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3 Movie Stars Add Broadway Sheen to Oscar Campaigns

3 Movie Stars Add Broadway Sheen to Oscar Campaigns

After Oscar nominations were unveiled last week, one thing is certain. Anyone who made the cut did much more than simply being great in a terrific movie to ensure that recognition.

A potential candidate’s performance off-screen during the period when ballots for both nominations and winners are decided by the 6,000-plus voting members of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is equally important.

That includes schmoozing with the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Charlie Rose on TV or enlisting “60 Minutes” to devote a segment to a retrospective of your career. Having your face appear on the cover of such glossy magazines as “Vanity Fair” or receiving a tribute at a splashy film festival preferably near Los Angeles doesn’t hurt, either. Donning fancy apparel at industry events full of photo ops such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes ceremonies is bound to boost your status as a potential contender, especially if you get a chance to deliver a memorable acceptance speech.
Last year, however, Matthew McConaughey added a fresh twist to the awards campaign handbook.  The eventual best actor winner for his lead role in “Dallas Buyers Club”  benefitted from the added exposure of having his raved-about HBO series “True Detective” premiere on Jan. 12 and run through March 9. While the show missed the deadline for nominations on Jan. 8, it aired throughout the Oscar voting period that ended on Jan. 25.

Established early on as a front-runner in the race,  the well-liked McConaughey might have claimed the prize for his first-ever nomination even if no one saw his portrayal of the enigmatic sleuth Rusty Cohle. But having a bonus reminder of his considerable skills didn’t hurt his chances, either.

This year, the theater world provided a boost for three possible Oscar hopefuls – “Birdman’s” Emma Stone, “American Sniper’s” Bradley Cooper and “Nightcrawler’s “Jake Gyllenhaal, who did not make the Oscar cut –  who are all currently appearing on Broadway during the height of awards season.

British film actors are more apt to have attended a drama school than Americans, and they regularly go back and brush up their Shakespeare in plays. But when Hollywood stars choose to brave a live audience, it is often seen as a sign of being committed to their craft. What better way than to show you are worthy of an Academy Award?

Emma Stone,  26, who received her first-ever Oscar nod for her supporting role as Michael Keaton’s embittered post-rehab daughter in “Birdman,” made her Great White Way debut on Nov. 11 as high-spirited chanteuse Sally Bowles in “Cabaret” and was greeted with an opening-night standing ovation.

Reviews have been quite glowing for the versatile actress, who has been on a upwards trajectory ever since she broke out in such high-school comedies as 2007’s “Superbad “and 2010’s “Easy A.” She has since appeared in everything from 2011’s “The Help” to being a superhero’s girlfriend in the rebooted “Spider-Man” franchise to starring opposite Colin Firth in Woody Allen’s “Magic in the Moonlight” last year.
 
Stone told Indiewire in an interview right before her opening night in “Cabaret” that there was one aspect of theater that beats shooting a movie. You get another chance to nail it the next time.  “I fucked up in this one moment and didn’t do what I was hoping I could have explored and tomorrow, I will get to do that and if it doesn’t work, then the next day I’m gonna try a different angle. There’s that sort of gift in theater that you get to do it again and again.”
 
“Cabaret” not only requires her to sing and dance but also forces her to display her sexuality with an abandon that movies rarely encourage her to pursue. Stone has managed to turn the divinely decadent character that won Liza Minnelli an Oscar into her own high-spirited creation.

Or as Variety noted: “The red-headed beauty has found a good way to put her own personal stamp on the role – she acts the hell out of it.” 

Meanwhile, The Guardian praised how the actress invests herself emotionally in the big numbers:  “‘Maybe This Time’ locates the vulnerability inside the camp, and Stone gives a bravura performance of the title song, at once defiant, pathetic and heroic.”
 
But when it comes to judging Broadway, the opinion of “The New York Times” still counts the most and critic Ben Brantley fell hard for her “flaming flapper,“ comparing her “dance-till-you-drop energy that’s all drive and no gears” to the young Joan Crawford in vintage silent films. “The Kit Kat Club, the setting for Sally’s flailing bid for stardom, may be a dim and murky dive,” he wrote. “But say what you will about her; this gal sure lights up the joint.”

Ticket sales have been so brisk since Stone took over the part from Michelle Williams that two weeks were added to her run. She will be replaced after Feb. 15 by British actress Sienna Miller – who happens to be co-starring opposite Cooper in Clint Eastwood’s “Sniper.” 

Bradley Cooper: The “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle” star, who pairs with Stone in an upcoming Cameron Crowe film this summer, could make it three Oscar nominations in a row if he is recognized for his work as Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle. Bolstering his efforts this time is his well-received performance in the title role in “The Elephant Man,” a part he has been fascinated ever since he was a kid and one that he first tackled in 2012 onstage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. 

 The actor, 39, embodies the refined yet hideously deformed John Merrick, who during the Victorian era became a pet of the English gentry, by contorting his face and body – no prosthetics or makeup needed. It is quite the stunt for “The Hangover” funnyman who was named People’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011. As Cooper told “CBS This Morning,” “The great thing … about the play is I stand on this stage every night — me, not as him. And with the audience we take that journey to become him together — I feel like I go away. I don’t ever think about the breathing or the contortion.”
 
Variety rhapsodized about Cooper’s ability to emulate the once-mistreated sideshow freak: “The piece de résistance is his depiction of the ‘wide slobbering aperture’ that is Merrick’s mouth. Shaping his own mouth into a fleshy oval, the thesp gives expressive voice to the sensitive and intelligent human being imprisoned in his own body. It’s a stunning performance, deeply felt and very moving.”
 
The Hollywood Reporter was even more complimentary: ”Acting is not a profession known for self-effacement, so it’s refreshing that Cooper declines to take a solo bow. His performance is staggering in its physical discipline, its piercing emotional transparency and, most surprisingly, its restraint. Give that this production would never have happened without the star’s commitment, watching him link arms and bow with the ensemble suggests a humility that somehow gives this old-fashioned but affecting play added resonance.”
 
Brantley of The New York Times felt that Cooper’s own heavy mantle of fame made him perfectly suited to assume Merrick’s form: “In interviews, (Cooper) has said that he has been fascinated by Merrick’s story since he was a boy. But what he brings to this production is the weight of years of being stared at as an adult, and he is the first star of his stature to take on the part in our post-Warhol world of celebrity obsession.”
 
Fueled by such reactions and a popular A-list star in the lead, “The Elephant Man” has been a roaring success at the box office, taking in $1.1 million in ticket sales during Christmas week alone. Its run has been extended by a week to Feb. 22.
 
Jake Gyllenhaal: It’s been a decade since Gyllenhaal’s first and only Oscar nomination as a supporting actor in 2005’s ground-breaking “Brokeback Mountain.” Though he didn’t make the Oscar cut this year, his portrait of an amoral outsider in “Nightcrawler,” who videotapes graphic footage of crime scenes to sell to a ratings-hungry local TV news producer, crept into Oscar discussions after his name started appearing among the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA nominees.

Read: Watch: Jake Gyllenhaal Looks into the Eyes of a Coyote in ‘Nightcrawler’

 The 34-year-old actor’s chances could somewhat improve from his Broadway debut in “Constellations,” which just opened on Tuesday and runs through mid-March, but has been in previews since mid-December.  The British import is a rather heady one-act play that follows a developing romance between a beekeeper and a quantum physicist (English actress Ruth Wilson, who just won a Globe for TV’s “The Affair”) across parallel universes. Looking back, the play may have opened too late to give Gyllenhaal a robust PR boost.
 
“Constellations” also reunites the actor with playwright Nick Payne, whose “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” served as his introduction to off-Broadway in 2012. Gyllenhaal, who made his theatrical debut in a London production of Kenneth Lonergan’s “This Is Our Youth” in 2002, has been hankering to do more stage work for a while. As he recently told “TimeOut New York,” “A few years ago I said to myself, ‘Why don’t you go to the places you really love to be?’ The theater is one of those places. The stage makes you home in on skills that can get neglected while making movies. For me, being onstage is a piece of the puzzle that is learning the craft of acting.”
 
The  2012 London production, which was also directed by Michael Longhurst, was greeted enthusiastically by British critics.

The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer wrote: “Nick Payne’s drama lasts just over an hour but packs in more than most shows manage in three times that length. It is playful, intelligent and bursting with ideas, but also achieves a powerful undertow of emotion.”  

 Of course, movie stars have long used the stage to stretch themselves or establish their dramatic credentials beyond the silver screen, from established A-listers to relative newcomers.  Tom Hanks made his Broadway debut in 2013 while starring in as a journalist in Nora Ephron’s posthumously produced play, “Lucky Guy.”  Denzel Washington, who did theater very early in his career, has headlined three Broadway shows since 2005: “Julius Caesar,” “Fences” and “A Raisin in the Sun.”
 
In preparation for life after Harry Potter, Daniel Radcliffe hit the boards, earning applause for his mature turn in a 2007 revival of “Equus,” both in London and on Broadway. In 2011, when “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” brought the franchise to a close, he returned to New York to show off his singing-and-dancing skills in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” His theater success has provided a bridge for the former child star, now 25, cross over to more adult film roles.       
 
Scarlett Johansson actually won a 2010 supporting Tony Award for her Broadway debut in Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” but fared somewhat less well as Southern spitfire Maggie in a 2013 Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Still, that experience probably set the stage for her array of stellar film work in 2014, from such summer action outings like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”  and “Lucy” to her esoteric art-house vehicle “Under the Skin.” 

An early example of a performer who remodeled her image to be more Oscar-worthy when she briefly made the switch from screen to stage: Nicole Kidman. In 1995, her Golden Globe-winning performance as a twisted TV weather girl who recruits an impressionable high-school boy to murder her husband in “To Die For” was snubbed by the academy voters. It wasn’t until 1998, when she played five different female roles and flashed her nude backside in David Hare’s erotically charged “The Blue Room” in both London and New York that Kidman took on a more serious persona.

After splitting with husband Tom Cruise in 2001, Kidman quickly earned her first of three lead Oscar nominations for “Moulin Rouge!” Halle Berry would make history by winning for her work in “Monster’s Ball,” but Kidman only had to wait a few years to be rewarded for her role as author Virginia Woolf in the drama “The Hours.” Her third bid was for 2010’s “The Rabbit Hole.”  
 
With Stone and Cooper already the toast of the town and Gyllenhaal in a play that comes bearing a critical seal of approval overseas, basically doing Broadway for them is a win-win situation.

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