Some of this year’s leading nominees talk about their work on the selected films
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Adapted screenplay, In The Loop
Certainly the nominated screenplay with the most imaginative use of swearing, In The Loop underlines the fact that British comedy is increasingly transcending its borders. “In the UK we take the sharpest, fastest, quickest, wittiest American comedy in our stride, we don’t think, ‘Ooh, that’s foreign.’ I don’t see why it shouldn’t go the other way,” says Armando Iannucci, the influential satirist whose British TV work has included I’m Alan Partridge and The Day Today.
For In The Loop, Iannucci skewers the hapless interplay between British and American government figures in the slide towards war in the Middle East. Starring Peter Capaldi, James Gandolfini, Tom Hollander, Chris Addison and Steve Coogan, the film features some of the same characters as Iannucci’s hit BBC show The Thick Of It — not least ultra-menacing spin doctor Malcolm Tucker and his memorable verbal eviscerations.
In The Loop is a broader canvas, set in Washington as well as Whitehall. “If you’re just doing a 30-minute episode you’ve got to get all your plot elements up and running [early on], plus all the characters have to end up more or less where they started at the beginning so they can come back next week,” Iannucci explains. “With this we could play about with the rhythm of the story and hold back answers and so on.”
Iannucci wrote the script with Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche (who are all nominated with Iannucci) before further workshopping with the cast. Iannucci was open to improvisation on set. “Ultimately what is important is what ends up on the screen,” he says. “And you go in with a certain thing in mind but once you see it being played back as you’re shooting it you think, ‘The funny thing is him standing over there with nothing to say.’
“Sometimes one of the writers might give a member of the cast a few extra lines to say — just quietly give it to them — so the rest of the cast are going to be genuinely surprised.”
Supporting actor, Inglourious Basterds
The breakout performer in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious ensemble, Christoph Waltz had turned down Nazi roles in the past before being cast as the slickly menacing Nazi colonel Hans Landa.
“I didn’t play those Nazis that I have been offered because they were lousy parts,” says the Austrian-born actor. “So now I get one of the best parts that was ever written, who happens to wear a Nazi uniform. So what am I going to do?”
Waltz, who won the best actor prize in Cannes last year, credits the quality of Tarantino’s writing in creating Landa. “I always say, an actor can only do what’s on the page. You know, this is one of the best parts of dramatic literature without me playing it as well.
“In this case, where the writing is so extraordinary and what’s on the page is really the thing to marvel at… it was easy for me to implement my philosophy of what it is that I’m doing, which is get out of the way. You know, clear the way for the text. Clear the way for the part. For the role. That’s the most important thing.”
The actor says that despite the language barrier Tarantino was still a sensitive director. “He can direct in any language, even though he doesn’t speak it.”
And how did he play evil so convincingly? “You simply don’t,” says Waltz. “You know, stay away from it. It’s a bad idea. You end up in a silly stereotypical cliché… And you end up in your conception of evil, you know, which might not be enough anyway.”
Leading actress, The Last Station
The British actress gains her fourth Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Tolstoy’s wife Sofya in Michael Hoffman’s tale of the final months in the Russian novelist’s life.
Mirren — who has Russian roots and whose great-great-great grandfather was mentioned in War And Peace — relished the opportunity to appear in the period piece. “What was extraordinary to me is that the pictures, certainly of Tolstoy and his wife and the pictures that we recreated on the screen were identical to the pictures of my family in Russia. You know, my Russian family came from a very, very similar economic status, background to Tolstoy and the Countess Sofya… When I walked onto the set in the costume I just suddenly felt I was in a photograph of my grandparents. That was an amazing feeling.”
To prepare, Mirren read about Sofya and read some of her diaries but says her inspiration was the screenplay and Jay Parini’s book, on which the film is based. “I read her diaries to a certain extent but in the end I was making the film that Michael wrote and Jay Parini who wrote the book wrote so that really was my inspiration rather than the real, real, real person. I felt I had to interpret their work as opposed to trying to recreate Sofya perfectly, and the character that was on the page was such a wonderful character.”
Mirren is full of praise for her co-star Christopher Plummer, who is also nominated in the supporting actor category. “I recognise him as one of the great living actors in film or theatre and there’s not many of those around… so it was quite intimidating for me to work with him,” she says. “But always with actors of that stature they’re incredibly generous and giving and warm and easy.”
Leading actor, Crazy Heart
When Crazy Heart first came to Jeff Bridges he turned it down, partly because he had already done a music film in The Fabulous Baker Boys and partly because at that time there was no music attached. “Then I ran into my buddy T Bone [Burnett, who co-wrote the original music for the film] about a year later and he talked about Crazy Heart… that kind of was the thing that got me to the party.”
Picking up his fifth Oscar nomination, Bridges delivers a phenomenal performance as the alcoholic country singer Bad Blake, down on his luck and battling his demons as he starts a relationship with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s single mother.
Also nominated for original song and supporting actress (for Gyllenhaal) Crazy Heart is the first feature from director Scott Cooper. “It was a wonderful experience,” says Bridges, “and I’ve had great luck with first-time directors… Scott Cooper is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with and one of the things I look for in a director is what his relationship with his subject is, and Scott was really steeped in country music.”
Bridges himself is a big country fan, citing the music’s honesty as its attraction. “I think why people like country music is because it’s honest and people will admit their flaws and sing about them and other people can see those flaws that are being written about and say yeah, that’s me too, and so it kind of brings us all together.”
Bad Blake certainly has his flaws, and his addiction takes him to the depths. Bridges explains: “I think with people like Bad, they start to develop a mythology about themselves almost because… country music is often about acknowledging how much you suffer and how tough times are and guys like Bad can create this story about themselves that, you know, where all my creativity comes from is this — this suffering.”
Leading actress, Julie & Julia
Meryl Streep picks up a record-breaking 16th Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Julia Child, the legendary TV chef credited with introducing French cookery to the US.
Written and directed by Nora Ephron, the film follows the parallel lives of Julia Child and New York blogger Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams) as she attempts to cook all of the recipes in Child’s mammoth Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.
“She came on television at a time when there weren’t that many women on television,” Streep says of Child. “She was like a pioneer — like Barbara Walters, one of the first that wasn’t an entertainer… She also came onto television when she was already 50. And so she was fully formed. You know, she was herself. Her personality indelibly sort of created, and not by anybody else, just by her own life experience and who she was.”
Streep says that she had no trepidation about portraying someone as well known as Child on screen. “It’s really the connection you make with their dilemma, with their interior life, their trials, their joy — whatever connection you make as a human being.”
Child’s height was a key part of her character. “To be six-two, and her sister was six-feet four-inches tall, in the 40s was almost a handicap of a kind,” Streep explains. “It was very important in forming the person that she became, I think.”
Streep relished the chance to cook, something she says she’s usually too busy to do much of. “I could cook there at the studio,” she says. “They had a whole kitchen set up. And I could call it practising and it was my excuse.”
Supporting actress, Precious: Based On The Novel Push By Sapphire
Mo’Nique says her fearless performance as the monstrous mother in Precious was helped by the fearlessness of director Lee Daniels. “Because he was not afraid we couldn’t be afraid either and that’s the whole string of the movie, that’s the strand of the movie, so we all looked at our director and because he was so willing to jump over the edge, how could we not,” says the actress.
Also an established comedian, Mo’Nique brings depth to Precious’ brutally abusive mother Mary — and even makes the audience feel for her in a crucial scene opposite a social worker, played by Mariah Carey. “…In that last scene we wanted people to see that she’s mentally ill, there’s a sickness, so that’s really what we were trying to get to and Mr Daniels said to me, ‘How did you get me to hate you and love you at the same time?’”
Mo’Nique’s performance has already won her the Golden Globe for supporting actress as well as a Bafta nomination. Precious picked up six Oscar nominations in total, including a leading actress nod for newcomer Gabourey Sidibe. “There were times I was in awe of that young lady,” says Mo’Nique. “She was absolutely amazing and if she was afraid, you never knew it. There were scenes that we did together and I would look at her and be amazed because it was so believable.”
Mo’Nique says she didn’t take the traumatic material home with her at night. “When my husband and I discussed the role and the movie, he said to me leave it there and don’t judge it and that’s what I did. The moment Mr Daniels said ‘cut’, I left it right there. I didn’t take it home with me… We’re actors and actresses. When you get a script in front of you, you become that person when he says ‘action’. When he says ‘cut’ you leave it on the floor and that’s exactly what we did.”
Amanda Posey, Finola Dwyer
Producers, Best picture, An Education
The story of a schoolgirl’s coming-of-age in a dour post-war Britain, An Education heralded the arrival of a new star in Carey Mulligan. Just 22 when she shot the film, Mulligan’s utterly convincing portrayal of Jenny as she falls for shady older man David established her as an early frontrunner in the best actress race.
Adapted by Nick Hornby from an article by Lynn Barber the film has scored three Oscar nominations: for Mulligan in the leading actress category, for Hornby in adapted screenplay and in the best picture category for producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey. The film also scored eight Bafta nominations, with Mulligan also nominated in the Orange Rising Star category.
“Right from when Nick first gave it to us we both thought it was a very universal story,” says Finola Dwyer. “We didn’t think it was going to be the easiest thing in the world to get off the ground — which it wasn’t, because it’s not high-concept, it’s not genre, there wasn’t a role for a star.”
Posey continues: “I think what’s interesting about it is there are so many different ways into the story. Sometimes people approach it thinking about their lives as parents, sometimes people approach it as a young woman whose eyes are being opened sexually. There are a lot of different ways in.”
The film depicts a Britain on the cusp of a seismic cultural shift, at a point between post-war austerity and the looming revolutions of the swinging sixties. “That was the attraction for Nick in particular,” says Posey, who is married to Hornby. “He was interested for himself and felt other people would be interested too in that moment.”
Danish director Lone Scherfig (Italian For Beginners) gets fantastic performances from Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard as David, and the supporting cast. “One of the things about Italian For Beginners,” says Posey, “was that what we knew we absolutely needed for this was somebody who could deal with the very subtle humour.”
Leading actor, Invictus
Morgan Freeman initially met Nelson Mandela to discuss playing him in a biopic based on Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. “I finally got on to saying to him if I’m going to play you, I am going to need access to you,” says Freeman, “so over the years that’s what has always been arranged.”
Freeman’s access to Mandela helped with the authenticity and minutiae of his performance in Invictus, the Clint Eastwood-directed film that focuses on Mandela in the run up to the 1995 rugby world cup, when South Africa was united by the national team beating the formidable All Blacks. “If you look he almost never uses his left hand for anything,” says Freeman. “He has a little mouth thing that he does… Those little things are what you’re looking for, you know.”
Mandela’s accent was also something that needed to be perfected. “I’m not one of those actors who’s facile with languages,” Freeman says. “By that I mean accents, so I will generally avoid trying to do them but I had to do this one so you know how you do it when you have to take a big test, you just angst over it for a long time and then the night before the test you cram.”
Invictus is Freeman’s fifth Oscar nomination. The film also picked up a nomination in the supporting actor category for Matt Damon.
It is the third time Freeman has worked with Eastwood. “He’s Clint Eastwood for God’s sakes so the first picture I did with him it was like I tried to put him on the pedestal and he wouldn’t go up there so, you know, just turned out not to be that kind of person. We work so well together, so easy to be with and then when we did Million Dollar Baby it was in a groove. This time I am just so relaxed with him that it was a lot of fun.”
Leading actress, The Blind Side
Sandra Bullock says she was initially wary about taking the role of Leigh Anne, the formidable woman who rescues an African-American teenager from poverty at the centre of John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side.
“I kept saying no to it because I didn’t know how to pull it off,” Bullock explains. “I didn’t know how to pull off this woman. I’d never met, known, seen any person that I could compare her to so I had no idea of how to tackle her.”
It was after travelling to Memphis to meet the real Leigh Anne Tuohy that Bullock says she began to understand the character. “There’s nobody else like Leigh Anne Tuohy,” she says. “The energy. You’re afraid of her. The minute you walk in her house you’re afraid of her but for the right reasons, you know. She’s a determined mama bear who protects her cubs and she has blinders on when she wants to get something done and so I said all right, let’s tackle it.”
The actress has been rewarded with her first Oscar nomination. The film, which has taken over $240m in the US, is also nominated in the best picture category.
Bullock was in direct contact with Tuohy for the film. “I would email her and say, what does your nightgown look like, what nail polish do you use? It would annoy her no end but I said I want to figure out how to get to where you are, so she was very open about her closet and those kind of things.”