A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
This weekend marks the first-ever movie awards season Deadline Contenders featuring only nominees. After first doing three different Contenders Film events in January, we are now narrowing it to those who made the cut at the Oscars, BAFTA, and various guilds. A total of 45 contenders are among those participating in Contenders Film: The Nominees on Saturday starting at 10 a.m. PT. We did a Contenders Television: The Nominees event during last year’s Emmy season and it was a big hit, so now it seems to perfect way to lead into this weekend’s (virtual) ceremonies for the DGA on Saturday evening and BAFTAs’ two-day affair, as well as final Oscar balloting which begins next Thursday. Yes, the end of this historic, pandemic-sized eight-month awards season is in sight, but fear not we are already deep into Emmys prep. It never ends, folks.
JET-SETTING OSCAR NOMINEES
I have had a lot of fun through Zooming with various Oscar nominees from around the globe, including filmmakers from Sarajevo and Chile to Denmark, the West Bank, the Swiss Alps, Syria, Tunisia, London, Australia and all points in between. The United Nations of Oscar is in full swing and the WiFi reception is pretty damn excellent from all corners of the planet. This is the most international collection of nominees ever.
The one thing all these conversations have in common is that satellites and British hubs for Oscar’s class of 2020-21 be damned, this group of nominees feels this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (unless you are Glenn Close, for whom it is an eight-times-in-a-lifetime experience so far) and they all, that’s right, all plan to be meeting up at Union Station in downtown L.A. come April 25. Covid may still be raging in locked-down Europe and beyond, but that isn’t stopping this bunch.
Although she admitted she was “terrified” of things changing, Promising Young Woman triple nominee Emerald Fennell plans to leave London and board a plane West if all goes well. Bosnian-Herzegovina’s International Film nominee Jasmila Zbanic learned she and her husband had tested positive the same day she heard her brilliant film Quo Vadis, Aida? was in the running. That won’t stop the pair, now well past quarantine requirements, from coming in from Sarajevo. Chilean filmmakers Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibanez wouldn’t think of missing the Oscars, and plan to bring to Hollywood their 87-year-old breakout star Sergio of their Documentary Feature nominee The Mole Agent on his first-ever plane ride to hit the red carpet — or so he imagines what Oscar night looks like — in what he told them will be “my last great adventure.” Santibanez said she has been in touch with their local satellite provider just as a backup, but if the Covid travel gods are with them the Chile contingent will be hitting LAX soon.
Thomas Vinterberg, the Danish double nominee for Directing and International Film for Another Round, promised me he would use every “legal” avenue to get to L.A. in time. When on Thursday I asked the British-Palestinian Farah Nabulsi, first-time director of the brilliant and moving Live Action Short The Present (a must see now on Netflix, folks) if she would be at the Oscars, “We are coming! We are coming!” was the instant enthusiastic response from both her and her Palestinian star Saleh Bakri. It isn’t even a consideration. The same was true from Tunisian-nominated International Film director for The Man Who Sold His Skin, Kaouther Ben Hania, and she is equally excited about attending. Laura Pausini, Best Song nominee for “Seen,” has been stuck in Italy but hopes to be here for her category and to perform as well, but admits there is a backup plan in London if she can’t jet in to Hollywood for her big night. Well, you get the picture.
Since the Academy has made sure nominees are considered “essential workers,” I haven’t talked to one of them yet who doesn’t view attending this most different of Oscar shows in person to be essential as well. I am sure this will be heartening news to Oscar producers Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins, who have from day one been urging nominees to come to L.A. It appears many of them, despite the hardships and required quarantines, are heeding the call.
WOMEN DOMINATE THE OSCARS AND IT IS ABOUT TIME
Seventy women with an all-time record 76 nominations between them are among the nominees from everywhere in the world eager to be at the Oscars. You can certainly tell that from all those names I mentioned above. It is evidence that the times may indeed be a changin’. Further evidence of that was the lively annual Women’s Panel at the Santa Barbara Film Festival yesterday afternoon, which was moderated for the 17th consecutive year by Madelyn Hammond and featured a record eight nominees. Congrats to all. They came from all disciplines of the industry and so did their nominations that included categories like animated feature, live action and animated shorts, costume design, song, documentary feature and sound. Ironically, it was Michele Couttolenc, nominated for her brilliant sound design on Sound of Metal, who was having some audio problems on the festival’s live video connection. Sigh. Welcome to the Zoom era.
CAREY MULLIGAN NAILS HER SECOND OSCAR NOMINATION
Another female nominee, a high-profile one in the Best Actress category, Carey Mulligan was emphatic when I asked this week if she would be coming to the Oscars rather than going to that “hub” in London to watch and wait. “You better believe it,” she told me just before we started her Cinema Vanguard award tribute that I moderated for the Santa Barbara Film Festival on Monday afternoon. She is bringing the family including her husband, who makes things easier since he already has an American passport.
Her mother would be coming too, just like the first time she was nominated in 2009 for An Education, but visa difficulties means she will be watching instead from home in England. But before Mulligan left for New York City and this week’s guest-hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, her mom gave her a special “good luck” charm, as it were, to take on her trip to the Oscars in the form of a ring box containing the fashion trend-setting variety of pastel-colored nails Mulligan’s character Cassie wears in Promising Young Woman. She showed it off to SBIFF’s Roger Durling (whose own manicure was pink in honor of Carey), presenter and PYW co-star Laverne Cox, and me after the 90-minute virtual career retrospective. It seems after PYW filming finally finished she had taken off the nails and put them to the side of the couch. Unbeknownst to her, her mother picked them up and saved them to surprise Mulligan at this opportune moment in her career.
Mulligan arrived in NYC on her 2021 Oscar journey last weekend and is preparing to host her first-ever SNL. She told me she is eager to do it since this is her first acting opportunity, period, since completing shooting Netflix’s superb The Dig in 2019. Like for nearly everyone else, the pandemic has had its consequences. “I am very excited to do SNL just so I can act because I haven’t acted in so long. My bedtime stories to my children have become increasingly dramatic and expansive, and I think I need to put that energy somewhere in the professional realm. I can’t wait to get going,” she laughed.
NO PASTA EVER AGAIN
We not only covered the waterfront in terms of Mulligan’s film career that started with a bang with 2005’s Pride & Prejudice and has continued to this year with the doubleheader releases of The Dig and Promising Young Woman (the latter bringing her a second Best Actress Oscar nomination), but also her considerably impressive stage outings. I had seen her Tony-nominated performance on Broadway in Skylight in the spring of 2015, and not only was she great in it, she also really made an impression on me with her cooking skills as she had to make a full meal from scratch – eight times a week onstage, no less.
“I have not had bolognese since, I really haven’t,” she said. “The second time I did the play, we did it in London and then we did it on Broadway for 12 weeks and I was like four months pregnant by the time we started the run, and having to eat and to make the bolognese on stage every night — it just finished it for me. I can’t ever again. I don’t cook either, so that’s the most cooking I’ve done in years.”
Believe me, you could smell it from the balcony. She deserved the Tony just for that.
HOW BRADLEY RESCUED CAREY
Before we gave her the SBIFF award, I asked Mulligan if she is looking forward to playing Felicia Montealegre, Leonard Bernstein’s wife, in the soon-to-film Maestro co-starring with Bradley Cooper who is also directing and co-writing the complicated love-story biopic. She can’t wait to get started on it and said it was a beautiful script. But that led to another memorable anecdote about her sometimes rocky experiences in the New York theatre world, this time on her 2018 solo show Girls and Boys, which she had performed first in London where she said a week wouldn’t go by without someone fainting in the audience — almost always men. As PYW proved without a doubt, it seems her characters have an effect on the male species.
In taking the show Off-Broadway to tougher NYC audiences, the first preview provided a different kind of disaster and a fortuitous backstage meeting with her future Maestro co-star who became her knight in shiny white armour.
“He was my rescuer. It was the first preview of Girls and Boys in New York and in the sort of final 20 minutes there was a scene change in blackout and the safety curtain hit me (hard) on the head, and I was able to carry on because no one had seen it, not even the crew, so no one knew. So I just finished the play, came off stage and was just hysterically crying and I couldn’t calm down, and I felt like I was going to throw up and the concussion and things you imagine,” she remembered, reliving the terror of the moment. “And Bradley had come to see the play, and was going to leave town so it was the only one and I begged him not to come to the first preview because first previews are terrible and it was gonna be awful, a 90-minute monologue. But he came anyway, and my dressing room didn’t have a proper wall. It was just a partition at Minetta Lane, a tiny theatre. So he was on the other side of the wall and someone came in and said, ‘Bradley’s here’ and I was just sitting on the floor crying, mumbling, ‘Bradley, you can come in now,’ and he came in and sort of got on the floor with me and said, ‘You are not okay. We are going to the hospital.’ So he bundled me into a car and took me to the hospital. So yes, he was my rescuer!”
As the lyrics of “New York New York” (that she so memorably sang in Steve McQueen’s Shame) say, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere,” that is certainly true of Carey Mulligan, who gets her next live NYC stage experience tomorrow night on SNL before journeying once again to the Oscars. Let’s hope no curtains fall on her and she doesn’t have to make bolognese this time.
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