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How to Win an Acting Oscar: The Overdue Advantage

From Hugh Jackman to Michelle Williams, having a history in the awards zone makes it easier to get back in.

Colin Farrell

Colin Farrell in “The Banshees of Inisherin”

Jonathan Hession/Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

For an actor to win an Oscar after being long overdue, two things need to be true. First: Do they have years of stellar output without a an Oscar nomination, or repeated nominations with no wins? See: Glenn Close (8 Oscar nominations), Amy Adams (six), and Bradley Cooper (four). Enter the awards zone once and it’s easier to get back in.

Second: Do they have the right role in the right year? Without that quality and timing, justice can’t be served. (See: Renee Zellweger winning on her fourth go-round in “Judy” or Paul Newman winning for “The Color of Money” after seven nods.)

Finally: Short of an Oscar itself, the best thing that can happen for a long-overdue actor is a SAG nomination. (The SAG nomination committee is voting now, with nominations announced January 11, 2023.)

Among the awards contenders this year who cannot claim the overdue advantage are Oscar-winners Cate Blanchett (“TAR”), Olivia Colman (“Empire of Light”), Viola Davis (“The Woman King”), Jennifer Lawrence (“Causeway”), Will Smith (“Emancipation”), and Emma Thompson (“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande”). Not that winning before stops you from winning again, as Frances McDormand can attest (“Fargo,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “Nomadland”).

Among the potential nominees who have accumulated points for never winning are four-time nominee Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”), three-timer Tom Cruise (“Top Gun: Maverick”), two-timers Mara Rooney (“Women Talking”) and Carey Mulligan (“She Said”), and solo nominees Jessie Buckley (“Women Talking”), Hugh Jackman (“The Son”), and Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”). They all benefit from already being in the club — and from having waited in vain for their name to be called.

As for who holds the greatest overdue advantage, we’ve got several contenders.

The Fabelmans

“The Fabelmans”

Universal

Brendan Fraser has been a Hollywood fixture for decades, working steadily since his heady days as the star of “George of the Jungle” and the “Mummy” franchise. He makes his comeback in Darren Aronofsky’s festival hit “The Whale” as Charlie, a sad-eyed obese shut-in seeking redemption from his daughter (Sadie Sink) before he eats himself to death. A long career, a comeback narrative, and a prosthetic-heavy transformation: That’s an acting branch favorite. (See: Charlize Theron in “Bombshell,” Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour”).

Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in the Wong Kar-Wai universe in "Everything Everywhere All At Once"

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Allyson Riggs/A24

Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Qwan, stars of the outrageous action-family comedy “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” are frontrunners in their respective categories, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. They juggled comedy, drama, pratfalls, and stunts with rare aplomb, and both have long paid their dues. Both Yeoh and Qwan picked up Gotham and Indie Spirit nominations; Qwan won the Gotham for Best Supporting Performance, as well as the NYFCC award, while Yeoh won the National Board of Review’s Best Actress prize.

It’s shocking to realize that current Time covergirl Yeoh was never Oscar-nominated for Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” back in 2001 (she was nominated for a BAFTA along with costar  Zhang Ziyi), or for her powerful mother in “Crazy Rich Asians.” She’s carried action pictures in Hong Kong and Hollywood for decades, but that genre rarely appears in awards shows.

Qwan was a child actor who starred in “The Goonies” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” but moved behind the scenes when acting work grew scarce as an adult. “Everything Everywhere All at  Once” marks an extraordinary comeback. Public appearances with Harrison Ford, among others who remember him from years ago, boost his cause.

Popular and never-nominated veteran Jamie Lee Curtis is another potential Supporting player who used the promo trail for “Halloween Ends” to good effect for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Some Academy members may think she was once nominated for “A Fish Called Wanda” or “Trading Places,” but it was the BAFTAs that nominated her for both. (She won for “Trading Places.”) And SAG nominated her for James Cameron’s “True Lies” in 1995.

"Hustle" Adam Sandler

“Hustle”

Netflix

Another actor known for comedy who’s seeking awards love is Adam Sandler, who gives another strong performance after 2019’s “Uncut Gems” with Netflix sports drama “Hustle.” He hasn’t landed any critics’ group love so far, but he did give a winning speech at his Gothams tribute.

Gaining momentum is Colin Farrell for Martin McDonagh’s black Irish comedy “The Banshees of Inisherin,” along with his Supporting costar Brendan Gleeson. Neither has been nominated despite years of glowing reviews for films like McDonagh’s “In Bruges,” among others. Farrell added a win from both the New York Films Critics Circle (shared with his performance in “After Yang”) and the National Board of Review to follow his Venice Best Actor award, while Gleeson just picked up NBR Supporting Actor.

Academy voters are notoriously Anglophilic and often fall for a plummy British accent when given the chance. This year’s Brit thespian, renowned for his work on the stage (“Skylight”) as well as the screen (“Love, Actually”) is Bill Nighy. The never-nominated veteran gives a heartbreaking performance in screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro’s adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s 1953 classic “Ikiru,” as a paper-pushing executive who gets a bleak terminal diagnosis that changes his outlook on life. This actor has earned his respect.

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