Races blur the faces

Kudos flub emphasizes fuzzy thesp categories

In its Oscar campaign for “Adaptation,” Sony is pushing Meryl Streep for a supporting nom, but SAG Awards voters will be considering her in the lead category.

“Chicago’s” Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated as a lead for the Golden Globes, but Miramax is touting her in the supporting race.

Paramount considers Julianne Moore a supporting actress in “The Hours,” but Nicole Kidman and Streep as leads.

Clearly, the lines between lead and supporting are blurrier than ever.

In Streep’s case, the switch was an error: Sony accidentally submitted her in the wrong category.

“There is a mountain of clerical minutia that goes on behind the scenes of any major awards season push and this is an honest and unfortunate mistake,” says Steve Elzer, Sony senior VP of media relations. “We hope members of SAG will recognize this is a clerical error and it does not detract from the brilliant performance Meryl delivers in ‘Adaptation.’ We are still doing everything we can to push for consideration in the best supporting actress races.”

At the SAG Awards, an actor cannot be nominated for two performances in the same category. Same is true of the Academy Awards.

But they’re in good company: Last year, Jennifer Connelly was submitted to SAG as a lead for “A Beautiful Mind,” but ended up winning a supporting Oscar.

SAG accepts the actor’s choice of category in which their performance is submitted. In contrast, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. weighs Golden Globe submissions and makes its own decisions. In Zeta-Jones’ case, the org differed with Miramax.

Miramax senior exec publicist Cynthia Swartz says, “We’re thrilled that Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated for a Golden Globe — but for the Oscar race, we are campaigning for her in the supporting category, with her blessing.”

Scott Orlin, an HFPA voter, says, “Everything is subjective. There is no absolute.” Orlin cites Geoffrey Rush in “Shine”: Not much screen time, but the performance is central to the film. “If the character’s arc is pivotal to the central theme of the film, we consider it a lead.”

“Hours” scripter David Hare tells Variety Moore’s role was underwritten but she made the most of it, giving the character more heft than it had in the script. Paramount says it doesn’t comment on awards strategies.

Another factor is studio politics: Studios decide where they can get the most nominations.

In “The English Patient,” Juliette Binoche and Kristin Scott Thomas had roughly the same amount of screen time. Scott Thomas was nominated as a lead; Binoche was nominated (and won) as supporting.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences does not ask a studio or individual to define the category: The choice is left entirely to the voter.

When AMPAS created the supporting category, the studio system helped define the categories: There was a clear line between stars and character actors. But even early on, there was confusion. Barry Fitzgerald was nominated for the 1944 “Going My Way” in both lead and supporting categories. The board quickly changed the rules to prevent that happening again.

There are some considerations.

Screen time: The 1978 “California Suite” is divided into four equal stories. Maggie Smith was star of her section, but it entailed only one-fourth of the movie. She won an Oscar as supporting actress.

Star power: In “Ordinary People,” the then-unknown Timothy Hutton had far more screen time than anyone else in the film (including Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland), but the 20-year-old won the supporting actor Oscar.

Character’s dominance: Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” and Anthony Hopkins in “The Silence of the Lambs” won in the actor category. Both had limited screen time. But when you think of those films, you think of their characters.

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