With kudos being dispensed almost hourly at this time of year, there is one category of work that bestows no glittering statuettes yet occupies center stage for months at a time. In short, I think there should be an award for campaigning, aimed at those stars and filmmakers who deliver blizzards of interviews in support of their films while never blowing their cool. And I have two actors I would nominate to share this award.
Mind you, I am aware of the stakes: A shot at an Oscar is, in the words of Brie Larson, “shocking, humbling and profound.” This may be true (it was for her), but commitment to a kudo campaign entails months of non-employment in support of a film that may have been shot three or four years earlier, often at a far different place in one’s career. David Mackenzie acknowledges that when he was summoned back from Scotland to push Hell Or High Water, he struggled to dial up memories of his awkward initial contacts with the modern Wild West.
Of the dozens of actors and filmmakers crowding the Oscar circuit this year, my nomination for Best Campaigner would be shared by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. They may seem to be unlikely choices; both are serious actors, not professional celebrities. Mind you, neither has come away as yet with much in the way of rewards – Garfield received a Globe nomination for playing Desmond Doss in Hacksaw Ridge, but not the prize (that went to Casey Affleck).
Garfield, who like Driver is 33, has been a very busy actor, graduating from Amazing Spider-
Man to demanding roles in films like Silence (a long-suffering missionary in 15th century Japan) and Hacksaw Ridge (a Tennessee soldier-pacifist in World War II). Like Driver, Garfield pushes all the “serious actor” buttons – there is talk in Q&A sessions about “process” and “preparation.” He cites Gandhi as a boyhood idol and acknowledges the dangers of “celebrity toxicity” – a favorite catch phrase on the interview circuit. Shooting with Martin Scorsese was a “spiritual transformation,” he professes. But with it all, Garfield comes across as earnest and forthright and exhibits frequent flashes of boyishly self-deprecating humor.
Like Garfield, the rangy and dour-looking Driver seems to be ubiquitous on screen, having moved from playing a goofy lover in Lena Dunham’s Girls to a somber poet in James Jarmusch’s Paterson to a fellow missionary with Garfield in the Scorsese epic – and veering to Star Wars: Episode VIII. Even more intense than Garfield, Driver seems eager to reinforce his “I’m a working actor from Brooklyn” image (he’s from San Diego). When afforded the opportunity to chat about Dunham’s off-balance sex scenes, he opts for the poetry in Paterson. Playing a literary bus driver in that film, Driver manages to deliver a moving performance while rarely changing his taciturn expression. When fans understandably show more interest in Star Wars lore, Driver patiently indulges them, and then flees. Still, when pressed for analyses of his roles, Driver responds consistently with thoughtfulness and eloquence.
Having spent time listening to both actors, I am struck by their patience and diligence in coping with the rituals of campaigning. Neither zealously followed pre-set talking points like Brad Pitt. They were funnier than Joel Edgerton, more relaxed than Affleck, less dogmatic than Viggo Mortensen, and less intimidating than Denzel Washington.
Neither may win anything, but at least they will win my nomination as the perhaps unlikely “best campaigners” in the Great Kudo Wars of 2016-2017.