Diane Haithman is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
With a lean, mean budget of $30 million, Flight is an action film that could not afford a big movie star like Denzel Washington. Then again, this morally ambivalent character study of an alcoholic pilot flying under the influence couldn’t afford not to have a big movie star like Denzel Washington if it had a shot at getting made at all. Washington, 57, sat down with AwardsLine to talk about how and why he got involved, and how the numbers added up to make the role of troubled Captain Whip Whitaker a gamble worth taking.
AWARDSLINE: Industry observers have said this film wouldn’t have been made without you. It has so many of what Hollywood would call negatives—it’s both an action film and a character study, and that character is not a straight-up hero, he’s an alcoholic.
DENZEL WASHINGTON: It was not a struggle to get it made, but the studio wanted to do it for a price, and we ended up with (about) $28 million, and (director) Robert Zemeckis made it look like $100 million, especially the plane sequence. So he and I threw our money back in the pot, took a tenth of our salaries.
AWARDSLINE: May I ask?
WASHINGTON: It’s a tenth of my salary. You do the math.
[Ed. note: According to industry trade sources, Washington’s salary in recent years for several major Hollywood releases was $20 million].
AWARDSLINE: Does that come off the back end at some point?
WASHINGTON: Let’s hope so. (Laughs). I keep hearing the buzz from people who say, “Man, I want to see that.”
AWARDSLINE: Your agent, the late Ed Limato, brought you the script, right?
WASHINGTON: I don’t know how long it had been kicking around before it came to me. It must have been somewhere in 2009. He brought me two scripts: He brought me Safe House first (and said), “These are two very different films,” and I agreed we should do Safe House first. This was a real change of pace.
AWARDSLINE: Why did you want to do it?
WASHINGTON: The script. As simple as that. Good scripts are hard to find, and this was one that was not a black-and-white kind of story. There was a lot of gray in there.
AWARDSLINE: There are character actors, and there are movie stars. I think it’s fair to say you are the latter. Did you worry that playing such an unattractive, raw character would tarnish your image?
WASHINGTON: (Laughs). I get that—“Denzel, don’t do that!” I remember we were doing (August Wilson’s drama) Fences on Broadway a couple of years ago, and we were doing a scene where my character is discussing with his friend that he’s seeing another girl, and he’s like, “Man, you’d better tell your wife!” And (in a later scene) I say to her, “There’s something I’ve got to tell you,” and the audience is expecting him to say, “I’ve got another girl,” and instead he says, “I’m going to be somebody’s daddy,” and somebody yelled out, “Oh, Denzel, thank you, sweetheart!” It’s a play, and she’s saying, “Oooh, Denzel!”
AWARDSLINE: Did Ed Limato have those same concerns for you?
WASHINGTON: I said to him: “What do you think about it?” And he said, “You know, all that drinking and drugging!” And I said, “Ed, it’s a good story.” I’m not afraid of (the movie audience) saying, “Oh, Denzel!” And if they do, I won’t be there anyway. That’s what it’s all about for me. Especially in the last 10 years I’ve started really opening up, doing what I want to do—some small films, the stage.
AWARDSLINE: Are movies in the $30 million range a dying breed?
WASHINGTON: What I think has changed a bit is maybe five or six years ago they might have given us a $50 million, $60 million budget, or more, but nowadays the studios are tightening their belts, and they knew it was a project we wanted to do. And I think they were smart, they said, “Look, we don’t want to spend more than, whatever it was, $28 million, $30 million.” And neither of us wanted to walk away from it, so we did it.
AWARDSLINE: It must be nice to prove you can make a commercial movie for that.
WASHINGTON: And there’s a market for it, I believe. And the actors, at least the big actors, will have to make a decision: Do you want to cut your fee and do something good, or are you just in it for the ($20 million salary)? And then also there’s the agent side of it, they are not exactly looking for the smaller films, they’re looking for big payouts, too, because they get 10%. Nobody wants 10% of nothing.
AWARDSLINE: For someone who already has a couple of Oscars, is it still exciting to contemplate that this might be an Academy-nominated role?
WASHINGTON: I try not to think about that ahead of time. You just try to do the best work you can, and then you get the movie out there, and we’ve been hearing good things. But you never know, you don’t want to get too high, and you don’t want to get too low.
AWARDSLINE: What’s it like doing an Oscar campaign? Is it fun to talk about the film?
Washington: Not after the 395th interview.
AWARDSLINE: I hope this is 394.
WASHINGTON: (Laughs). You are 392. You’re fine. But look, it’s part of the job, too. I want people to see it.
Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
For Bradley Cooper, shooting David O. Russell’s The Silver Linings Playbook involved a lot of jogging through familiar Philadelphia-area neighborhoods wearing a sleeveless trash bag over a sweatsuit; otherwise, all he had to do was convey the deep inner turmoil of a guy with bipolar disorder who’s off his meds and obsessed with his ex-wife and back in his childhood home after a court-ordered stint at a state hospital. Adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick, the film is at once an ethnically specific family drama, a romantic comedy, and a raw glimpse into mental illness. Cooper says he was as familiar with the milieu of his character, Pat Solitano, as he was fearful about whether he could go to the film’s deeper emotional places.
AWARDSLINE: When did you first see the script?
BRADLEY COOPER: I met David on the phone about another project, while The Fighter was in post. And then that project fell apart, and then he asked me to read (the Silver Linings Playbook) script. Not offering it to me, just asking me to read it. And then it sort of went away, and then I was shooting a movie in Schenectady in September, called The Place Beyond the Pines, and I get a call from him saying, “You know, it looks like it’s opened up and I want you to do it.” And I thought, “Well, aren’t you guys shooting in October?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, I wrap the last week of September.” He said, “Can you come down on the weekends?” So I did. And then I just drove from Schenectady to Philly—and a week later we’re on camera, and I have a trash bag (on) running down the streets of Philly.
AWARDSLINE: You not only star in the film, you’re also a producer. Was that something you knew you wanted to do?
COOPER: You know, it happened on Limitless. And I sort of realized as I’ve been getting older and more and more into this business that I don’t tend to think like a lot of other actors that I know. And I just love telling the story and how that all happens. So whenever a director will allow me to help them tell that story in other ways than just playing my role, I’ll jump to it. It was a really wonderful collaborative experience on set, and that just kind of bled into the post process as well.
AWARDSLINE: Russell’s reputation as being at times confrontational with actors precedes him.
COOPER: The reputation that preceded him for me was stellar. I spoke to Jessica Biel, who I’d been on The A Team with, and I said, “You know, I think I might do this David Russell movie,” and she said, “Run. Don’t walk to that.” She did a movie that never even came out with him, actually, and she loved him. And then I also spoke with Jason Schwartzman, who’s a buddy, and he could not be more effusive about what a wonderful experience he had with David. So I was going to do it anyway, but it just made me even more excited to know what it would be like. I had an instinct that it was going to be special in that way, and I wasn’t wrong. It’s a very unique way of making a movie, and I would love to do every movie like that.
COOPER: There is no hiding. You’ve got to show up, and you have to be willing to go to emotional places in an instant and get out of your head. (You) give (yourself) over to the process and be dexterous with lines and improvisation, and do lines that he’s throwing at you, and also know that the camera can come on you at any time. He likes to flip to 360, which means that if we’re doing a closeup, he can turn the camera onto you if he wants to, if he likes what’s happening. There’s an electricity that is forged with those things in place, and that brings more real-time occurrences, which is what you dream of as an actor.
AWARDSLINE: The character you play, Pat, has all this pent-up rage. Talk about playing to the hinged part of his rage more than the unhinged.
COOPER: There needs to be a conflict, and his conflict is trying to keep it together. If he’s just unhinged, there really is no obstacle for him: He’s just a free spirit, and his free-spirit state happens to be completely fucking crazy. But this is a guy who’s trying to keep it together and keep his eye on the prize. He’s under the delusion that if he just gets his wife back and he gets his job back, everything’s going to be fine. If he can just hold onto that. He’s white-knuckling it, you know? Despite the fact that he’s living at home, he lost his job, he can’t drive a car, his wife has a 500-yard restraining order out against him, yet he somehow thinks that he can just hold onto this. That’s a guy who’s trying desperately to stay hinged. And he’s not taking his medication.
This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
Naomi Watts plays the matriarch in The Impossible, the unbelievable story of a family reuniting after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Though Watts’ performance has been praised for the emotion she conveys onscreen, the actress says the role was also physically demanding. She recently spoke with AwardsLine about the challenges of working with real water and the moving meeting she had with her real-life counterpart before production commenced.
AWARDSLINE: When did you first hear about the story of Maria Belon in The Impossible?
NAOMI WATTS: My agent called and said, “There is this movie about the tsunami,” and my first reaction was, “How’s that going to work?” It just wasn’t like a slam-dunk, “Oh, I want to do that.” But then he mentioned the director (J.A. Bayona), and obviously, I knew The Orphanage and thought that film was brilliant. Meeting (Bayona and producer Belen Atienza), the level of passion that came through in that meeting was so intense and so wonderful—it was very seductive. I knew right away that I wanted to do it.
AWARDSLINE: You spent a good amount of time researching the role and talking with Maria. What kind of questions did you have for her?
WATTS: I was very nervous. I just thought, Oh, God. I’m an actor, and this is a woman who nearly died and nearly lost her entire family. Is this going to be an uncomfortable situation? I felt frozen with fear on how to begin that conversation. We had a couple of emails in the lead up, and then finally we got in a room together. I think she had her own anxiety about it, and we didn’t actually speak for a few minutes. We just looked at each other, and it’s, like, just one look in her eyes told her whole story, and we both just started to cry. It’s such a big event that’s taken place in her life, and to be retelling this story brings it all up again. She was completely open to talk endlessly and with great detail about every beat in the story. I was very fortunate to have that guidance. When you’re making a film, it’s very easy to get caught up in the process, but we were always grounded by this very real thing that took place. Not just Maria. Every time you walked on the set there were hundreds of extras who were telling their version of their story. It was all deeply moving.
AWARDSLINE: How much time did you spend in rehearsals?
WATTS: With Ewan (McGregor), I didn’t have any rehearsals, but with Tom (Holland), we had about 3½ weeks together, and I just loved it. I went home at the end of the first day of the rehearsal and told Liev (Schreiber, her husband) how much I loved the director because I thought his way of doing things was just brilliant and fun. (Bayona) had us sit down in front of each other and draw each other. It felt kind of goofy and silly—particularly because neither of us can draw. (Laughs). But it was just, like, “Let’s do this. Let’s hang out.” (We were) free to explore weaknesses, strengths, whatever. It was (about) creating a forum so that we both felt completely safe and bonded and could have this family history.
AWARDSLINE: You shot the water sequences in a water tank in Spain—what was that like?
WATTS: Working with water is one of the more difficult things to do on film, and it certainly lived up to its reputation. But it was a very well-planned, worked-out science. They had this gigantic pool that had currents running both ways, and you were strapped into these sort of giant flowerpots, and you would just be forced to move with the current, against the current. Tom enjoyed it and thought it was like going to the water park. Me? No, not so much.
The underwater stuff was incredibly difficult, and I did not like that at all. It’s always nerve-wracking holding your breath, and obviously, the longer you hold it, the better the shot’s going to be so you always want to try to get the best stuff. But we were anchored into a chair (with) weights on us to keep us down. You had the oxygen tank right there up until you rolled, and you’d push it away and then the chair starts spinning, and you have to do all your arm-acting and head-flipping. There was one point when I was about to get out of the chair, and I couldn’t get out. It was a technical problem, and it really freaked me out. I remember being really angry when I came out of the water because it just made me panic, and that’s the emotion that came out of me. And it’s funny because when Juan Antonio had me resurface in the movie and I’m holding onto that tree and I can’t see any member of my family, he had me shouting and screaming and I didn’t quite understand it. I kept thinking, Wouldn’t I just be exhausted and terrified? It
This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
If there’s one memorable takeaway this awards season, it’s the day when directors Andy and Lana Wachowski came to town. During the height of their success with The Matrix franchise, which propelled the entire scifi genre beyond its Star Wars standards, rumors abounded about the siblings’ private lives, in particular Lana’s. But the Chicago natives arrived in Hollywood last month, ready to hug us with their new $100-million-plus epic Cloud Atlas, tri-directed with their new BFF, German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run). And the press hugged back: Lana boldly discussed her decision to become transgendered, while bloggers delighted in unpretentious conversations with the trio.
An adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 labyrinthine novel, Cloud Atlas follows the power of karma throughout various souls and eras, from the 19th century to a post-apocalyptic future. While the trio assembled an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant, the major studios and indie financiers balked at the risky project, which employed a plethora of production crews throughout Germany, San Francisco, Scotland, and Majorca. But the Wachowskis and Tykwer were vying for something more than just a tentpole. Cloud Atlas wasn’t about the boxoffice, evident in the film’s $20 million domestic tickets sales over two weeks, rather it was about defying conventions, particularly by having its cast simultaneously wear several wigs (Hugo Weaving portrays a beefy female nurse and a leprechaun-like devil in two tales) and play against racial type (James D’Arcy plays a Korean man). Much like their celluloid forefathers Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now), and Michael Cimino (Heaven’s Gate), who were labeled crazy at the time with their epics and are now lauded as geniuses, the trio was set on blowing up the big-screen canvas with Cloud Atlas. Time will be on Cloud Atlas’ side, and the film has potential crafts awards this season, too. But this is the first time—and probably last—that three directors have banded together to mount a breathless epic. After all, the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change cinema are the ones who do.
AWARDSLINE:After Natalie Portman referred the book to you during V for Vendetta, was there any kind of bidding war? Or were your agents like, “Oh, no don’t option that!”
ANDY WACHOWSKI: No. This was right before Speed Racer so we still had some pull with Warner Bros. Joel (Silver) swept in and bought the property for Warner Bros., and I think that somebody was trying to negotiate the price down at the time, and they came in and just paid full price, so there was no real bidding war. After we broke from Joel, it was more of our project, and he let us have it.
AWARDSLINE:How did David Mitchell’s novel affect you?
LANA WACHOWSKI: We were all enamored with the way that he managed to pay homage to these kinds of classical forms of literature, and yet he found a way to reinvent them with this post-modern, tricky gimmick of inserting the different genres and modes of literature into each other. And thus by doing that, he accomplished something new. He made something that was original in feeling while still infusing it with this love of a more traditional, classical approach to literature. So we were left with something that we tried to do in all of our work. We tried to remain connected to a traditional norm and remain connected to the things that inspired us when we were young and have an amateur’s love of these classical forms. Yet (we) don’t embrace them in a nostalgic re-creation, but inhabit them with a pure form of nostalgia. The book had done that, and we were excited instantly about a way we could potentially do that with cinema.
AWARDSLINE:You had no choice but to finance Cloud Atlas independently. Do you still believe in the studio system?
ANDY: It’s complicated. We couldn’t have made the first Matrix unless it had been under the umbrella of the studio system. And the studio system, it’s not like it’s this rigid structure that doesn’t change. The studio system’s philosophies change. The way they make films change. When we were first getting into the business, the studio system was all about (getting) stars. They didn’t even care what the movie was. You just had to say who was in it, which The Player illustrated so eloquently: “Bruce Willis! Julia Roberts!” Since then, the studio has turned more toward spectacle and CG, and that’s not to say that the independent world is much different. There were a lot of independent distributors that we took Cloud Atlas to that rejected it, for example Summit. And Summit was one of the companies that were originally in on Bound, and we had a really good relationship with them, but now they’re tending to follow the studio model, which is more about what the product is. They have the Twilight movies, and they were trying to get a disaster film, Pompeii, made. So, it’s not an easy question to answer because the system is always in flux.
LANA: We acknowledge that structures are channeled toward the commodification of our art form to the point that it is only product, and the only point of making cinema is to create product that can have some financial return. The moment that starts to happen, whoever is thinking about this only as a means of financial gain, that is where the pathology resides. Long before there were the studios, human beings were trying to tell stories and communicate to each other through words and pictures, (and) once the studio systems are long dead, independent financiers are long gone, human beings will still be communicating with each other in words and pictures. The intent to share a perspective, through words and pictures, or the chance to offer someone else the chance to leave their perspective behind and look at the world in fresh new eyes, that’s why we do what we do, and that’s what ultimately will live on. There were tons of movies that made a lot of money and were utterly and completely forgotten. Likewise, there were movies that didn’t make money that are still around and are still important and relevant.
ANDY: And the industry will reinvent itself when that happens.
AWARDSLINE: You mentioned the studios’ need to attach stars. David Chase in his latest film Not Fade Away, a completely different film on a smaller scale, wanted a fresh face main cast. But Cloud Atlas is the opposite. Was there basically the notion that you needed as many stars as you could get in order to get this film off the ground?
LANA: No, it was more about the approach to storytelling. We thought that if there were all fresh faces, that you would get lost and lose connectivity. Because the face, the fundamental upon which we built the plot, was the moral arc theme at the end of the book. Can we turn away from our predator hearts toward a more compassionate, kind direction? So we thought, OK, here’s this really dark character Dr. Henry Goose, and here’s this character Zachry (both of whom Tom Hanks plays), and could we see this sort of soul evolve over a period of time? And if you didn’t know the actor, then they were completely invisible. Audiences wouldn’t understand the connection. We really wanted the two central actors, Halle Berry and Tom Hanks, to help the audience feel secure. Our structure was so experimental that we knew we needed something that was an island of stability.
AWARDSLINE:Did you have to wait to secure all of your financing before you shot one frame?
TOM TYKWER: The first presentation at Cannes 2011 was completely disastrous. Luckily, there were some unexpected candidates, like Italy, that came in. But many of those financiers (that) we really needed to get didn’t come aboard, so our financing wasn’t complete.
ANDY: And we went to Cannes last May with the movie in hand to show to the foreign territories that we didn’t have, which included England and France among others, and they said no. So we—
LANA: —We couldn’t sell the movie.
ANDY: There was no offer.
AWARDSLINE:So Focus International is your sales agent. And Warner Bros. took North American rights for $25 million, but were they always in?
ANDY: They played footsyfor a little bit, until we basically got on our knees, begged them, and crapped our pants in front of them, you know, “Look into your heart!” [Editor’s note: John Turturro’s line from the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing]
AWARDSLINE:And by last fall you were shooting at least?
LANA: Yeah, like four days before we were supposed to start shooting and four days before the actors were supposed to get on a plane and fly over, a financier went bankrupt, and this big gap opened up. Then the bank called us, and said, “Look, we won’t post this loan unless you fill the gap.” We had lunch and we basically all decided to put our personal money, mortgage our house, fill that last bit of a gap.
ANDY: This was on top of us not taking our salary, so we were actually putting money into the movie without getting paid.
AWARDSLINE:So you’ve got your money, you’ve got Warner Bros.’ money, German money…
ANDY: Asian money, some Italian, some Russian, Korean, and also individual financiers.
AWARDSLINE:So what kept you going through this tumultuous preproduction?
ANDY: Everything. Our relationship, all those little components that would come in, the courage of the actors. We were buoyed by so many different things. One of us would always pick up the other two, sometimes it was the material itself—it was everything.
TYKWER: Sometimes, when we weren’t feeling OK, when we were beaten down so many times, we asked ourselves, Are we going to waste too much time of our life trying something that’s just impossible? Should we just take the latest job and take it easy? But, we all read the script and called each other, screaming with excitement, “We have to make this movie!” It was so obviously and so overwhelmingly Cloud Atlas.
LANA: It was this deep, profound love that we have for cinema and the experience that we had when we were little. We would go to watch large-scale movies that were about adult ideas, themes, ambiguities, and complexities. You already see a lot of this in everyday TV, and we’ve begun to move away from this experience in our culture where we make large-canvas adult movies. We loved them so much when we were younger, and we just wanted to make one last one. Maybe.
This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
Excellent buzz is the most cherished asset during awards season, but in 1992, Miramax and producer Stephen Woolley asked audiences the impossible: Keep a secret.
Amazingly, they made good on their promise about “the twist” in The Crying Game, turning an undefinable genre title with a fresh-faced cast and then-unknown Irish director Neil Jordan into a crossover boxoffice hit (a $101K opening turned into $62.5 million domestic) and serious awards contender, further solidifying the Weinstein brothers’ rep as the quintessential shepherds of awards-worthy fare.
Concerned that critics would spoil The Crying Game’sturning point during its initial release in Great Britain by his company Palace Pictures, Woolley ripped a page out of his bible, King of the Bs, an anthology of interviews with Z-grade directors such as Roger Corman and John Waters. Woolley wrote a letter to the press, asking them to avoid spoiling the film’s twist in their writeups: That the singer-hairdresser, Dil (played sublimely by Jaye Davidson), with whom ex-IRA terrorist Fergus (Stephen Rea) falls in love, is really a man.
The film’s first U.S. review by Variety out of the Telluride Film Festival set the secrecy standard that all American outlets emulated after receiving letters at press screenings: “The plot contains two major—and several other minor—convulsive surprises that, if revealed, would considerably spoil a first-time viewing experience, making it nearly impossible to describe the film in advance in meaningful detail.”
“For people to avoid giving away the twist, the film had to deliver. Audiences talked about it at dinner parties and on the factory floor,” Woolley recalls.
As Miramax continued to hold the media spoilers at bay, “the film posed a real problem to advertise, up until the day of release,” Woolley says. Miramax settled on a one-sheet that would really throw off moviegoers: A mug of Miranda Richardson (who played Fergus’ comrade Jude) holding a gun and sporting a Louise Brooks hairstyle.
“Miramax played on the words Crying Game and positioned the film as a noirish thriller with the tagline ‘Play at Your Own Risk,’ indicating that there was a slight sexual connation, a dangerous area,” Woolley adds.
As Crying Game gained traction during awards season, Miramax made strides to keep the lid on Davidson’s identity. The National Board of Review respected this by intentionally giving Davidson the award for Most Auspicious Debut. One of the few interviews Davidson granted was to TheNew York Times’ Janet Maslin in December 1992, and the resulting profile continued to shroud the former fashion designer assistant’s sex, while detailing his overnight discovery at a film wrap party. A former marketing consultant, who worked on The Crying Game, remembers how “we held off from giving the Academy Jaye Davidson’s photo until the last minute.” However, Oscar voters were hardly in the dark as Miramax bought best supporting actor For Your Consideration ads in Variety throughout the season.
When Oscar nominations announced Davidson as a nominee in the category, it appeared the cat was finally out of the bag. A San Francisco Chronicle op-ed exclaimed, “The secret about Davidson is pretty much out—she was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actor. How many more clues do people need? And yet everyone is still being coy. The new ads for The Crying Game mention that it was nominated for six Oscars but don’t mention Davidson by either name or category.”
The Associated Press also outed Davidson, much to the chagrin of Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein, who, as the article pointed out, “called the Associated Press urging the secret remain secret. ‘You’re not hurting me financially. You’re ruining the movie for audiences.’ ” Hardly so. The Crying Game’s U.S. boxoffice surged two-fold between Oscar noms and the night of the ceremony, from $15.8 million to $47.3 million.
Davidson would lose the Oscar to Gene Hackman for his turn as a crooked sheriff in Unforgiven, but that didn’t bother the Riverside, CA, native. He never plotted an acting career in the first place. A prolific role as the sun god Ra in MGM’s scifi film Stargate followed. At one point during Cannes 1998, it was announced Davidson was attached to a Steven Seagal action title Cousin Joey opposite Mickey Rourke (which was never made). Largely, Davidson remains MIA with IMDb reporting his last acting credit as a Nazi photographer in the 2009 short The Borghilde Project. Per Woolley, “I think he’s in Paris. The last I heard, he was really happy.”
Still, The Crying Game’s marketing machine continues to break the mold. Some studios have tried to copy it and failed. And arguably no other distributor, especially during awards season, has ever attempted a word-of-mouth campaign based on hush. Had the film unspooled in the current age of viral blogging, it’s plausible that any coverage on The Crying Game would be preceded with the warning “Spoilers Ahead.”
“The first bravest thing was making The Crying Game,” says Woolley. “The second bravest thing was the domestic distributor that went out there and broke all the rules: Acquiring a tiny British-made film by an unknown filmmaker and pretending that it was a mainstream picture.”
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
Although Marion Cotillard is the perfect blend of European elegance and natural allure, she’s never been afraid to portray characters lacking those gifts. Her Oscar-winning role as chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose (2007) is a perfect example of that. But she’s also appeared in big-budget Hollywood films like Michael Mann’s Public Enemies (2009), Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), and, earlier this year, Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Her latest role, as Stéphanie in Jacques Audiard’s French-language Rust and Bone, finds her playing an emotionally repressed whale trainer who loses her legs in an on-the-job accident and then must recalibrate her life.
AWARDSLINE: What attracted you to the role of Stéphanie in Rust and Bone?
MARION COTILLARD: First of all, I always wanted to work with Jacques Audiard, so I was thrilled when he asked to meet with me. I expected a very special story from him because all his movies are very special, but what I didn’t expect was a real love story. And I fell in love with the character—the evolution of her, the complexity. And how she goes from anger to power is something that really moved me.
AWARDSLINE: What was it like working with Jacques Audiard?
COTILLARD: It was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had with a director. He doesn’t come on set with something very specific; it’s an exploration every day. He’s always seeking authenticity. We would try a scene many ways, but even when a take was totally different, the direction would always point the same way. And the take we finally chose was enriched by all the exploration around it.
AWARDSLINE: You were incredible—both emotionally and physically—in the scenes after Stéphanie lost her legs. How did you prepare for that?
COTILLARD: Physically, I started to watch videos of amputees. But very quickly I realized I didn’t need it. Because it just happened in her life, so I would live it with her. Emotionally, I saw it like someone who was struggling with life, like an empty shell, as someone who doesn’t know what to do with herself. And then there’s this dramatic accident. I saw it like a rebirth.
AWARDSLINE: And what about technically—what did you have to do?
COTILLARD: When I’m in the wheelchair, my legs were folded underneath me. For the scenes when I walk or am carried, I wore green socks and the rest was CGI. (Costar) Matthias Schoenaerts had to carry me in a very special way, because your center is different without legs. Also, I had to put my legs in certain positions so they could erase them easily, especially in the love scenes with Matthias and when he carries me to the sea. But that’s what we do: We try to make-believe things—first to ourselves and then to the audience. That’s acting.
AWARDSLINE: Did CGI make your job any easier?
COTILLARD: Jacques always says he wouldn’t have been able to do this movie even 10 or 15 years ago, because the evolution of the CGI was not where we are now. Those CGI guys were really amazing.
AWARDSLINE: Was it strange for you to watch the film?
COTILLARD: Yeah, it was. It’s always weird to talk about my impressions or feelings about a movie that I’m in. But I thought, This film looks amazing.
AWARDSLINE: What’s the primary difference between making French movies versus American movies?
COTILLARD: There’s a lot of technical differences. But the thing is, there’s as much difference between two French movies or two America movies—because every story is different, every director is different.
AWARDSLINE: You won the Oscar in 2008 for La Vie en Rose. How has that affected your career both internationally and in America?
COTILLARD: It opened the doors of American cinema to me. I had never dreamt of doing American movies, although I didn’t know whether it was impossible or possible. So that changed things. American projects came my way, and amazing directors wanted to work with me.
AWARDSLINE: Did you speak English before you started working in America?
COTILLARD: I did, but my English was very poor. My English really improved for Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, because I worked on it every day for six months.
AWARDSLINE: You’ve starred in some big Hollywood pictures. What’s their appeal for you?
COTILLARD: Sometimes when I meet the directors of very big blockbusters, I feel that for them making a movie is not a question of life and death—there’s not a deep need to be creative. Christopher Nolan is not part of that world. He is a real artist. So it’s a very big difference. And Michael Mann is a genius.
AWARDSLINE: Do you get different things as an actor from bigger versus smaller films, or do you find that acting is acting, regardless of budget?
COTILLARD: Oh, yeah, it’s exactly the same process. Each experience is unique. But my commitment to a project is t
David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
London-born actress Rachel Weisz first gained prominence as Brendan Fraser’s love interest in Universal’s big-budget reboot The Mummy (1999), a part she reprised in The Mummy Returns (2001). But it was her role as a meek diplomat’s fearless wife in The Constant Gardener (2005), adapted from John le Carré’s novel, that netted her an Oscar for best supporting actress. Though she has devoted much of her career to smaller films, she continues to appear in Hollywood blockbusters, most recently in The Bourne Legacy this summer. Next year, she stars in Sam Raimi’s highly anticipated Oz: The Great and Powerful, opposite Mila Kunis, James Franco, and Michelle Williams. She recently sat down with AwardsLine to talk about her current role in Terence Davies highly personal adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, which had a limited American release this spring.
AWARDSLINE: What attracted you to the role of Hester in The Deep Blue Sea?
RACHEL WEISZ: I suppose it’s the way she falls in love. I believe she had no choice. I found something so fascinating about it when I read it in the script. That falling apart, I was drawn to it. As women, we’re told, “He’s just not that into you,” so you’re not supposed to behave like that. You pull yourself together. But that wasn’t possible for Hester. It’s hopeless love. She’s no dummy, and I think she could see the situation for what it was, but you don’t choose who you fall in love with. It was her loss of control that interested me.
AWARDSLINE: Hester is complicated, not entirely likable or sympa-thetic. Are those qualities you overlook or do they enrich your portrayal of a character?
WEISZ: When I play a part, I never think about likability. I think if you ask the audience to like you, it’s all over. The most interesting characters are those you’re drawn to, then repelled by, and then come to understand. All that tension—I live that. But I don’t plan the tension. It’s just something that should happen. I don’t judge the character at all. It’s a bit like being someone’s defense lawyer—you have to believe in their innocence in order to defend them. Did I know that Hester was a pain in the ass? Yeah.
AWARDSLINE: What was it like to work with Terence Davies?
WEISZ: He’s very exacting, very particular about his framing. Things have to be absolutely in the center. I was used to more handheld camerawork, more like reportage. He created this kind of sculptural stillness. That’s the beauty of his films. I felt very restricted, but that was good because so was the character. She was hemmed in by the times. Terence is an extremely emotional person. He would be in floods of tears in one moment. I think he was Hester. I’m immensely fond of him. He’s deep.
AWARDSLINE: It’s been seven years since The Constant Gardener, for which you won an Oscar. What impact has that honor had on your career?
WEISZ: Immediately afterward, I was offered jobs by interesting directors, including Alejandro Amenábar. Peter Jackson offered me a role. I didn’t have to meet people. They just offered me jobs, these big fancy directors. People believe in you more after you’ve won an Oscar, but it’s up to you what choices you make and how that goes.
AWARDSLINE: Has it allowed you to be more choosy regarding roles?
WEISZ: I was offered more work after the Oscar. When I was younger, I would take whatever I was offered because it was money and work and experience. In a way, choosing is the hard part. I know that’s a luxury problem, but it’s true. I try to go where passion takes me. You never know how things will turn out. And you can’t really say it turned out wrong. Whatever happens, happens. The important thing is that you followed your gut.
AWARDSLINE: You seem to favor smaller, more independent films over bigger-budget projects. Why?
WEISZ: Probably, I just have weird taste. But I think that in big-budget movies there’s a lot of other stuff going on besides acting, like special effects. And there’s something about working on a film like The Deep Blue Sea, with no rehearsal and a concentrated shooting schedule. That’s what I like to do. Working with a green screen is easy. It’s just like being a kid. But it’s not nearly as satisfying. I prefer smaller movies because they tend to be more about character than about story.
AWARDSLINE: But obviously big Hollywood pictures are not anathema to you. What’s their attraction, and would you like to do more?
WEISZ: Just as you couldn’t watch a movie like The Deep Blue Sea every day, it’s the same with performance. You can’t plumb the depths all the time.
AWARDSLINE: Tell us about Oz: The Great and Powerful.
WEISZ: It’s the prequel to The Wizard of Oz, the genesis of how he became the Wizard and got to Emerald City. There are huge, fantastical special effects—and I can fly. I’d never done anything like that. I play Evanora the Wicked Witch of the East. She’s so bad, so it’s a total departure.
Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
Although Bill Murray continues to be beloved for his work in comedy classics like Ghostbusters, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Caddyshack, and others, it was 2003’s Lost in Translation that really cemented his reputation as a serious actor, earning him the Golden Globe, British Academy Award, Independent Spirit Award, and several best actor honors from critics groups including Los Angeles, New York, and Boston. He also earned his one and only Oscar nomination for the film, losing to Sean Penn in Mystic River, though many regarded him as the favorite that year. Now with his performance as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson, a comedy/drama focusing on the odd relationship between Roosevelt and his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley over the course of a weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of England made a visit to the United States, Murray is once again generating strong awards buzz for this unexpected turn as one of America’s greatest presidents.
AWARDSLINE: I know you are a great actor, but I never saw you as Franklin Roosevelt. Did you see yourself in the role right away?
BILL MURRAY: I don’t think I ever did, either. I was a little surprised to be asked, and then I read the script, and I thought, I can do this. Even though it’s reaching, it’s kind of a good reaching, where you have to push yourself. (Director) Roger (Michell) was helpful. He was very attentive to what I was doing. And there are scenes that are just so joyous to play, like the scene with the King (of England) and the library. It couldn’t get any better.
AWARDSLINE: Did you do a lot of research once you had read the script and decided you were going to do it?
MURRAY: I read a lot, and the more I did, the more I liked the guy, and not everything is flattering that’s written about him. But you can see the struggle. I’m a little bit familiar with the polio struggle because I had a sister with polio, but just that alone, that struggle alone. He was paralyzed from the neck down and managed to rebuild his entire torso, even down into his quads. He could have done the rest, and the doctor said, “Another year, year and half, and you’ll be able to walk unaided.” And he said, “I can’t wait.”
AWARDSLINE: When you play a real-life character, do you feel more of a sense of responsibility?
MURRAY: Absolutely. I just felt like I had to be true to the way this guy operated. He’s a politician, so he’s pragmatic. His family, they were Republicans. I mean, his uncle was the President, and he was a Republican. He ran as a Democrat, and his relatives were like, “What the hell?” So we are telling a story that not everyone knows, about his relationship with Daisy, which by modern standards is sort of extraordinary. But you realize that both he and Eleanor (Roosevelt, his wife) had this huge life. They were very complicated, very driven, and very motivated people; they were really public servants. Between he and Eleanor, that’s a pretty crazy combination of public service in two people—that’s a mountain of work that they did. Her White House was a salon where people came that had all the ideas of the country. They were a team. They really loved each other and had enormous respect for each other, whatever their physical relationship was.
AWARDSLINE: Where does this role stand for you in your filmography?
MURRAY: I love them all. I’ve really loved all the jobs, all my movies. I don’t hate any of them. You have to see not the success of the film, but the effect it has on people. Lost in Translation (was) a big movie where I was amazed at how many people had been around the world and how many people—not the kind of people that I would ever think would (be) fans of my movies—(would) go, “Man, you really got that one.” (It was) that incredible loneliness of being upside down, on the other side of the world, and being unable to communicate exactly what you’re going through (because) you’re not operative in the culture you’re in. There’s no support where you are; you’re really on an island, really alone.
AWARDSLINE: I’m still mad about Sean Penn winning the Oscar that year for Mystic River, because you deserved it for Lost in Translation. Did it mean anything to you one way or the other?
MURRAY: You could argue that Sean Penn didn’t deserve the Oscar for that movie, but he probably did for a couple of others that he didn’t get. (Laughs). That’s the way it goes. He did some amazing jobs, like Dead Man Walking, and he didn’t get the notice. So then he got it that time, and it’s like, I didn’t get it, so what are you going to do? Someone said, “What do you think about this,” and I said, “Well, I think it’s going to be a regular thing. I think I’m going to get nominated every 25 years so.” (Laughs). I can yuk about it a little bit.
AWARDSLINE: You always did in the Saturday Night Live days.
MURRAY: I did mock Academy and all that stuff. Then it figures when the Academy gets their chance to vote for me they go, “That little bastard!” (Laughs).
AWARDSLINE: They don’t appreciate comedy as much in the Academy.
MURRAY: No, they don’t, and it’s really unfortunate. But then again, there aren’t a lot of really great comedies lately. A movie like Bridesmaids was a really funny movie, and you could argue that that was as good a movie as some of those dramas that are out. To make a movie that’s truly funny for the whole 90 or 140 minutes? That’s unusual. That’s rare. It’s so much harder to make people laugh than to make people cry. I can make you cry in a second. I can just punch you in the nose. But to make you laugh, I’ve got to do something funny.
Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
If there’s one race this Oscar season that bears watching closely it’s best actor. Ridiculously over-crowded, we could actually easily fill this category two or three times over. This is a year where, in the case of the leading men, they have all come to play and some truly deserving performances might not only not make it to the finish line, they are in danger of not even making it to the starting line. The field is that strong and is topped by a pair of actors who stand a real chance at grabbing their third Oscar, but nothing is certain, especially in a late-breaking group brimming with career-best turns. Here’s a rundown of the contenders and their current place in the race.
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Twice a best actor Oscar winner for My Left Foot (1989) and There Will Be Blood (2007), Day-Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln, one of the most recognizable figures in world history. There are all sorts of landmines he had to avoid, and some have even criticized the vocal choices he made (this is not the Disneyland version of Lincoln), but Day-Lewis nails it like he belongs on that $5 bill and certainly earns as least a share of frontrunner status here.
Denzel Washington, Flight
Washington is another two-time winner (Glory, Training Day) but might have topped even those roles with a bravura turn as a troubled drug- and alcohol-addicted pilot who becomes a media hero just as his own demons threaten to do him in. Playing drunk has always been a ticket to the Oscars, but Washington manages to add a strong human element in a riveting performance certain to gain the attention of his fellow actors.
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
The ever-unpredictable Phoenix made waves and won critical praise for working without a net in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1950s-set drama about a young man caught up in the early days of a religious cult. Reminiscent of something Brando—or even Day-Lewis—might have done, Phoenix, in a minicomeback, shows again he has acting chops second to none. Even his recent comments disparaging the whole Oscar campaign process likely won’t prevent him from landing in the final five.
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Cooper could easily score his first Oscar nomination for this heartfelt, alternately funny and sad portrayal of a man returning home after spending time in a mental institution. Cooper shows new sides of a talent only hinted at in previous movies but must compete against more flamboyant roles. A Golden Globe nomination for comedy is assured, and the film’s popularity could help push him into the final five at Oscar time.
Anthony Hopkins, Hitchcock
It always helps to play well-known biographical figures, and Hopkins is the perfect fit as Alfred Hitchcock. Voters are suckers for this type of role. Hopkins, a four-time Oscar nominee and a winner for Silence of the Lambs (1991) hasn’t been in the race since 1997, and Hitch could be his ticket back.
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Breathing Lessons, the documentary short about the life of Mark O’Brien, a disabled man who had to live in an iron lung, won an Oscar, and now Hawkes plays the same man as he attempts to lose his virginity with a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt). Hawkes hits the bullseye with a performance that is dramatic but also surprisingly funny, and he could get his second nomination in just two years after landing in the supporting category for Winter’s Bone in 2010. An actor’s dream role, Hawkes’ performance would be a slam-dunk nomination in any year but this one. Searchlight’s ability to keep the movie front of mind in the race will determine his fate.
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Taking on one of musical theater’s quintessential roles, the never-nominated former host of the Oscars could find himself sitting front and center for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in the movie version of the hit Broadway musical. Allowing Jackman to show off his considerable musical talents, with even a new song written for him, is something the Academy has long awaited, and this could be a performance that resonates for the likable and popular Jackman.
Richard Gere, Arbitrage
As a manipulative and slick Wall Street player, Gere delivered his best performance in years, one widely acclaimed by critics. But in a highly competitive field, will the small theatrical/VOD release find enough of an audience to deliver his first-ever—and long overdue—Oscar nomination?
Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
Lured out of retirement after 14 years, this iconic French star (A Man and a Woman) has the role of a lifetime as a man dealing with the rapidly declining health of his beloved wife. At 82, Trintignant is enormously moving, but can this intense drama about an aging couple break through to enough voters who could find the subject matter wrenching to watch?
Bill Murray, Hyde Park on Hudson
Many think Murray was robbed of the Oscar for Lost in Translation, his only previous nomination, and a nod for his crafty and unexpected turn as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt could make up for that slight. Voters love seeing comic actors turn dramatic, and Murray nails the role, but mixed reaction to the film could hurt his chances of making the final five this time.
Also in the mix…
Jack Black, Bernie
Going against type Black, like Murray, impressed critics, but will voters remember this early spring release?
Ben Affleck, Argo
He did a fine job as Tony Mendez, but the Academy is more likely to recognize Affleck in the directing and producing categories and feel they can spread the wealth to other actors in this competitive year.
Tom Holland, The Impossible
Although only 14, Holland carries a big emotional load trying to put his family back together after a devastating tsunami, but will voters think he is too young to be in this category?
Omar Sy, The Intouchables
Sy upset favored Jean Dujardin last year for the Cesar award, but can lightning strike twice for this engaging actor? He’s an Oscar longshot, to be sure, but definitely a Golden Globe possibility.
Jake Gyllenhaal, End of Watch
Gyllenhaal is terrific as a cop patrolling the rough streets of South Los Angeles, but playing the good guy isn’t always to best way to win Oscar attention.
Matt Damon, Promised Land
Damon is earnest and very fine but more likely to land another original screenplay nod than to crack the best actor circle this year, plus the film is coming out very late near the end of the voting period, which hurts the buzz potential.
Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained
Foxx is always formidable, but the Quentin Tarantino film could be a challenge for older voters, hurting Foxx’s chances of repeating his Ray Oscar triumph.
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Waltz, the supporting actor Oscar winner from 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, is moving up into the lead category for another role in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Time will tell if he has as much success in lead as he did in supporting.
Suraj Sharma, Life of Pi
Carrying the film on his shoulders, Sharma hits a lot of the right notes but is overshadowed by the sheer scope and visual magic of Ang Lee’s epic.
Alan Cumming, Any Day Now
Cumming is great, but the film is just too small to make a dent here. Independent Spirit Awards are a definite possibility.
Frank Langella, Robot and Frank
See Alan Cumming.
Tommy Lee Jones, Hope Springs
Jones stood out, but the buzz has faded. His best shot is now in the supporting category for Lincoln.
Matthias Schoenaerts, Rust and Bone
A terrific new actor, but his costar Marion Cotillard will get all the awards love for this intense drama.
Clint Eastwood, Trouble with the Curve
There could be sympathy for what might be Eastwood’s final leading role, and he’s in great form, but his trouble with the “chair” at the GOP convention and the movie’s quick disappearance might have negated that.
Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
Although the Screen Actors Guild constantly denies that their annual ensemble award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture is meant to be anything but that, pundits and prognosticators stubbornly label it SAG’s equivalent of a best picture award. Since the SAG membership overlaps with Academy voters, nominees, and winners of SAG Awards, along with other key guild contests orchestrated by the PGA, DGA, and WGA, they are widely considered to be great harbingers of things to come at the Oscars. In the case of the SAG Awards, which have been given annually for the past 18 years, it is certainly true that their individual acting winners often agree with Oscars, at least 75% of the time.
However the stats for the ensemble or cast award, as it is officially known, are much spottier. Indeed, out of the 17 times it has been awarded, only eight films have gone on to match it at the Oscars (Shakespeare in Love, American Beauty, Chicago, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Crash, No Country for Old Men, Slumdog Millionaire,and The King’s Speech).On the bright side, only one past SAG cast award winner, The Birdcage at the third annual awards, failed to go on to get at least a best picture nomination (or even a single acting nom for that matter). The cast award for TV series tends to more closely align with eventual Emmy winners in both comedy and drama categories, but often enough goes its own way there, too.
So why is it an award every Oscar strategist wants to win? Bottom line is the simple fact that actors far outnumber everyone else in the film Academy. They are responsible for one-sixth of the entire membership and can definitely have a strong impact on the vote. And they are virtually all members of SAG, so it would seem to be a strong indicator of Academy sentiment, or so the thinking goes.
“It certainly helps with your campaign to get the ensemble award because people think it is SAG’s closest thing to a best picture, whether it actually is or not. But is it actually going to decide who is the best picture? No,” says one prominent studio awards consultant.
It can give momentum to a struggling campaign just as Oscar ballots are in the mail. Last year, The Help was all but written off at the Oscars after being snubbed in directing and writing categories. But, significantly, it did receive a best picture nom as well as acting nominations for lead actress Viola Davis and supporting actresses Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, just as it did at the SAG awards. When it cleaned up at SAG in a surprise, winning three including the cast award, a record-tying accomplishment, suddenly there were big hopes at DreamWorks that perhaps it could pull off the impossible and pull off a best picture upset. It wasn’t to be, and The Artist, the film it beat for the cast award at SAG, prevailed in the end. Only SAG supporting winner Octavia Spencer repeated at Oscar time. The SAG awards were prescient, though, in giving Artist star Jean Dujardin the best actor prize over favored George Clooney (The Descendants) and Brad Pitt (Moneyball), a feat he repeated at the Oscars a month later. Certainly that SAG win provided momentum for him just as it has done for others in the past.
The cast award is different in the respect that not every best picture Oscar winner or nominee is going to have a big ensemble or cast that would necessarily qualify for consideration in this category. But it can be a slippery slope for those films in the perception arena if they are winning big everywhere else on the road to Oscar but suddenly get blindsided at SAG and the pundits take note of it, no matter how unfair that might be. Momentum in an Oscar race is everything, and peaking at the right time is key. This notably happened in 2006 when Brokeback Mountain lost the cast award at SAG to upstart Crash. This sent shockwaves into the race, but it was by design on the part of Crash distributor, Lionsgate. Brokeback had been triumphing in all the key precursor races up to that point and was expected to just sweep through all the guild awards. It had already won at DGA and PGA (and later WGA) when it “crashed” so to speak at SAG, losing in every one of the four categories in which it was nominated. But it was the cast award loss to Crash that stung the most.
At the time then-Lionsgate president Tom Ortenberg told me, “it was our strategy to simply stop Brokeback at one of the guild awards, with SAG being most likely because of our strong ensemble cast.” The company blanketed the guild members with DVD screeners, which certainly helped, and the strategy obviously worked. The SAG win was considered a bit of a shocker at the time but might have been responsible for building the momentum needed to do the impossible and overtake Brokeback for best picture. That’s, of course, exactly what happened when stunned presenter Jack Nicholson opened up the envelope and announced Crash as the surprise winner of the Oscar for best picture. Some thought the exact same thing was going to happen a year later when Little Miss Sunshine pulled out a victory winning the SAG cast award over Warner Bros.’ The Departed,but the latter managed to prevail and nab the Oscar anyway.
Is the SAG cast award gaining its own momentum as a precursor of Oscar glory? If the past five years are any indication, it could be, as three of the last five winners have gone on to win best picture, but the uneven correlation between the two groups will probably continue. Time will only tell.
Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
Although not offering nearly the same level of intense competition as the lead actor race this year, the race for best lead actress is shaping up as one of the more intriguing matchups in recent years, with a wide divide in age, experience, and roles. Although 17-time nominee Meryl Streep finally won her third Oscar last year for The Iron Lady (her first win in 29 years), it is not likely she will four-peat, despite widespread praise for her role as a wife looking to put sexual pizazz back into her longrunning marriage in Hope Springs. She isn’t even letting the studio campaign the performance, which should at least let somebody else out there have a shot, considering Streep is bound to be back in serious contention next year with the much-awaited August: Osage County. So this year there is a large group of Oscar virgins from ages 8 to 85 competing for one of those five coveted slots, but Streep aside, they will have to face an imposing trio of British Dames and past winners Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, not to mention Oscar’s French crush Marion Cotillard, and an overdue Australian dynamo named Naomi Watts, among others. Here’s the lineup from the top 10 to those looking for a way into the mix.
Jennifer Lawrence,Silver Linings Playbook
As a young woman coming out of her own personal hell and trying to live life again, 22-year-old Lawrence proves her first best actress Oscar nom two years ago for Winter’s Bone was no fluke. Her scenes opposite costar Bradley Cooper are priceless, and she navigates the tricky waters from flat-out comedy to heart-wrenching drama effortlessly. It probably doesn’t hurt that she also starred in one of the year’s biggest hits, The Hunger Games, to cement her frontrunner status here.
Marion Cotillard,Rust and Bone
The great French star, a winner recently for her earth-shattering turn as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose is back and equally fine as an orca whale trainer who loses both her legs in a tragic accident and finds new purpose and love she never knew. Her La Vie en Rose win probably makes a second Oscar so soon after
less likely, and the film might not be as widely seen as other contenders, but she’s a knockout in the role.
Mirren won in 2006 for playing Queen Elizabeth, and now she is back in contention for another real-life role, the lesser-known Alma Hitchcock, wife and partner of Alfred who was the brains and the force behind the genius. The film is more of a love story between the pair during the making of Psycho, and Mirren once again shows great dignity and has the money scene where she gets to tell off her husband and elicit the audience’s sympathy.
Naomi Watts,The Impossible
As an extreme accident victim whose family is separated during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Watts has her most physical and, perhaps, most demanding role. Speaking mostly through her eyes, Watts is extraordinary and could land her second best actress nom after first making the grade with 21 Grams.
This great actress, now 85 years old, first came to fame more than 50 years ago in the classic Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), but now, at a point when most actors are long retired or forgotten, she has perhaps her greatest role as a stroke victim whose rapidly declining health takes a great toll on her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Much like Watts, Riva says so much by saying so little, and it’s heartbreaking—and difficult—to watch. If nominated she would be the oldest ever in this category.
Quvenzhané Wallis,Beasts of the Southern Wild
As the pint-sized powerhouse named Hushpuppy, first-time actress Wallis won praise and stole hearts in this magical festival sensation, the story of a 6-year-old dealing with a fading father and challenging weather conditions threatening her life on the bayou. Wallis is Riva’s opposite: she would be the youngest ever nominated, and the thin ranks of true contenders means she has a real shot to make it happen. An Indie Spirit nomination, and possible win, is assured.
Keira Knightley,Anna Karenina
Tackling one of the great roles in all of literature, Knightley brings just the right amount of moral ambiguity and suffering to Tolstoy’s heroine. Performing in the shadow of Greta Garbo’s unique and unforgettable portrayal, but helped by director Joe Wright’s imaginative and fluid staging, Knightley matches her Oscar-nominated turn in Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, looks sensational, and makes the role her own. Mixed reaction to the overall film could hurt her chances in the end.
Two-time winner Maggie Smith shines in a sterling ensemble of veteran actors who bring Dustin
Hoffman’s directorial debut to shimmering life. Playing an aging opera diva who moves into a home for retired stars, Smith still knows how to deliver a brittle, caustic line with the best of them and still make us care. She stands a good chance of getting back into the Oscar game after bagging her second Downton Abbey Emmy in September.
Judi Dench,The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Not to be outdone by her Marigold costar Maggie Smith, Dench dominates a true ensemble and who’s who of British senior stars as a lonely widow finding renewed life on a trip to India that turns into a challenge for all when they check into the rundown Marigold Hotel. Add to that her strongest turn yet in the Bond film, Skyfall, and Dench is having a very good year. She should, at the very least, merit a Golden Globe comedy nom for this.
Jessica Chastain,Zero Dark Thirty
Although a late-breaking entry in this year’s race—and the most secretive movie of the lot—Chastain appears to have a very good chance to repeat her career roll and nab a second consecutive Oscar nomination (after her supporting nom for The Help last year) for her role as a tough CIA operative. Chastain calls her part awesome, but will Academy members agree?
Also in the Mix…
Elle Fanning,Ginger & Rosa
Sporting a British accent and attitude, the teen star got top reviews on the fest circuit but has an uphill climb for Oscar recognition—although she is one to watch in the future.
Meryl Streep,Hope Springs
As usual Streep knocks it out of the park, but even she says enough is enough. Still, she’s Streep, so never say never.
Leslie Mann,This Is 40
Mann is simply terrific in this semi-autobiographical movie from her husband, Judd Apatow. Could be a sleeper contender if the movie catches on. This is her best work yet.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead,Smashed
It never hurts to play an alcoholic, and Winstead delivers a major performance with surprising subtlety as a teacher with a constant hangover and troubled relationship. The film might be too small and forgotten by the time ballots are filled out.
Laura Linney,Hyde Park on Hudson
Bill Murray’s spot-on portrayal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt is what seems to be drawing the attention to this movie, although Linney was entirely fine and wonderfully subtle as the distant cousin who has a most unusual relationship with the president. She’s likely to get overlooked for a performance that does not get that one ballbreaking scene that makes voters take notice.
Rachel Weisz,The Deep Blue Sea
Many found Terence Davies’ adaptation of the Terence Rattigan story pretentious, but all agree it was a raw and riveting turn by Weisz that made it worth watching. It would require a big campaign just to remind people this spring release came out this year.
Amy Adams,Trouble With the Curve
Eastwood was Eastwood and might have hurt himself with that chair, but Adams was the heart and soul of this estranged father-daughter relationship set in the world of baseball scouting. Her best chance this year lies with The Master in supporting since Curve didn’t quite hit a home run in its September release.
This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine
Actors go to exhaustive lengths to lose themselves onscreen, whether it’s by extensive research or thespian Method. Then there’s Jennifer Lawrence, who unabashedly admits her lack of formal drama training—an approach that’s paid off for her in spades given her portrayal of strong female protagonists. As the young unstable widow Tiffany who falls for Bradley Cooper’s bipolar ex-high school teacher Pat in David O. Russell’s romantic dramedy Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence is a firecracker, going toe-to-toe with the Method master himself, Robert De Niro (as Pat’s father) in a hysterical scene where she debunks him of all of his Philadelphia sports superstitions. Since the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival, Oscar pundits are projecting Lawrence to lock her second best actress nomination following her breakout in 2010’s Winter’s Bone. Mere cherries for Lawrence after her turn in March as the brave teen warrior Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, a part for which she was plucked from hundreds of girls. But Lawrence admits to brazenly pursuing roles, whether it’s tracking down her Winter’s Bone director in New York or Skyping Russell from her Louisville, KY, hometown. “There’s my desperation for certain scripts,” Lawrence says, “and desperation reads, and passion comes through.”
AWARDSLINE: You have this affinity for tough characters. Did you find any similarity between Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games and Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook?
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: It’s funny, I never thought that Tiffany and Katniss have anything in common, other than they have to do what they have to do and really don’t care what anybody thinks. However, the way they go about it is very different. Katniss would rather not talk if she doesn’t have to in every situation, and Tiffany has more words than there is time. I think great stories follow tough characters. They happen to be the scripts and stories that I fall in love with, but it’s all coincidental. Anytime my agent calls me and starts describing a character, if it’s anything about “strong,” “south,” or “woods,” I can’t do it. I do realize my characters have that in common, but I need to play someone weak and vulnerable (laughs)—go find some pathetic someone somewhere.
AWARDSLINE: Do you know anyone like Tiffany?
LAWRENCE: No, I never felt so much like a stranger to a character. I really didn’t have anyone to base her on or to rationalize what she was doing most of the time. And I loved that. She felt like this strange fascinating being, who even now is a mystery to me. I never felt like I locked her down. She was always growing and changing. And that’s happening as well with the Hunger Games movies and Katniss. One of the biggest things about Tiffany is her fearlessness, and yet she’s also very aware. Most people who are fearless aren’t aware of the worst-case scenario. They’re not aware of the consequences. But she’s both. She’s ferocious, fearless, and she’s aware of everything, and I thought that was fascinating. I wanted to go into the audition with David O. Russell that way.
AWARDSLINE: What discussions about bipolarity did you have with David and Bradley Cooper? I remember David talking about how he was personally connected to the material at the Hollywood Awards.
LAWRENCE: Bradley did a lot of research and really wanted to nail down exactly what his character was dealing with. I never felt (the need to do research). This is coming from a girl who never reads her lines until she shows up and does as little work as impossible because my number-one goal in life is having fun—I’m just kidding. I never felt like the medication or the diagnosis or the disease was in Tiffany’s world. Tiffany didn’t see a bipolar, manic-depressive in (Cooper’s character) Pat, she saw a desperate man who was misunderstood the same way she was, and they were perfect for each other. Bradley did more of the research, and I did more of the “OK, I’m shouting in the street, and I don’t know why” time to go with it.
AWARDSLINE: Does the fact that you’re now a huge boxoffice draw and an Oscar nominee inhibit you from the types of projects you’ll attach yourself to?
LAWRENCE: No, it doesn’t. In fact, it makes things a lot easier to get attached to. I’m still reading the same scripts—$1 indies—as I did before I was discovered in Winter’s Bone. The good thing is, when I fall in love with the script, I don’t have to wait for it to be made. I can find the right people and actually get it made. My biggest problem with Hollywood is that there are these incredible scripts that can’t find funding. And then when I’m driving through Westwood and see the posters of the movies that are in theaters, I’m like, “What’s going on? Why is it like that?”
AWARDSLINE: Harvey Weinstein has been a godfather to a number of actors and actresses. How was he during production?
LAWRENCE: I love Harvey so much. I don’t understand why everyone’s so scared of him. He’s like a big teddy bear. He’s a genius. I get it, if you’re trying to negotiate with him, he’s not like a big teddy bear. (But) I love how he makes movies. He has enough money that he can focus on making something good, and we don’t have enough people like him in this business. He’s the only person in this business who can be on the phone with a director like David O. Russell, and they can yell at each other and love each other and be completely honest. People who are upfront get a terrible reputation. They don’t sugarcoat it, they just tell you the way it is, and I think that’s wonderful and a great thing to be around. Yes, Harvey has given me career advice, and I rejected it and then regretted it.