How we got here

TV success is a thread that links most of the nominees for the supporting actor Oscar.

One of the most surprising success stories of the year is Thomas Haden Church for his role as a washed-up, philandering actor in “Sideways.” Church was previously best known for the sitcoms “Wings” and “Ned and Stacey.”

“When I was on ‘Ned and Stacey,’ I’d go to auditions (for films) and get treated like an asshole,” says Church. ” ‘Ned and Stacey’ was supposed to put me on a different level. People shifted around for me to be in movies. I was in ‘George of the Jungle,’ but that didn’t yield too much either.”

He says the easygoing, sex-addicted, in-denial character he pulled off so effortlessly in the Fox Searchlight pic was actually an amalgamation of the circle of actors he ran with in 1989, when he first arrived in L.A. from Dallas.

“Every single one of those guys was so convinced of their imminent stardom,” he recalls. “There was no way they were going to let their insecurity feed on the fact that they were never going to make it, even though none of them did.”

For “MASH” vet Alan Alda, you might suspect he would approach a role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Aviator” with the business-as-usual attitude of a pro who has seen it all. If so, then you don’t know Alda.

“The reason I always get excited with every project is that I’m always looking to do something that I haven’t done before, or in a way that I haven’t done it before,” he explains. “I usually find myself getting interested in something because of how I’m going to go about doing that.”

Rounding out the TV connection is Jamie Foxx, who’s also up for actor for his role in “Ray,” but was first talked about for an Oscar for “Collateral.” He started out on “In Living Color” and “The Jamie Foxx Show” before landing roles in Michael Mann’s “Ali” and Oliver Stone’s “Any Given Sunday.”

Throughout his career, Morgan Freeman often needed nothing more than a baseball mitt (“The Shawshank Redemption”), white suit (“Bruce Almighty”) or, in this case, worn-out socks to play a sage.

“I can’t deny it,” Freeman says of why so many of his characters over a 40-year career are often the calming force. “I’m not conscious of the way I make these choices, but I guess I’m drawn to these characters.”

Freeman and helmer Clint Eastwood worked together in 1992 on “Unforgiven,” which won picture and director honors for Eastwood. Freeman knows how to pick his spots, as many critics are saying “Million Dollar Baby” might be Eastwood’s best film since.

Clive Owen, who turned 40 this year, starred in the original 1997 London production of Patrick Marber’s play “Closer” at the National Theater’s Cottesloe auditorium.

“I remember first reading it and being very keen to do it, and then I got offered Dan (the role played by Jude Law in the film) and was delighted. So six or seven years later, to talk about playing Larry in the movie was just a huge thrill,” he says.

It helped, says Owen, that director Mike Nichols “never treated it as if we were filming a play. He just treated it as unusually long scenes and a lot of dialogue, which is unusual for a movie.”

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