It’s Emmy voting time, when nominees rely on carefully orchestrated interviews and perfectly timed For Your Consideration ads to boost their chances of winning the trophy on August 25. Then there is Jon Voight, nominee in the Best Supporting Actor in a drama series category for Showtime’s Ray Donovan. He has momentum, coming off a Golden Globe win for his role as Ray’s abusive and ill-tempered but charismatic father, ex-con Mickey Donovan. But while his fellow nominees have largely kept a low profile and limited their public comments to their work, Voight has been making headlines with a string of politically charged and sometimes polarizing statements.
Just two days after the Emmy nominations were announced, Oscar winner Voight made a video statement on Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show that featured blistering criticism of President Barack Obama, the Democratic party, the handling of the situation in Iraq, the Benghazi scandal, the treatment of conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza and a number of other topics, including illegal immigration and the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case.
Then, just as Emmy voting got underway last week, Voight slammed Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry at a pro-Israel rally. And yesterday, he blasted fellow actors Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem for signing, along with a number of other Spanish actors, directors, musicians and writers, an open letter denouncing Israel’s military action in Gaza. In an open letter, he called his fellow Oscar winners “ignorant” of Israel’s history and told them they should “hang their heads in shame.”
None of these is out of character. Voight is a long-time Israel supporter and visited the country in 2008 as part of its 60th anniversary celebration. A year later, he penned another open letter slamming Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda for signing her name under an Israel-related petition. Voight accused Fonda of “aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel” for supporting a letter, in which John Greyson announced he would pull his film Covered from the Toronto International Film Festival in protest over the festival’s City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv. (Cruz, Bardem as well as Fonda later issued statements clarifying their positions.) A one-time liberal and fan of John F. Kennedy, Voight had spoken publicly about his political transformation. Since 2007, he has been a vocal Republican supporter and critic of Obama. Still, having a nominee for a major Hollywood awards show be so outspoken on so many occasions during the voting period is highly unusual.
This is the first peer recognition for Voight since he became a public face of the Republican party. His last nomination by his peers, at the 2005 SAG Awards, was surrounded by controversy, which he again addressed in an open letter. Nominated for the TV movie The Five People You Meet In Heaven, Voight was banned by the SAG board from attending the ceremony over a request he had made to go fi-core in order to do a friend’s low budget indie movie. He did not win and is currently seeking a first Emmy after three nominations.
Republicans are a minority in Hollywood, and some have blamed the lack of awards recognition by peers on their right political views. Kelsey Grammer accused the TV Academy of snubbing his performance in Starz’s dark drama Boss because he is one of few “declared, out of the closet Republicans.” Like Voight, Grammer had won a Golden Globe from the Hollywood Foreign Press for Boss but he failed to land an Emmy nomination.
Awards experts are playing down the impact Voight’s comments would have on his Emmy chances, especially given how narrow the Emmy voting pool is. Casting their ballot in his category are only those from the acting branch who had volunteered to vote, providing they don’t have a conflict and haven’t voted in it the last two years in a row.
Being outspoken in Hollywood does not qualify automatically as a career suicide, and even speaking against the awards system not always backfires. It may have hurt Joaquin Phoenix in his Oscar quest for The Master, but George C. Scott’s rejection of his 1962 Oscar nomination for The Hustler did not prevent him from scoring two more Oscar noms and a win for Patton in 1971 (which he also refused to accept.)
Still, when it comes to political statements, most Hollywood types wait until the awards ceremony. Marlon Brando became the second actor after Scott to refuse a Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather. He boycotted the 1972 awards to protest Hollywood’s depiction of Native Americans, sending a Native American rights activist in his place. And at the 2003 Academy Awards, held in the early days of the Iraq invasion, Best Documentary feature winner Michael Moore (for Bowling for Columbine) used his acceptance speech to condemn the war and attack President George W. Bush, to a mix of applause and boos. Both Brando and Moore earned other Oscar noms after those public statements.
Whether Voight wins an Emmy or not, he gave a glimpse of his potential Emmy speech at the TCA press tour two weeks ago. “Let me just say, I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have had so many wonderful experiences as an actor,” he said. “I am really enjoying this family that’s making Ray Donovan. It’s almost like I earned this role over years of struggling and failing and experimenting and succeeding…” He praised the “wonderful artists” he works with on Ray Donovan and reached back into the past to praise earlier collaborators John Schlesinger, Dustin Hoffman, Hal Ashby and Andrei Konchalovsky.