How we got here
Oscar loves a fresh face, and this year the Acad short-listed three.The youngest, 10-year-old Abigail Breslin, plays the pint-sized beauty pageant aspirant of “Little Miss Sunshine.” The hardest part of playing slightly awkward Olive? “I had to wear a fat suit,” she told the hostesses on “The View,” insisting they call her Abby. “Oh my goodness, it was so hot and sweaty and uncomfortable.” Jennifer Hudson’s “Dreamgirls” role — her bigscreen debut — suggests another lesson about not confusing talent with conventional beauty: The former “American Idol” contender plays the gifted lead R&B singer who gets pushed aside to make room for the mannequin-shaped, vanilla-voiced “crossover” singers. Hudson related to the history behind the story, which was inspired by the fate of Supremes castoff Florence Ballard. “I mean, the girl went through hell, and she never got justice. Well, Effie does,” Hudson says. “(After) being kicked to the curb, she comes back up in the end, just like me.” Hudson fought for her part, as did “Babel’s” 26-year-old Rinko Kikuchi. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu wanted a deaf actress to play Chieko, but the Japanese thesp — who is not deaf — went through numerous auditions and even learned sign language until, just days before shooting, she persuaded him that she was right for the part. “Chieko has these tremendous emotions inside her, and a very strong sexuality,” Kikuchi says. “All of those different feelings just made it a great part to play.” Because Inarritu shot “Babel’s” separate sections in different corners of the world, Kikuchi didn’t meet fellow nominee Adriana Barraza until the pic’s premiere. In a movie some people have described as being about “bad decisions,” Barraza plays the Mexican nanny who comes to grief when she takes the San Diego children in her charge across the border. Though older and more experienced than the other nominees, she’s still relatively unknown to American auds. “When I was younger and I was starting in theater, I thought, ‘What if I got to the Oscars?’ but I never thought it possible for this,” she says. The fifth nominee is yet another member of the “Babel” ensemble, Cate Blanchett, though Blanchett’s nom — her third — is for “Notes on a Scandal,” in which she plays a teacher who has an affair with her teenage student. “Cinematically, I think to spend time with someone who transgresses a moral boundary like Sheba does, you have to go deep inside who that woman is,” she says.