Oscar nominees – Academy Award Preview

Tavis revisits highlights of conversations with several of this year’s Oscar nominees.

Several A-listers who had chats with Tavis during the past year are included in the 2011 Oscar nominee class.

In the lead actor race, Spanish heartthrob Javier Bardem, a previous supporting actor winner, received a nod for his villainous role in the Spanish-language drama Biutiful. And, last year's winner, Jeff Bridges, is nominated again for his performance as the hard-drinking U.S. marshal in the remake of the Western True Grit.

Two stars of The Fighter biopic are vying for the golden statuette in the best supporting actress category. Amy Adams returns to the red carpet with her third nomination—this time for her role as up-and-coming boxer Micky Ward's girlfriend. Her co-star, Melissa Leo, earned her second nod for portraying Ward's controlling mother.

Tom Hooper made the best director cut for the box-office hit The King's Speech—the period piece about a stammering royal—as did Darren Aronofsky for the psychological thriller set in the ballet world, Black Swan.

For best original song (Toy Story 3), singer-songwriter, and previous winner, Randy Newman won his 20th Academy Award nomination. And, Trent Reznor is up for the best original score of The Social Network.

Danny Boyle received his second nomination this year for co-writing the adapted screenplay of the real-life story told in 127 Hours. Filmmaker Lucy Walker's Waste Land, which focuses on the people who make their living picking through the world's largest landfill in Brazil, is in the running for best documentary feature.


Tavis: While the race for this year’s best actress appears to be Natalie Portman’s to lose, the field among the five nominated leading men contains two previous winners in Jeff Bridges and Javier Bardem.
The two are nominated once again this year for their work in the films “True Grit” and “Biutiful.”
[Film clip]
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Tavis: So I know this remake language is out there, but as I read a little deeper into this, what sold you – you tell me if I’m right or wrong here – what sold you on this was not that it was a remake but that the Cohn brothers were going to make this movie based on the book. So it’s really a re-do, not necessarily a remake. Does that make sense?
Jeff Bridges: Yeah, that is perfectly stated, absolutely. Charles Portis wrote a wonderful novel in the ’60s called “True Grit” and when the Cohn brothers first came to me with the idea of making “True Grit,” I said, “Well, why do you want to do that?” Like you were saying, there’s already that movie. They said, “No, we’re not interested in that, we’re going right to the book. Have you read the book?” And I said, “No.”
So once I did read the book (laughs) I saw what they were talking about. The book reads like a Cohn brothers script, it’s so wonderful, filled with terrific characters, a lot of twists and turns. So I jumped on board after I read that book, and of course I was happy that I enjoyed the book so much because the Cohn brothers, you can’t get any better than those guys. They’re real masters.
Tavis: What about this cast?
Bridges: Oh, man, what about Hailee Steinfeld, this girl? (Laughter) Thirteen years old when she did the movie, and man, did she come up with the goods. She’s something else. She was wonderful. Got Matt Damon – God, we had a great time working together. I’ve admired him for so many years and he’s such a great actor. Josh Brolin, Barry Pepper. It was just a great, great cast.
Tavis: I keep hearing and reading people suggest that this may indicate, the success of “True Grit” may indicate that westerns are back. Again, my take on that, a bit different. It doesn’t necessarily mean that westerns are back, it means that a good book may have a good chance of becoming a good movie, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that westerns are back. What’s your take on that?
Bridges: Well, I hope westerns are coming back. A lot of people think that I was part of a movie that a lot of people say put the nail in the coffin of westerns, “Heaven’s Gate.” (Laughter) Now, for my money, that was a brilliant film, kind of a classic in its own right, and maybe with the success of this people will start to revisit that film.
But I hope we see more westerns. “The Unforgiven,” Clint’s movie that came out quite a few years ago, was I think maybe the beginning of bringing the westerns back. But like you say, a good book, find that story, that’s key.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
[Spanish-language film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: Everybody in this town gets turned on by a character that has complexity. Everybody wants to play a multidimensional, complex character. You got your wish this time around. It’s really a complex character.
Javier Bardem: It is, because it’s – I think all the actors want the same thing, which is to have the chance to portray somebody that is real. Anything reality is very complex. There’s not one straight line. That’s why I’m not that interested in people that fly, some kind of superpowers. I don’t see myself doing that. (Laughs)
Tavis: You like these characters with these multiple layers.
Bardem: Yes, because like in “Biutiful,” this man has to really face his own end and that involves reevaluation of his life, of himself, and that is complex for everybody. But also, that is the chance for him to bring the best and the worst of himself, and face it. I think those characters are the ones who really – it speaks a lot, not only to the actor but to the people that sees it.
Tavis: Is it the case in your career or has it been the case in your career thus far that you play characters, not just characters that you enjoy, not just characters you had fun with, but characters that for the rest of your life do, in fact, speak to you, change you? Put another way, have you played characters that are life-altering for you?
Bardem: Totally. I don’t think – not in my case – that movies or characters can really change the world, but it can take you to a different place, for you to see it from a different perspective and go back to your own self with a new – with some new answers to things, to issues that you knew intellectually but you didn’t have the chance to experience it.
The actor has the possibility to really live different lives, and that, I think, is great to grow up as a person with less judgmental thing, where they’re having more empathy to the things, to the people, because you’ve seen the world from different points of view, not only yours. That’s one of the greatest gifts of being an actor, I think.
Tavis: So tell me more about the character and why you think you were the guy that they thought could pull this off.
Bardem: I think the character really is about a man who has to see himself in the mirror and face and embrace what he is, what he has done until that moment, and to realize what’s the legacy he wants to give to those children of his for the future in a very extreme situation.
What the director and me as an actor, we proposed both is take the audience from the hand and really make them do a journey with us. I think it’s very rewarding, because at the end what people want to do when they come out of the theater is to really go and run to the loved ones and hug them and kiss them and be grateful for what they are and for what they have.
That’s a beautiful feeling, because sometimes we are so lost in the rush of things that we don’t realize how important is what we are living in this very moment. I think that’s the legacy of the movie.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: The primary storyline in “The Fighter” revolves around the relationship between two brothers, played by Mark Wahlberg and, of course, Christian Bale, but it is the performance by two talented women that have this film nominated twice in the category of best supporting actress: Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.
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[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: So what do you think when you see your work in this film?
Amy Adams: I try to look at it from someone else’s perspective, because I was there. What I really enjoy about that scene and what I enjoy watching is Melissa Leo and the sisters. They really crack me up, and the sisters, every time they talked in the movie it made me laugh, and even being there on set and filming, to watch it makes me laugh.
Tavis: So speaking of your character, how does one go about researching what it’s like to be a sassy bartender? (Laughter)
Adams: Well, luckily, it’s based on a real-life girl, Charlene – Charlene Fleming, who’s married now to Mickey Ward – so I had a little bit of footage on her and she came and visited a couple times. But just got to dig deep.
Tavis: So for those who have not seen the movie, the storyline is?
Adams: It’s the story of Mickey Ward and his family, Dicky Ecklund, his brother, who trained him –
Tavis: I love this – Mickey and Dicky.
Adams: Mickey and Dicky, that’s right.
Tavis: Yeah, two characters.
Adams: And their mother, Alice, who managed them. It just examines his life and his journey to the championship.
Tavis: You were interested in doing this particular role why, or what got you interested?
Adams: It was just a great role. David O. Russell came to me with about 20 pages, because they were working on Charlene a little bit. I’d met him on some other projects, and it was kind of a no-brainer, because I really wanted to work with David O. Russell, had met Mark before, really loved Mark, wanted to work with him, and had read with Christian and met Melissa, so it was just really – I couldn’t find a reason not to do it. So yeah, I was in.
Tavis: Yeah, that’s the best kind of work, when you can’t find a reason not to.
Adams: Yeah, exactly.
Tavis: What’s it like working with Mark Wahlberg? Mark is the thing – he’s the man these days.
Adams: He is the man. That’s what it’s like working with him, he’s the man. He’s powerful but humble. Just really committed as an actor and as a creator. I was at a Q&A the other day and he’s like, I’m a hustler, I make things happen,” and he does. (Laughter)
Tavis: That sounds like Mark.
Adams: I have so much respect for that. I have zero hustle in me, so I really wish that I had a little bit of his hustle. I’m a little bit more laid back.
Tavis: But I think people don’t know, to your point, of his – when you say he was powerful, I thought you were going somewhere different with that, and I understand the point you made. But he really is powerful in a variety of ways. He’s gaining power in this town as a producer, and I think a lot of folk in that special learned stuff about Mark they didn’t know about the total package.
Adams: Yeah. He makes things happen. He was like, “How do we film the fights in three days?” He contacted HBO and he was like, “This is what I’m looking to do,” and they came through, and it’s amazing. That’s what he does with everything, from the smallest thing to the biggest thing. He isn’t afraid to put the hours in and the work in, and I have mad respect for him.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
[Film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: So Amy was here I guess not too long ago and, of course, what everybody in this town is talking about is that you are both nominated in the same category. So what’s that going to be like?
Melissa Leo: Well, some people say that we’re nominated, like, in competition or against each other in the category. I really like the notion that I am nominated with Amy. She was a delight to work with on set. To have a bond and a feeling of really enjoying someone and then have animosity onscreen with them is really, really fun for an actor to do.
She was also a really good friend. We were in this lousy little motel just outside of Lowell and Amy and I spent a lot of times together having dinner. When Jack would come along, we’d stay up late into the night laughing and talking. It was great to have another female actor that, while we’re having our down time, I could spend that time with. They don’t let that happen all that often.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: So if Natalie Portman does win the Oscar for best actress Sunday night, as expected, for her role in “Black Swan,” it will mark another milestone for Oscar-nominated filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. His first project since “The Wrestler” is a complex look inside the world of ballet, including the dark side of dance.
[Film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: So there’s buzz on this film, but there’s also a lot of buzz on Natalie.
Darren Aronofsky: Yeah, absolutely.
Tavis: Deserved?
Aronofsky: I think so, yeah. She worked really hard for this, spent a year training, 365 days, five hours a day, becoming a ballerina, which is a pretty tall order at 27, 28.
Tavis: So the storyline of “Black Swan” is?
Aronofsky: It’s a movie set in the ballet world. It stars Natalie Portman as a young dancer who’s given a chance to play the Queen Swan in the great, famous Tchaikovsky ballet “Swan Lake.” In “Swan Lake,” the ballet, one dancer plays the Black Swan and the White Swan, and the White Swan is innocent and virginal and the Black Swan is a seductress, and the playing both roles kind of splits her and all sorts of horror ensues. (Laughs)
Tavis: Did you take certain liberties here? Are there things you tweaked, things you changed here?
Aronofsky: Yeah – you mean based off of “Swan Lake?”
Tavis: Yes.
Aronofsky: Well, “Swan Lake’s” a ballet, but we tried to – it is a fairy tale and it’s got a lot of gothic horror elements and a lot of melodrama. We tried to take the energy of it and turn it into all the different characters into the film. That kind of inspired the entire film.
Tavis: Why this project for you? You’ve explained what it is, but why did you want to do this one, of all the things that were on your desk you could have chosen from?
Aronofsky: Yeah, well, “The Wrestler” was very connected to “Black Swan” in a lot of ways, because they’re both about performance and I kind of like them as companion pieces. They’re both about artists that put their bodies at risk to do what they do, except one’s about the highest art out there and one’s about the lowest art.
I thought it would be – kind of the magic and hope of cinema is that you could take an aging, 50-something year old wrestler at the end of his career and a young 20-something year old dancer at the beginning of a career, but if their emotions are real then hopefully audience will go on a journey and a trip with them.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: Director Danny Boyle already owns an Oscar for best director; that for his work, of course, on “Slumdog Millionaire.” For a follow up he chose an unusual project about the precarious plight of a trapped hiker, played by actor and Oscar co-host this year, James Franco. The film, of course, is “127 Hours.”
[Film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Danny Boyle: What Aron Ralston had is he had a video camera with him and he left a series of messages on it to his loved ones. Every day he left a message, and that was our ammunition.
What, of course, he can do is he can talk directly to the camera because he’s leaving these messages, and you can go inside the camera and literally look at this guy who knows he is dying and he wants to leave these messages to people to, yeah, basically apologize for the way that he’s been in his life, or he hasn’t appreciated people as much as he knows that he should have. It’s wonderful, moving, and it leads him towards redemption.
Of course, there’s a process, there’s a journey he has to go on in his heart to find himself, to be a better man, really, and it’s only then he’ll get out. Actually, he can’t get out in the beginning when it’s just all about his power and his might and his achievements. None of that will help him, all those skills. It’s only when he achieves this change of heart that he will actually get out of there.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: If “The King’s Speech” takes home Oscar’s top prize this weekend, it will be the crowning achievement for a talented filmmaker who has a knack for turning history into compelling film and television.
Following acclaimed projects about John Adams and Elizabeth I, director Tom Hooper decided to focus his attention on a British monarch with a speech impediment for the film starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.
[Film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: Had a friend on this program years ago who sat in that very chair who said something to me that resonates now with what you’re sharing, which is that – his phrase was that each of us – I love it – as surely as we have a thumbprint on our hand that makes us uniquely different in the world, “Each of us has a thumbprint on our throats,” he said.
“Tom Hooper:” Wow.
Tavis: We each have a thumbprint on our throat, and life is really about trying to find your own voice.
Hooper: That’s a brilliant idea, because I think the thumbprint on the throat of many people is childhood trauma that goes unprocessed and unrecognized. I think one of the messages of this film, which I’d like any kid or teenager to think about, is if you feel your childhood or teenage years have been defined by some kind of traumatic episode or traumatic phase, try not to let that overshadow your entire adult life. In this film, it’s in middle age that the king finally addresses the effects of his childhood.
But I think the film is about that incredibly important thing of processing your childhood so that it doesn’t define you. In other words, you don’t live with that thumb on your throat all your life because you haven’t looked at it.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: This year featured a particularly strong group of Oscar-worthy documentaries, including a controversial snub of the education-themed film, “Waiting for Superman.” But among the nominated projects was a unique look at one of the world’s largest landfills, and the creative intersection between garbage and art.
The film is called “Waste Land,” directed by Lucy Walker.
[Film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Lucy Walker: It’s like a stock exchange, it’s crazy. You learn about this – they take out plastics and paper and they’re selling it to wholesalers who then turn those materials, the different kinds of plastics, the PVC or the PET, and they sell it and it gets ground down and then remolded into buckets or car bumpers.
There’s a whole industry of commodities, almost like a stock exchange, and the prices go up and down for paper and for different kinds of plastic and aluminum and all these different resources that they’re saving from the landfill and really recycling back into the world for reusing.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: The role of music in film continues to define the medium of movie-making in ways both traditional and cutting edge. The list of nominated artists this year is a microcosm of this reality, with nominees like veteran songwriter Randy Newman and his 20th Oscar nomination for the film “Toy Story 3,” and an unlikely nod for Trent Reznor.
The front man for the popular rock band Nine Inch Nails lent his talents to the score for “The Social Network,” which helped create the musical mood for one of this year’s most-talked-about films.
[Film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: Wow. (Laughs) So rock stars composing original film scores. There was a time when this wasn’t the coolest thing to do in Hollywood, and now you guys are cranking these things out.
Trent Reznor: Seems to be the case these days, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. How’d you get pulled in?
Reznor: Well, I had, uh, decided to take some time off from my day job, Nine Inch Nails, and really just take some time to think about what was next and get out of the grind of touring and get back to what drove me to make music in the first place, and just think about that. Out of the blue I got a call from David Fincher, who I’ve known in various circles over the years, and he asked me if I was interested in scoring “The Social Network.”
It kind of came out of the blue. I hadn’t really planned on that. The opportunity came up and it was – I thought, it’s something I’ve always been interested in. I love the medium of film, and I thought it would be interesting to see if I could take my set of tools and apply it to a new medium.
Twenty years into making music and being able to make a living making music, feeling fortunate to be able to do that, this whole thing with the soundtrack, scoring this film, has really been like a breath of fresh air. It feels like a real reinvention and it’s exciting. It’s felt good.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
[Film clip]
[Begin previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: What’s the process for you when you are approached about doing a soundtrack?
Randy Newman: We talk about it and we decide mutually with the director where the music’s going to be, and then I just try and do it. As well as they can in nonmusical terms, they tell me basically what they want it to feel like.
With a song, they tell me specifically. With “You Got a Friend,” it was they want to emphasize the friendship between Andy and Woody, and so I wrote, “You got a friend, you got a friend,” three times. (Laughter) Then it said something else, and then back to, “You got a friend.” It was clear.
That’s how most people know me, unbelievably enough, but there’s some truth in it where movies are concerned. “We Belong Together,” this last song for “Toy Story 3,” they wanted to say that everyone stuck together, or maybe “belong,” I said, and that was it, you know what I mean? (Laughter) It doesn’t write itself, but if they give me enough adjectives, it almost does.
[End previously recorded interview clip]
Tavis: Randy Newman will be performing his nominated song from “Toy Story 3” on Sunday night’s Oscar telecast.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our look at some of the people behind this year’s Oscar-nominated films. Until next time, good night from Los Angeles, thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith.
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Last modified: February 16, 2012 at 5:28 pm