Going into Sunday's Primetime Emmy Awards
has Claire Danes
feeling a flurry of emotions.
star, 34, who is once again nominated
for outstanding lead actress in a drama series, calls her nod "a nightmare come to life" – but not because she isn't grateful for the acknowledgment of her hard work.
"If you lose, you have to cope with that sting, and if you win, you have to get up and say something eloquent and charming, and remember to thank your husband or your wife," Danes tells PEOPLE. "It's always the vital person you forget to thank. It's terrifying. And then you see the clock ticking. It's awful, that particular part of it."
But once those dreaded few minutes are over, "the actual ceremony and the celebrations and seeing everyone in their beautiful clothes is actually really great," she says.
This year's show, in particular, will be especially fun for the actress and her costars because "many of us got nominated, so we all get to go to the prom holding hands – if not literally, figuratively – together," she says. "We really are a very close group, so I'm really looking forward to that particular part of it."
Danes, who recently filmed
a "nonsensical and absurd" Audi Smart Performer commercial, has finally let the success of Showtime's hit series sink in.
"I think the first season especially, we were in a bit of shock [when the show got nominated]," she says. "And then in the second season, we were still processing people's appreciation of it. And I think now we've finally had a chance to accept that we have settled [into the] public consciousness … and because of that, the Emmys seem scarier for some reason."
Adds the former My So-Called Life
star: "I was just so dizzy and didn't know how to process it. Now I've had the time to do that. I think, oh s–t, maybe we won't win and maybe that'll hurt. I have time to consider that possibility, whereas before I was like, 'Oh, my, oh, wow, we're on the stage now. We're walking away with trophies, holy moly.'"
But unlike other critically acclaimed TV shows that came out charging before eventually losing steam, Danes doesn't expect Homeland
's success to slip as the seasons progress.
"The writers hold themselves at this incredible standard, and every time I think they've maxed out their imagination, they come up with another wildly inventive, exciting script," she says. "I have to believe that we'll stay on this wonderful trajectory. Everybody on the show cares deeply about it, and we all love working hard to make it as good as we can."
The 65th Primetime Emmys will come to CBS Sunday, Sept. 22, at 8/7c. Come back to PEOPLE.com for complete live coverage and the best dressed stars!