The Weinstein Company has made it official, as if there was really any doubt who is a lead and who is supporting in its November 20 release, and Oscar hopeful, Carol. No sooner had my flight back from the Toronto Film Festival landed at LAX than I received a call from TWC clarifying that it definitely will be campaigning Cate Blanchett for Lead Actress and Rooney Mara for Supporting. Ever since the TIFF debut to rave reviews and strong audience reaction on Saturday night of Blanchett’s other 2015 contender, Truth, there has been speculation that to avoid canceling herself out, the Weinstein Company and Sony Pictures Classics (which is releasing Truth on October 16) might try to avoid a Solomon’s or Sophie’s Choice here and shoehorn one or the other performance from Blanchett into supporting.
It’s certainly been done before, as I pointed out in a Sunday column addressing this very issue. In fact, in order to avoid that kind of situation, TWC campaigned another Kate, as in Winslet, for Supporting Actress for The Reader in 2008, so as not to collide with her other big role in Paramount’s Revolutionary Road that same year. But as it turns out, it is not wise to tell the Academy performers branch what is a leading role vs. supporting. They don’t always fall in line like lemmings. Winslet, despite that supporting campaign, was nominated for Lead Actress instead for The Reader and eventually won. There was no nomination for Revolutionary Road. And though groups like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association determine which performance goes into lead or support, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences leaves that decision solely to each voting actor.
Studios try to influence that decision by designation a lead or supporting role in campaign materials. Many times in Oscar history when a star has had two major roles, they have managed to get nominated for one or the other but usually have been purposely more heavily campaigned for one over the other. When Leonardo DiCaprio had both The Departed and Blood Diamond in 2006, some groups gave him double nominations. The Academy has specific rules that actors cannot be nominated against themselves in a specific category. DiCaprio got an Oscar nom for Blood Diamond, even though The Departed was strong enough to win Best Picture. In 1967 I rather suspect that Sidney Poitier really cancelled himself out of the Best Actor race when he had three major roles that year. There was To Sir, With Love as well as performances in two Best Picture contenders, In The Heat Of The Night (which eventually won) and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner. His co-starring leads in the latter two were nominated — with Rod Steiger and Katharine Hepburn winning and a posthumous nod for Spencer Tracy — but Poitier was left out in the cold.
Confusion has reigned on this issue this year ever since the spectacular Cannes debut of Carol in May where it was Mara who took the Best Actress prize (in a tie with French actress Emmanuelle Bercot for Mon Roi), not Blanchett. Of course, Cannes does not make a distinction between lead and support; it simply gives a Best Actress prize. Some media types began spitballing that TWC might run Mara in lead and Blanchett in support. That’s ridiculous, as this is clearly a star role for Blanchett. She plays the title character and drives the action. Period. It is smart of TWC to end any speculation now and just go on with its campaign. When I spoke to SPC’s Co-President Michael Barker right after Truth’s debut, he refused to get drawn into this conversation and, as I pointed out, diplomatically said he thought both Blanchett performances were great but that her role as 60 Minutes producer Mapes in Truth also was definitely a lead. It’s an incredibly strong role and, unlike Carol, the person she is playing is real and still living. Mapes will be around to endorse her performance, always a plus.
Look, Blanchett — already a two-time Oscar winner, most recently for 2013’s Blue Jasmine, also from Sony Pictures Classic — is great in both parts. But it will be interesting to see how this goes down with the Academy, since even though her role in Carol has been the one talked about in terms of an Oscar play ever since Cannes, it will be Truth that gets a solid one-month jump on Carol in terms of release date. Most in the Academy’s actors branch have not seen Carol yet (it made its North American debut at Telluride over Labor Day but skipped TIFF and next will hit the fest circuit at the New York Film Festival this month), so it likely will be her performance in Truth that will be first out of the gate. That is unless Weinstein pulls a sneak attack and sends out the DVD screener in advance of Truth’s opening. It would be highly unusual to do that so far in advance of the Carol theatrical release, and most studios and distributors hold back sending to Academy voters until that time of release. Late-December qualifiers, where Carol initially was going to be launched before TWC moved it up a month, are a different story as you just can’t wait that long to get screeners out with Oscar nominating starting around then. Every movie has its own unique strategy, though. A small film like Carol doesn’t have the same trajectory as a big studio Christmas opener or even TWC’s 70MM Christmas launch of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.The Best Actress race is really heating up this year, and the Great Cate Race is just a fascinating new wrinkle for the long road ahead.