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Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2005

Oscar wannabes balance modesty, exposure

December 1, 2005

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— With three months to go until Hollywood's big night, Academy Awards contenders already are practicing their speeches.

Not their winners' speeches, but the humble-pie patter about how they don't give the Oscars the slightest thought. Whether for fear of sounding like egomaniacs or jinxing their chances, most stars play modest even as they fantasize about hoisting that little gold statuette.

"I don't know what kind of lies filmmakers tell you, and I could be accused of vanity for admitting I think about it," says director Bennett Miller," whose "Capote" put Philip Seymour Hoffman in the best-actor race. "I think it's vanity ... to say that you don't. Because you do."

Moderation is the key. Acknowledge that the recognition of your peers would be nice, but that such honors are out of your hands - and were the furthest thing from your mind when making the film.

"I don't like to have to dream about those kinds of things," said Ziyi Zhang, a possible best-actress nominee as a poor girl who rises to prominence in "Memoirs of a Geisha." "I care about my work and just try to do my best. Afterward, you can't control what happens. If it's a good movie, maybe we'll have a chance."

"If my work is recognized in that way, great," said Claire Danes, who has caught Oscar buzz for the romantic drama "Shopgirl." "If not, that's fine. That's not why I do the work that I do. I just want people to have a chance to reflect on their own lives while watching my movies."

That's precisely the sort of rhetoric favored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose 5,800 actors, filmmakers and other industry professionals vote on the Oscars, whose nominations come out Jan. 31 with the awards following March 5. Academy management frowns on anything that smacks of campaigning.

The best strategy for stars and directors is to keep visible enough through interviews and public appearances, but never look as though they're glad-handing for an Oscar.

Too much exposure can backfire. During the 1999 Oscar race, best-actress front-runner Annette Bening, of "American Beauty," looked as though she was running for office with endless appearances on talk shows and at Hollywood events. She lost to Hilary Swank for "Boys Don't Cry."

Two years later, "Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann was everywhere talking up his film. It was nominated for best picture and seven other awards - but Luhrmann was shut out in the directing category.

"There actually can be a backlash," said Tom O'Neil, who oversees TheEnvelope.com, a Web site that tracks entertainment awards. "They've got to tread that delicate balance."

On the other extreme, contempt is a recipe for losing. Sean Penn was scornful about awards and didn't bother showing up Oscar night the first three times he was nominated, losing each time. Two years ago, he played nice, attended the Oscars and won best actor for "Mystic River."

Actors also want to avoid getting stung by Oscar hopes when their movies flop. Colin Farrell had that experience with last year's epic historical bomb "Alexander," a presumed Oscar contender until people actually got a look at it.

This time, Farrell stars in another historical epic, "The New World," playing colonial leader John Smith, and says he is giving no thought to the Oscars.

"Not at all, man. Honest to God," Farrell said. "I came into 'Alexander,' and that was on everyone's radar. So any potential for me to have a radar has since been plucked out."

Then there are actors who already have one. You know they wouldn't mind another, because everyone likes having a spare. But they don't want to sound greedy.

"I've won one. I'm incredibly blessed," said Charlize Theron, a best-actress winner for "Monster," who has a shot at another nomination for the blue-collar drama "North Country." "Can you imagine, 'Yes, I can't wait for my second Oscar,"' Theron joked, slipping into a haughty voice.

Actors and filmmakers do feel comfortable talking about the Oscars in terms of the attention they bring to smaller movies that might grab bigger audiences.

On "Capote," Hoffman not only stars as author Truman Capote but also is an executive producer. So he doesn't mind considering how overall Oscar attention might help his film.

"That's really where I allow myself to be excited," Hoffman said. "The fact that awards season might bring attention to the film, that more people than we ever imagined might see this film in theaters, that's really a rush."

When it comes to candor about the Oscars, Shirley MacLaine may take the best-actress prize. The five-time nominee, who won best actress for "Terms of Endearment," was blunt about the possibility of winning again, this time for her supporting role as a grandma in the sibling-rivalry tale "In Her Shoes."

"I love to win those things. Love it," MacLaine said. "The only part about it I don't like is the red carpet and getting a dress and walking around in high heels and holding in my stomach. I hate that."

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