EXCLUSIVE: It’s official. Ford v Ferrari’s co-stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon have decided to buck the dismal odds of actors going against each other in the same category and will be campaigned by 20th Century Fox and Disney in the Lead Actor category at the Academy Awards and other contests including Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice, SAG and BAFTA.
Ever since the well-received film premiered in Telluride I have been asking the consultants on the film if the two stars — both leads in my opinion — would be competing in the same category for awards consideration. But I always got the response that no decision had been made regarding importing one of them into Supporting Actor so they would not have to face each other — a common practice now despite billing or the size of the role. Some pundits speculated that they could be split as Bale, who plays tempestuous test driver Ken Miles, in effect works for Damon’s Carroll Shelby, the same thinking that Brad Pitt’s character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood works for DiCaprio’s, thus making it easier to justify splitting categories.
This means Bale, who won a Supporting Actor Oscar for 2010’s The Fighter and was nominated for Lead Actor last year for Vice, will not be joining the imposing list of past Best Actor Oscar winners who are being campaigned for support this year in large roles that might just as reasonably be considered leading parts. Al Pacino in The Irishman, Anthony Hopkins in The Two Popes, Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and even Jamie Foxx in Just Mercy are among those fighting for a slot in the uber-competitive supporting category full of major names. And as indicated above, past Best Actor multiple nominee Pitt is also considered a front-runner there, being campaigned for support so as not to face fellow above-the-title co-star DiCaprio — just as Hopkins, Hanks, Pacino and Foxx are doing, with their respective co-stars Jonathan Pryce, Matthew Rhys, Robert De Niro and Michael B. Jordan being pushed alone in the lead category. It has already been announced that for the two-hander The Lighthouse Robert Pattinson will be pushed in lead, while equal co-star Willem Dafoe will go in support.
Bale and Damon are bucking the trend, and it is highly rare to do that in modern Oscar campaigns. Interestingly, both share the same PR representative who was involved in the decision in forging both ahead in the Best Actor race this year, which is equally crowded in a wide field that also includes (along with the aforementioned) Joaquin Phoenix, Adam Driver, Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, Antonio Banderas, Taron Egerton, Pattinson, and some still to be seen such as Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters and Paul Walter Hauser in Richard Jewell. Bale has the best chance to prevail, with our sister site Gold Derby currently listing him with 58-to-1 odds in the race, while Damon is listed a 100-to-1. Gold Derby also has both on the Supporting chart since it was unclear how this would be worked out.
Bale and Damon will be trying to do something that hasn’t happened in 28 years. In fact, the last time two stars competed in the same category and both won nominations was for 1991’s Thelma And Louise, for which both Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were nominated as Best Actress. For the Best Actor race, you would have to go back even further to 1984’s Amadeus, with both Tom Hulce and F. Murray Abraham landing lead nominations, and the latter actually winning. The first example was for 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty in which three stars — Clark Gable, Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone — were each nominated for Best Actor (all lost to Victor McLaglen in The Informer). That was the only time three co-stars competed against each other in a leading Oscar category, but was also the year before introduction of the the Supporting categories, where this kind of co-star competition is more frequent.
Common wisdom among today’s breed of Oscar strategists is that even if two stars were to be nominated against each other in the lead category, they would most likely split the vote, winning nothing for the film instead of having a chance to pick up both lead and supporting Oscars if they split categories. In the rather paltry 17 times this has occurred in Oscar history only four times did a split not occur and one of the pair went on to victory. In addition to Abraham over Hulce, Shirley MacLaine in Terms Of Endearment (1983) over Debra Winger, Peter Finch posthumously in Network (1976) over William Holden , and Bing Crosby in Going My Way (1944) over Barry Fitzgerald each won. In the latter’s unique case Fitzgerald was also nominated in the Supporting Actor category for the same film and won there instead. After that the Academy changed its rules allowing an actor to be nominated only once for the same performance in whichever category they first get the required number of votes.
Sometimes campaigners and actors are taken off guard. Sarandon was nominated for lead actress in 1981’s Atlantic City despite being campaigned for support and admitting she even voted for herself in that category. Kate Winslet also surprised with a Best Actress nomination and win for The Reader despite a campaign for supporting following SAG and Golden Globe wins in that category. Ultimately, at least as far as the Motion Picture Academy is concerned members of the actor’s branch make the determination on their own as to who is lead and who is supporting. They can , and apparently many times are influenced by the way a performance and film is campaigned and in recent years have clearly followed that lead. Just last year many thought Mahershala Ali was an equal lead opposite co-star Viggo Mortensen in Green Book but the actor and his team made the decision to be campaigned for supporting instead – and he won. It is hard to compete with as meaty a role as that ,especially if your role is truly supporting.
Bale and Damon should be congratulated for staying above the title in the awards campaign , as well as the movie. Ford v Ferrari opens November 15. The Best Actor Oscar race has already opened. Gentlemen, start your engines.