The Narratives Begin
Hi, everyone. As a quick intro, I’m Michael Domanico, the other half of Numlock’s Awards Supplement. I’m the creator and host of Not Her Again, a podcast that is just wrapping up its second season. For the first season, we covered all the times Meryl Streep was nominated for an Oscar but went home empty-handed. For the second season, we covered the career of Julia Roberts, the only woman ever to win an Oscar for playing someone likable in the legal field.
Every awards season, contenders do their best to create and maintain a narrative that will help them win an award. Sometimes, the media help create a winning narrative for a particular contender. Past awards seasons are filled with plenty of examples of successful narratives that culminated in an Oscar win, including:
The “I Worked Harder Than Anyone Else” Oscar: Take Leonardo DiCaprio as an example. He continually insisted that The Revenant was the most difficult film shoot of his entire career to win over voters who would be impressed by the physical hurdles he had to overcome for the film. DiCaprio ended up winning Best Actor. Another example is the cast & crew of Birdman, who repeatedly emphasized the technical difficulty of the long takes required for that film (which plays as if the entire movie were one continuous take).
The “I Became That Person You Know And Didn’t Screw It Up” Oscar: Let’s focus on Eddie Redmayne, who won Best Actor for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Redmayne drew attention to the the transformation he had to undergo to embody the world-renowned physicist. (Variety described his research as being so thorough that it was like the actor was preparing a doctoral dissertation. Seriously.) Redmayne was looking to convince voters that he deserved the Oscar for embodying a well-known figure and letting viewers only see Hawking, not the actor. A popular spin-off of this strategy can be used when an actor becomes unrecognizable in a role, like Charlize Theron in Monster or Christian Bale in The Fighter, without necessarily playing someone well-known or even real.
The “It’s My Time” Oscar: Let’s look at Julianne Moore, who won Best Actress for Still Alice. The media emphasized how it was “finally time” to give Moore an Oscar after years of failed nominations. This is often more media-driven than contender-driven (no one wants to seem overly entitled). Other examples include Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant and Kate Winslet for The Reader, both of whom famously waited years before their big breakout roles to win an Oscar. This can apply to non-actors as well, such as Hacksaw Ridge sound mixer Kevin O’Connell, who finally won an Oscar for sound mixing on his 21st try.
The “Funny Person Goes Serious” Oscar: The unexpected turn from being a comedic actor to a dramatic actor is a classic awards move. Plenty of funny people have won Oscars for more serious roles, including Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting and Mo’Nique in Precious. The underlying theme is one of versatility — this performer is showing audiences that they have range as an actor and should be taken seriously. A popular variation on the strategy is playing against type, like when rom-com leading man Matthew McConaughey won an Oscar for playing an HIV/AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club.
A lot of these narratives overlap, and this list is by no means exhaustive. (How do we even begin to categorize the Best Picture win for Slumdog Millionaire, which inspired an entire Wikipedia article called, “Controversial issues surrounding Slumdog Millionaire”?)
As we go through awards season, we’ll see these narratives start to develop. Who had to lose a lot of weight to play a role, who had to study a historical figure’s vocal patterns, who had to endure the most difficult shoot? I hope you’ll join me and Walter as we dive into the annual craziness that is awards season and dissect the coming narratives. And, full disclosure, I have begun my own whisper campaign to try and get Book Club on the shortlist for Best Picture.