Sir, dame before winning Oscar or vice-versa?
On Golden Globe Awards night, when the star of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” was coming onstage as a presenter, he was introduced as Sir Ian McKellen.
Later, the co-star of “Sexy Beast” was announced simply as Ben Kingsley. Maybe the writers didn’t know Kingsley also had been knighted.
Still, Kingsley might take solace in knowing that he has something his potential supporting actor rival still seeks: Hollywood’s most coveted title, Oscar winner.
Oscar has long had a love affair with British peers, and frequently there are one or two in the Academy Award races. But when noms are announced Feb. 12, this could be a record year.
There are a possible nine contenders who carry the title of sir or dame in the marquee categories — or is it marquis categories?
Six of those are also Oscar winners. Does an Oscar lead to being recognized by the queen, or vice-versa? The truth is somewhere in between, as the queen and Oscar both recognize talent.
Title, then Oscar
The only entrant in this year’s Oscar race whose title was well established before her Oscar recognition is Judi Dench, who was made a “Dame of the British Empire” in 1988, after a distinguished and amply rewarded career in British stage, film and television. She didn’t really make her name in the U.S. until the mid-’90s and didn’t win her Oscar until she took the supporting actress prize for “Shakespeare in Love” in ’98. Dench, who has received Oscar talk for her roles in “Iris” and “The Shipping News,” received an actress nom for “Mrs. Brown” in ’97 and a supporting bid for “Chocolat” in 2000.
Title, no Oscar
McKellen, who was knighted in 1990, received his only Oscar nom so far as lead actor in 1998’s “Gods & Monsters.”
Eileen Atkins, who was dubbed dame in 2001 after a distinguished acting and writing career, is still awaiting her first Oscar nom. It could come from her crusty role in “Gosford Park.”
Oscar, then title:
Kingsley, who won his Oscar for 1982’s “Gandhi,” is just the latest to see that honor precede a title. In the intervening 19 years, he also got a supporting nom for his role as Meyer Lansky in “Bugsy” (1991).
There was an even longer gap between winning the Oscar and gaining the title with Julie Andrews, who this year is in the running for supporting actress for her role in “The Princess Diaries.” She won her actress Oscar for 1964’s “Mary Poppins,” then was nominated twice more — for “The Sound of Music” in 1965, and for “Victor/Victoria” in 1982 (apparently a good year for future title holders). But it was not until the queen’s birthday list was unveiled in 2000 that she achieved the title of dame.
Maggie Smith has won several supporting actress nods for her role in “Gosford Park,” and is an Oscar hopeful. She won two Oscars — a lead actress trophy for 1969’s “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and a supporting actress honor for “California Suite” in 1978 — well before being named dame in 1988. She was also nominated for supporting actress for “Othello” in 1965, lead for “Travels With My Aunt” in 1972 and supporting for “A Room With a View” in 1986.
A more direct cause and effect between Oscar and knighthood might be detected in the case of Anthony Hopkins, who was dubbed sir in ’93. That was not long after the 1992 ceremony when he won the actor Oscar for “Silence of the Lambs.” Hopkins, who in 2000 took out dual citizenship in the U.S. and U.K., was nominated three more times: as actor for 1993’s “The Remains of the Day” and “Nixon” in 1995, and for supporting actor in 1997’s “Amistad.” He’s in contention again this year — although considered a long shot — for his starring role in “Hearts in Atlantis.”
Paul McCartney is trying for an Oscar this year for his title song to “Vanilla Sky.” The Beatles won an Oscar for song score for the 1970 “Let It Be,” and McCartney received an Oscar nomination for writing the theme song to 1973’s “Live and Let Die.” Still, it’s safe to assume it was his career with the Beatles, Wings and solo — and not the Oscar attention — that led to him being knighted in 1997.
Oscar has long overlapped with the title of sir and dame. Peggy Ashcroft, John Gielgud, Alec Guinness and John Mills are just a few of the many who’ve wound up in winner’s circles with both titles.
But their Oscar records pale when comared with Laurence Olivier, the most accomplished actor who received the honors of empire before envelope. He was a quadruple Academy finalist (for acting in “Wuthering Heights” in ’39, “Rebecca” in ’40 and acting and producing “Henry V” in ’46), before he was knighted in 1947.
One year later, he broke into the Oscar win column in a big way, winning two Academy Awards for starring in and producing “Hamlet,” for which he also received a directing nomination. That was followed with three more acting noms — “Richard III” in ’56, “The Entertainer” in ’60 and “Othello” in ’65.
In 1970, Olivier became the first, and so far only, actor to be named a life peer, entitling him to a seat in the House of Lords. That was followed with another flurry of noms: actor for “Sleuth” in ’72, supporting actor in 1976 for “The Marathon Man” and actor for “The Boys From Brazil” in ’78. In all, the baron of Brighton’s nine acting nominations tie him with Spencer Tracy for the most ever for an actor.
There’s one other titled entrant in this year’s race who achieved Oscar honors before Brit recognition. But don’t look for sir in front of Steven Spielberg’s name, at least not so long as he is a citizen of the U.S. and not Britain. Spielberg is a triple Oscar winner, for directing and producing 1993’s “Schindler’s List” as well as directing the ’98 “Saving Private Ryan.” He was nominated for directing 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” directing and producing “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” in ’82, producing “The Color Purple” in 1985 and producing “Saving Private Ryan.”
While his not being a British citizen means he can’t be called sir, he could attach KBE (as in knight of the British empire) after his name, ever since being dubbed early in 2001. Maybe he’ll use that if he’s nominated for “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.”