial to why she should portray her. "I found Paula a difficult character to warm to because she's a bad mother," says the British actress, best known as Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films. "And the acting process was about overcoming that judgment and having compassion for her." Harris spent a month talking to drug abusers and researching addiction, but once she arrived on location in Miami, convoluted work-visa issues forced her to shoot all her scenes in just three days. "There was not a moment to waste," she says. And not a moment was. Harris is the only actor who appears in all three of Moonlight's segments—and her harrowing performance is the thread, albeit a frayed one, that binds the movie together. — Joe McGovern

Nicole Kidman

  • Starring In: Lion
  • Age: 49
  • Oscar Past: 3 nominations; 1 wins
  • Role Call: Sue Brierley, the devoted Australian wife who adopts two Indian children

Nicole Kidman has perhaps never been more perfectly cast. The Australian adoptive mother plays an Australian adoptive mother, Sue Brierley, who welcomes two Indian boys — Saroo and Mantosh — into her home. The boys handle the cultural adjustment differently, and Saroo becomes an adult obsessed with finding his birth family. Kidman taps into a mother's unconditional love. "There's this [fear], I think, that if a child wants to find his birth mother, it will somehow lessen the love between the adoptive mother and the child," Kidman says. "Sue made it more like, ‘You've been raised, and I want her to see that you're safe and you're loved.' She gave words to things I felt." It's that personal connection that director Garth Davis noticed every day. "Watch that performance," he says. "You feel the scars. You feel the love." You feel the truth. — Devan Coggan

For more on this year's Oscar contenders, pick up the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now, or available here — and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW. <iframe src="//" width="100%" height="512" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" class="" allowfullscreen="" resize="0" replace_attributes="1" name=""></iframe>

Michelle Williams

  • Starring In: Manchester by the Sea
  • Age: 36
  • Oscar Past: 3 nominations; 0 wins
  • Role Call: Randi, the ex-wife of a haunted man with whom she shares a tragic backstory

Michelle Williams has only a few scenes in Manchester by the Sea, but most of them are soul-wrenching. Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, a longtime fan of hers, recognized she was one of the rare actresses who could unpack Manchester‘s broken couple's history in a few spare moments. He points to the run-in between Randi and her estranged ex-husband, Lee (Casey Affleck), as a prime example. "She really blew my mind," Lonergan says. "That scene is a miracle. I don't even know how many shooting days she had, but they were both so ready for that moment and committed to it. She did so much work on that part. Everyone cried, and we'd do it again and then everyone would cry again." Williams had admired Lonergan since he directed You Can Count on Me in 2000. "I was unsure if I was ready to jump back into work [after doing Broadway's Cabaret], but I realized I'd be foolish to pass this up," she says. "I kept thinking, Michelle, don't be ridiculous — it's Kenny!" Smart thinking. — Sara Vilkomerson

Octavia Spencer

  • Starring In: Hidden Figures
  • Age: 46
  • Oscar Past: 1 nomination; 1 wins
  • Role Call: Dorothy Vaughan, a NASA worker who combats the racism of the 1960s to help launch John Glenn into orbit

When she first read about Dorothy Vaughan, Octavia Spencer was appalled that history books had ignored the African-American women whose brains helped win the space race. "To know that these women weren't credited for their contributions, I felt compelled to be a part of it," says Spencer. To step back into the mindset of a 1962 black woman, she immersed herself in that era and dealt only with co-workers "to keep the performance as pure as possible." As Vaughan, she stares down racism within NASA and her local Virginia community. "There's not many actors that do as much as she does with just a look," says director Theodore Melfi. "There's never a false beat." — Tim Stack