Supporting Actor/Actress Handicap

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of AwardsLine.

This season’s supporting actor and actress Oscar races can be summed up in one word: Winners! A remarkable seven of the 10 nominees actually already have at least one Oscar on their mantel, and all of them have been previously nominated. Unlike the marquee lead races, not a single newcomer has been invited to the supporting party. In fact, all five supporting actor nominees are past winners, a rare occurrence that proves Feb. 24 will indeed be veterans’ day at the Dolby Theater. And though there is a strong frontrunner emerging for the women, the male race is one of the most wide open in years, with no one taking the lead to date and the outcome a real question mark. So how did they all get here? Here’s the rundown.

John Goodman, left, and Alan Arkin play Hollywood insiders who collaborate with the CIA in Argo.
John Goodman, left, and Alan Arkin play Hollywood insiders who collaborate with the CIA in Argo.

SUPPORTING ACTOR

Alan Arkin | Argo

This veteran actor got his first lead actor Oscar nomination in 1966 for his film debut in The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming. And then a second just two years later for The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. But it was a near-record 38 years before Arkin returned to Oscar’s inner circle, finally winning a supporting actor prize for Little Miss Sunshine. Now, six years later, he is back in contention as the Hollywood film producer in Argo, and the reason is simple: He not only gets the best lines, he’s playing the kind of industry insider that Oscar voters will instantly recognize. As Lester Siegel, who becomes the fake producer of a fake film created to free six American hostages in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Arkin is perfection, delivering his lines with the kind of droll style for which he is known. He plays a character that, oddly enough, makes Hollywood proud of what they do: He uses a schlocky script to save lives and make a difference, instead of making money.

Robert De Niro as Pat Sr. in Silver Linings Playbook.
Robert De Niro as Pat Sr. in Silver Linings Playbook.

Robert De Niro | Silver Linings Playbook

One of the most revered—if not the most revered—living actor, De Niro has won two Oscars and been nominated six times. Remarkably, his last nomination came 21 years ago for Cape Fear, and since then he has been criticized in some quarters for taking on too many commercial projects (Fockers, anyone?) and not enough so-called Oscar worthy roles. However, with films like Casino and Heat to his credit in the interim, this isn’t really true: He’s got one now for which he scored a touchdown. As Pat Sr., the obsessive-compulsive Philadelphia Eagles-loving family man, De Niro has some of his richest moments on film in years. He’s alternately funny, touching, and real. Clearly, the actor in him was energized, and the role fit him like a glove. As Pat Sr., De Niro is back in the (Oscar) game, and that might be irresistible for Academy voters, who have been waiting since his iconic role as Jake La Motta in 1980’s Raging Bull to find an excuse to give this legend another statuette.

The Master
The awards-buzz worthy performances of Joaquin Phoenix, left, and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master are worth more their weight than B.O.gold.

Philip Seymour Hoffman | The Master

Hoffman won best actor for playing Truman Capote just a few short years ago, and now he’s managed to find another great role suited to his immense talents. In the same year he wowed Broadway as Willy Loman in a landmark new production of Death of a Salesman, Hoffman won raves as the title character in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, playing Lancaster Dodd, the L. Ron Hubbard-style founder of a religious cult in the early 1950s. Reaction to the movie among filmgoers was decidedly mixed, but nearly everyone agreed Hoffman was brilliant, going toe to toe with Joaquin Phoenix’s unbalanced Freddie Quell. In fact, though Phoenix is nominated for lead actor, both these roles are of equal weight, and that could help Hoffman, who perhaps has the meatiest role in this entire category. After all he is the Master and totally in control in scene after scene, giving this bigger-than-life character real dimension when it could have been over the top.

Tommy Lee Jones plays abolitionist Senator Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.
Tommy Lee Jones plays abolitionist Senator Thaddeus Stevens in Lincoln.

Tommy Lee Jones | Lincoln

Tommy Lee Jones won an Oscar in 1993 in this category by chasing Harrison Ford around in The Fugitive. He has a chance nearly two decades later to repeat the feat by taking on Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s quiet epic on the fight to pass the 13th amendment. In a sterling ensemble cast, Jones has the most colorful and vivid role as Thaddeus Stevens, a deeply passionate man set on ending slavery. By contrast, Daniel Day-Lewis is positively subdued, but Jones has the kind of scenes that, quite frankly, win Oscars in this category. He could win for the wig alone. It’s a memorable turn in a very good year for Jones, and it earned him a supporting actor trophy from the Screen Actors Guild. That one-two punch in voters’ minds could remind them what a great and versatile actor he is, cinching the deal.

Christoph Waltz, left, is nominated for Django Unchained.
Christoph Waltz, left, is nominated for Django Unchained.

Christoph Waltz | Django Unchained

As Dr. King Schultz, a dentist/bounty hunter, this Austrian-born international star takes another tailor-made Quentin Tarantino character gift and socks it home with deadpan delivery, sly glances, and scene-stealing aplomb. He understands Tarantino’s rhythms like few others do, and it pays off. A winner here just three years ago for Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, Waltz got back in the race this time by standing out as the lone cast member of the large ensemble to grab an Oscar nomination. Largely unknown to most American audiences until he exploded on the screen in Basterds, Waltz has become a go-to character actor in a short amount of time. His role as a take-no-prisoners practitioner of bringing in “the bad guys” is a priceless reminder he’s got what it takes to win over audiences and win Oscars. Whether the Academy will want to give him a second one so soon is another question, but with a Golden Globe already in his pocket for this role, don’t count him out.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as a cult power couple in The Master.
Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as a cult power couple in The Master.

Amy Adams | The Master

Amy Adams is getting to be a regular in this category. It has taken her just seven years to amass a remarkable four nominations: Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), and now her startlingly different role as Peggy Dodd, the faithful wife who might really be the one in control in The Master. The only thing that links these four characters is the actress herself, and she got in this time taking real risks, making choices other actors know aren’t the easy ones. This is a role she seems to disappear almost completely in at times, but she gives the role its greatest power in the subtle, nonshowy way she spends each scene, never once succumbing to the temptation of going over the top and always standing head to head with costar Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Sally Field plays the complex First Lady in Lincoln.
Sally Field plays the complex First Lady in Lincoln.

Sally Field | Lincoln

A two-time winner for Norma Rae (1979) and Places In The Heart (1984), Field has a perfect Oscar track record: Two for two. Now this plucky veteran is back to try for a third as Mary Todd Lincoln, President Abraham Lincoln’s long-suffering First Lady. She was a cinch for a nomination because fellow actors love the grit and determination she showed just in hanging in there as the film went through development hell over the course of a decade, while she slowly started to age out of the part. Insisting on a screen test and not giving up, Field won the role by sheer will—and talent. Her powerful scenes opposite Daniel Day-Lewis prove the decision was right.

Anne Hathaway is the doomed Fantine in Les Misérables.
Anne Hathaway is the doomed Fantine in Les Misérables.

Anne Hathaway | Les Misérables

If there is a frontrunner in any Oscar category this year, the mantle surely belongs to Anne Hathaway, who takes the small but pivotal role of the tragic Fantine in the iconic musical and somehow not only makes it her own, but probably delivers the definitive version. In closeup, singing live, one take at a time, Hathaway is heartbreaking. Something otherworldly seems to take hold of her, so much so that it’s not possible to believe she could have nailed it over and over. There were eight takes, she says, but she only felt she got it perfect on the fourth, and that’s the one that wound up in the film. It’s not a large part compared to some others in the category, but it’s one from the heart, and that counts a lot with Oscar voters. Both Globe and SAG voters have already given her the statuette for this role.

Helen Hunt plays a sex therapist in The Sessions.
Helen Hunt plays a sex therapist in The Sessions.

Helen Hunt | The Sessions

Helen Hunt won four Emmys for her role on TV’s Mad About You and then a best actress Oscar for 1997’s As Good As It Gets. After those triumphs, it seemed like her career got a little spotty, and she couldn’t quite recapture the magic, despite some fine work in little-seen projects in the last few years. And then along comes the true story of Mark O’Brien, a man in his late 30s living in an iron lung and who longs to lose his virginity to Cheryl, a sex surrogate played by Hunt. She clearly could relate to this woman because rarely have we seen such an open and vulnerable Hunt on screen. It might be her finest performance, one in which she is naked, both physically and emotionally. Opposite the equally remarkable John Hawkes, who was clearly robbed of a best actor nomination, Hunt got to show she still has it.

Jacki Weaver plays Pat Jr.'s doting mother in Silver Linings Playbook.
Jacki Weaver plays Pat Jr.’s doting mother in Silver Linings Playbook.

Jacki Weaver | Silver Linings Playbook

As the mother in a dysfunctional Philadelphia family, Weaver finds herself back in the same category she first appeared in 2010 in the gritty crime drama, Animal Kingdom. However, this role could not be a more different kind of mother. Weaver’s nomination might be the biggest surprise in the category because it is by far the least-showy role. Unlike her nominated costars, she doesn’t have the “big scene,” there are no real histrionics, no big laugh lines, no heavy drama. She’s just real, and as director David O. Russell says, “She manages to be the heart and soul of this movie.” Roles like this don’t often get recognized because they seem so effortless. You never once catch Weaver acting, and that’s a rare gift.

Q&A: Helen Hunt On The Sessions

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

Academy Award winner Helen Hunt might have another shot at Oscar in what’s certainly her most “revealing” role to date—playing the real-life sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene hired by quadriplegic Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes) in the Sundance darling, The Sessions. Hunt discusses playing a real person, self-acceptance, and what it’s like to be that naked.

AWARDSLINE: I’m taking a stab here that prior to this script you hadn’t ever heard of sex surrogacy?

HELEN HUNT: No, I knew nothing about it. I thought there couldn’t be much difference between prostitution and that, no matter how you dress it up. But then I spoke to the real Cheryl—which, often, as an actress, isn’t as helpful as people would think because when you’re using your own imagination and experiences to build a character, speaking to the real person can be disorienting. But in this case, I didn’t have any idea, and I needed to get one really quickly. The real Cheryl is louder, more frank, and has a more enthusiastic quality than I have. So I got excited about the idea of at least starting like that and with a certain amount of bluster walking into the room: This is what it is to be naked, this is what it is to talk about parts of the body, and let (John Hawkes, playing Mark O’Brien) catch up a little bit. I also thought this would allow me to put something different in the end when Cheryl’s feelings for him deepen and her sense of intimacy grows. It was important that we not see this woman only one way all the way through.

AWARDSLINE: The clothes do come off pretty quickly and unceremoniously.

HUNT: Whenever I see anyone naked in a movie it takes me a minute, and we wanted to just get that out of the way. But also, I think the audience is in John’s head, and the fact that it’s all happening faster than he can quite manage is funny and scary, which are the two things I think it’s meant to be at that moment.

AWARDSLINE: A theme of The Sessions is knowing your body and figuring out how to be comfortable in it. Did that ring true for you personally or was it still quite difficult to approach those full nude scenes?

HUNT: That’s as naked as I know how to be. I was not as comfortable as (Cheryl) was, but I must be more comfortable than a lot of people because I did it. The whole north star for me was loving the story; I didn’t do it for the thrill or the dare of being naked. And what came along is the feeling of, Who cares anymore? Maybe it comes with being older—are we going to care about things we don’t even believe in, like everyone should look a certain way or everybody should be a certain age, or we should all be filled with shame and hiding our bodies and sexuality? Or are we going to take an opportunity of at least trying to be in the skin of someone who isn’t playing that game? By the way, the real Cheryl told me that she wasn’t always so comfortable with her body. There’s working on yourself from the inside out, which I think I did when I was younger, and as I get older I work on myself from the outside in, and by that I mean that if you don’t feel it, act “as if,” and the feelings might catch up, and this a perfect example of that. This is the way I want to be, and what a beautiful piece of good fortune that I was given a part to play around with what it would be like to feel that way.

AWARDSLINE: This film is about acceptance on several fronts, from sexuality to disability.

HUNT: The disability in the movie does something very particular in that it deconstructs the sex by necessity, and so it makes it like the sex that all of us have, improvised and ridiculous and beautiful and awkward and scary, and not so much like all the choreographed weaving that we see in movies and that I’ve done in movies.

AWARDSLINE: How did the real Cheryl respond to the film?

HUNT: She wrote me a card that said, “Thank you for really understanding my intentions in terms of my time with Mark.” I think that’s what probably meant the most to her.

AWARDSLINE: I saw you earlier this year in the play Our Town. What makes you want to take a film role these days? What has to be there?

HUNT: A good script, a good script, a good script…or money. I had a very fancy moment in 1997 or whenever it was that I had a lot of good fortune at once. And then I did Castaway, and people were like, “You’re in it for 15 minutes. What are you doing?” But the story—it was a great story! I like getting to be part of telling a story that works, and (The Sessions) was a totally original, totally beautiful story.

Veteran Supporting Actresses Could Dominate The Newcomers

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of AwardsLine.

A strong set of previous Oscar winners could annihilate the chances for a promising group of newcomers who are hoping for their first nomination in the supporting actress category. Sally Field, Helen Hunt, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Nicole Kidman, Frances McDormand, Shirley MacLaine, and Susan Sarandon—not to mention three-time nominee Amy Adams—all shine brightly in their respective films. So will the veterans, who have successfully played this game before, dominate the field (as they are threatening to do in the corresponding male supporting category) or can a new class break through and triumph? And then there is the case of Les Misérables:Universal started screening the film Thanksgiving weekend and will continue through its Christmas Day release. It offers strong female roles to at least four actresses who could fill a category all by themselves. Can Les Mis be the first movie since Tom Jones in 1963 to nab three supporting actress nominations all for itself? It’s the stuff that makes the Oscars so damned interesting. Here are the contenders.

SALLY FIELD |LINCOLN

The two-time best actress winner (Norma Rae, Places in the Heart) and three-time Emmy winneris now 66 and actually insisted on being tested for the role of Mary Todd Lincoln, which she says she knew would be hers even though Steven Spielberg said it wasn’t to be. She proved him wrong, and voters might really respond to Field’s pluck in landing the role and bringing it on in a series of emotional scenes opposite Daniel Day-Lewis. Will Oscar like her, really like her, a third time?

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Misérables.
Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Misérables.

ANNE HATHAWAY |LES MISÉRABLES

As Fantine, Hathaway has been out front ever since Universal began releasing snippets of her performance of “I Dreamed a Dream,” one of the signature songs in the Les Mis score. The role just has the smell of Oscar all over it, plus she’s got that deglammed down-and-dirty look, but will competition from three other women in the cast lessen her chances or can she rise to the top?

HELEN HUNT |THE SESSIONS

Hunt reveals all physically and emotionally as the sex surrogate who offers her professional services to a man in an iron lung who longs to be deflowered at the age of 38. Hunt nails every aspect of this real-life surrogate and should easily earn a spot in her first Oscar race since winning the best actress statuette for 1997’s As Good as It Gets.

Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as a cult power couple in The Master.
Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as a cult power couple in The Master.

AMY ADAMS |THE MASTER

With nominations in this category three previous times for Junebug, Doubt,and The Fighter,Adams seems to be primed to actually win one. Will playing the strong wife of a religious cult leader in The Master give her that opportunity? A fourth nomination seems like it is in the stars, but polarized response to the movie could dampen her chances for an actual win. Whether it is this year or not, her destiny is with Oscar.

Nicole Kidman plays white-trash-fabulous in Lee Daniels' The Paperboy.
Nicole Kidman plays white-trash-fabulous in Lee Daniels’ The Paperboy.

NICOLE KIDMAN |THE PAPERBOY

Oscar voters love to see actors take risks, and no one does it better than Kidman playing a Southern tart and giving it her all in one edgy scene after another. The movie and her peeing scene were the talk of Cannes Twitter feeds, but it came and went quickly upon its release this fall. Still, actors might sit up and take notice anyway for this past winner’s impressive ability to take a shot and deliver the goods.

SHIRLEY MACLAINE |BERNIE

As the meanest woman in a small Texas town who strikes up an unlikely relationship with funeral director Bernie (Jack Black), MacLaine creates another indelible character in a career that has provided more than a half-century of them. The question is, will enough voters see the indie hit or even remember it came out this year? A Golden Globe nomination could help her chances here.

KELLY REILLY |FLIGHT

As a fellow addict who befriends Denzel Washington’s alcoholic pilot, the British-born Reilly makes a strong impression and holds her own in a few riveting scenes with the star. It seems the stuff of which Oscar nominations are made.

FRANCES MCDORMAND |PROMISED LAND

McDormand and Matt Damon are business associates who represent a big corporate entity trying to win oil-drilling rights from the economically challenged citizens of a small town, and as usual this reliable Oscar winner turns the role into a living, breathing human being. The late release date of the film, though, could prove a problem in getting the film widely seen by the time voting starts. She also gets bonus points for her turn in May’s specialty hit, Moonrise Kingdom.

Scarlett Johansson plays Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock.
Scarlett Johansson, center, plays Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock.

SCARLETT JOHANSSON |HITCHCOCK

As Janet Leigh during the making of Psycho,she hits all the right notes, deftly capturing the warmth of the bright movie star and the insecurity of an actress taking on a daring role for Alfred Hitchcock. Leigh won her only Oscar nomination in this category for the 1960 film but lost, so wouldn’t it be ironic if Johansson managed to do the same thing playing Leigh playing Marion Crane?

JUDI DENCH |SKYFALL

If it’s not going to be Javier Bardem, could Dench be the first actor in a James Bond film to be nominated for an acting Oscar? Dench’s role as M is larger in this 23rd Bond adventure, and it provides an emotional wallop. A nom would be especially sweet, considering no actor in Oscar history has ever been first-time nominated for a role they have already played in six previous films. Got all that?

Also in the mix

SAMANTHA BARKS |LES MISÉRABLES

As Éponine, this British relatively unknown actress has perhaps the meatiest of the supporting roles to play and could be the most likely to join Hathaway on the nomination list.

HELENA BONHAM CARTER |LES MISÉRABLES

As the colorful Madame Thenardier, Bonham Carter gets a larger-than-life role and is working again
with director Tom Hooper, who directed her to a nomination in this category two years ago for
The King’s Speech.

AMANDA SEYFRIED |LES MISÉRABLES

As sweet Cosette, Seyfried might not have the killer scenes of the others in Les Mis and thus could be the odd supporting actress out in this competition.

JACKI WEAVER |SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

As Bradley Cooper’s mother and Robert De Niro’s wife, Weaver—nominated in the category two years ago for her extraordinary role in Animal Kingdom—has the least showy part of all the main players, but could get swept in here with the Silver Linings tide.

GLORIA REUBEN |LINCOLN

As the seamstress who becomes Mary Todd Lincoln’s confidante, the former ER star is quietly touching, but Field’s showier role is far more likely to prevail here.

MAGGIE SMITH |THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL

As the bitter, racist one in the ensemble cast, Smith is terrific as usual, but voters might actually prefer her lead role in the similar Quartet and leave this increasingly crowded category to others.

KERRY WASHINGTON |DJANGO UNCHAINED

Tarantino’s western is a late-breaking entry, but Washington has a meaty role in it, so don’t discount her chances of finding her way into the race once voters get a look at the film.

SUSAN SARANDON |ARBITRAGE

Sarandon’s killer scene, in which she puts her cheating hubby Richard Gere right in his place, could be just enough to do the trick, but Roadside has to make sure voters see the movie.

BLYTHE DANNER |HELLO, I MUST BE GOING

Here’s a shoutout for the great never-nominated Danner, who shines as the mother of a divorced woman who moves back in with her parents. But did anyone actually see the movie?

LAURA LINNEY |HYDE PARK ON HUDSON & THE DETAILS

Sensing a lack of heat in the best actress race, Focus has made a last-minute switch and moved Linney from lead to supporting for her low-key work in Hyde Park. However, the role she really deserves recognition for in this category is her wildly amusing turn as the over-sexed, needy neighbor in The Details,but the Weinstein Co. isn’t even bothering to campaign the film and sent it almost directly to VOD. Too bad. Linney’s great in it.

JENNIFER EHLE |ZERO DARK THIRTY

With Jessica Chastain in lead and Ehle in supporting, it could ironically be the women that really shine in Kathryn Bigelow’s testosterone-driven military film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

EMILY BLUNT |LOOPER

Blunt is always good and again makes her mark as a mother living with her son on a farm in this scifi quasi hit, but it’s not a genre close to the hearts of Academy voters.

KRISTEN STEWART |ON THE ROAD

With this long-gestating film based on the Jack Kerouac book, Stewart breaks out of Bella hell and shows off some real grownup acting skills, but it likely won’t be enough to move her into real contention in this race.

ANN DOWD |COMPLIANCE

As the fast-food restaurant manager facing off against a man who says he is a police officer, character-actor Dowd earned raves, but the film was not widely seen. The real potential, though, of critics awards for her riveting performance could bring it back into the conversation and force voters to take notice.

Q&A: John Hawkes On The Sessions

Cari Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.

Writer/director Ben Lewin’s boldly endearing film The Sessions is the true story of quadriplegic journalist and poet Mark O’Brien, who, at 38 years old, set about losing his virginity by hiring a sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt. Veteran actor John Hawkes plays O’Brien in the film, embracing a physically and emotionally challenging role. In a recent interview with AwardsLine, Hawkes discussed the challenges of embodying a character who can’t move his body.

AWARDSLINE: How did this script come to you and how daunting—or not—was playing a man whose only movement was limited to the neck up?

JOHN HAWKES: I’d had some luck with the film Winter’s Bone and after that I got sent some scripts to consider. I hadn’t seen a character like this before—and that was the daunting part. Mark O’Brien lived in an iron lung from 6 years old on and only had 90 degrees of movement with his head. I wasn’t interested in him being more of an able-bodied Mark O’Brien and was glad the script wasn’t written that way. Disabled sex isn’t something we talk about a great deal, and I’m always interested in subjects I don’t know about.

AWARDSLINE: Lewin’s screenplay is based on an essay Mark O’Brien wrote called “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate.” Did you incorporate aspects of this essay?

HAWKES: Yes, Mark’s humor, straight-up. Mark was a living, breathing—although difficultly breathing—person on this planet, and he left us a great deal: his poetry, articles, book reviews, and his essays. Also, Jessica Yu, who knew Mark, had made (an Oscar-winning) short documentary film based on his life called Breathing Lessons. That was a really amazing study for me. I obsessed over that movie. My first impression of him was, Wow, poor guy. And my impression of him 30 minutes later was, Wow, amazing guy. I like detail as an actor, and I like to be really specific—the more truthful the details, the more universal the story gets for me. From his body to his attitude, to the music of his voice, to his dialect—these were great details for me. I think Mark could sometimes be an angry guy, and I wanted to bring some of that in, too, and there was a little bit of that in the script. I didn’t want him to be a puppy dog or a victim or a saint.I wanted to portray Mark in such a way that those who survived him could see something of their friend, their loved one, their family member in the work I’d done.

AWARDSLINE: Were there limitations on what you could capture?

HAWKES: His voice is subtitled in Jessica’s film. He doesn’t speak super clearly because his breathing is labored, so I didn’t want to do an exact interpretation, but I wanted to get close.

AWARDSLINE: Speaking of breathing, the movie opens with one of Mark O’Brien’s poems about breathing, which for him, wasn’t subconscious. How did you think about and incorporate breath while playing him?

HAWKES: I tried to emulate Mark’s breathing patterns as best I could, but I didn’t want it to become about that. I wanted to do honor to what he was dealing with and bring verité to the movie, but not so much as to be distracting to the audience.

AWARDSLINE: This role was extremely physically challenging. What was the “torture ball”?

HAWKES: I was lying on a soccer ball-sized (piece of) foam, which I conceived of and helped design with the props department. It was difficult and uncomfortable to find that kind of contorted position that was Mark O’Brien’s body. The script says that Mark’s spine is horribly curved, and you can’t disregard that as an actor. Sometimes I would do 40 minutes on (the torture ball) without moving. I couldn’t move my toe or swat the fly that kept wanting to crawl into my mouth. It hurt, but a minor amount of pain compared to what many people feel moment to moment in their lives.

AWARDSLINE: Was it ever a consideration to use prosthetics or other tricks?

HAWKES: The first time I met (director) Ben (Lewin), my concern was about an able-bodied actor playing this role. So many disabled actors aren’t working and should be. But Ben, a polio survivor himself, told me he’d taken a lot of time to try to find actors, able-bodied and disabled, but he hadn’t quite found his Mark. I insisted at the beginning that there be no body double, and Ben was cool with that. There were no prosthetics or computer graphics, and there was no makeup on me at any time.

AWARDSLINE: This could easily have been maudlin or depressing, and yet, the audience was often laughing.

HAWKES: Nothing avails us of those kinds of (negative) emotions more than laughing. It was important to me to mine the humor, as long as it wasn’t sophomoric or gag humor, which I love, but not for this script. Any humor that came out of truth was welcome, and I sought it every chance I could.