When Oscar happens

Duvall, Spacek, Bardem on how awards shift lives, careers

Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek work exquisitely together in the indie “Get Low.” In one particular area, however, they don’t share common ground.

Both lugged home Oscars earlier in their careers, Spacek for “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in 1981, and Duvall three years later for “Tender Mercies.” Yet while both cherish the honor, Spacek believes winning an Academy Award was boffo for her life and career, while Duvall downplayed its impact.

“It changed everything,” explains Spacek, who won for her leading role as country music star Loretta Lynn and who also was nominated five other times. “Being nominated changed things, too. Winning an Oscar, you just become part of a very exclusive club.”

Spacek’s first nom, in 1977, was for playing the title role in “Carrie.” She says the sudden recognition “opens the floodgates of opportunities.”

“For a young actor in particular, it puts you on the fast track,” she says. “You can’t even imagine the positive effect it has on your career. I would also say, though, that it’s also intimidating and a little overwhelming. You’re working in virtual obscurity. All of a sudden the world turns around and is watching you and you say, ‘Will I be able to do this, now that I’m not working in obscurity anymore? Can I do my best work while being scrutinized?’ I felt that after the nomination for ‘Carrie.’?”

Like Spacek, Duvall has been nominated six times. Also like Spacek, he secured his Oscar for playing a country-western singer in the drama “Tender Mercies.” He says he certainly was honored, but it didn’t alter his personal career landscape.

“Not really. I got a little more recognition at airports,” says Duvall, whose first nomination came for the supporting role of Tom Hagen in “The Godfather” in 1973. “I got a few better parts offered to me. I wanted to do ‘The Apostle’ back then, but it didn’t help me. The leverage didn’t help get things off the ground.”

Javier Bardem became the first Spaniard to be nominated for an Academy Award that did not involve the foreign language film category, for his leading role in “Before Night Falls” in 2001. Seven years later, he became the first Spaniard to win an Oscar, this time in the supporting category, for his chilling portrayal of Anton Chigurh in the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men.”

Bardem says the victory had both a personal and a professional effect on him.

“Personally it’s a great honor, of course, because it’s like your colleagues are giving you a big hug and telling you, ‘We want you to keep going,’?” says Bardem, who currently stars in “Biutiful” from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

“The other thing is that it has no meaning at all if you don’t have people to share it with — friends, family and those people who helped you be the way you are. For me, the first time (at the Academy Awards) I brought 20 people, the second time 17. All of them are friends since I was 12.”

Yet Bardem says that, from a professional standpoint, perspective is mandatory.

“Professionally you have to have some distance with it,” he says. “It doesn’t mean you’re a better actor than someone else, just as losing doesn’t mean you’re a worse actor. It gives you more opportunities to choose roles. More producers are interested in working with you. People think there is this dramatic change, and I don’t think there is at all.”

Duvall’s advice to young actors who might take home Oscar for the first time is basically the same as it would be to any thesps: Focus on the work, and let the rest happen on its own.

“Actually, I think I’m more of a late bloomer,” says Duvall, whose list of credits goes back to 1956, but who gained his first real acclaim as Boo Radley in 1962’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Most of my success has been belated. Now I’m offered parts as good or better than ever before. I figured it might happen that way.”

But Oscar does come with its perks. Spacek says she gets “great seats in restaurants,” and the attention she receives is, for the most part, flattering and enjoyable.

“If people don’t recognize you, they think they went to school with you,” she says with a laugh. “It’s the nicest thing. You meet someone in a grocery store, or the car wash, or pumping gas, and they go, ‘Didn’t we go to school together?’

“I remember walking down the street five or six years after ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ with my 3-year-old. People would walk by and say, ‘Hi Sissy! Hi Sissy!’ My little girl looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy, why does everybody know you?’ That’s a really nice thing, although you have to behave yourself. You can’t make scenes, or you’re really in trouble.”

Bardem says one of the great benefits of winning an Academy Award is joining that very elite circle, and then meeting its members.

“You get to go into a room with people that you truly, deeply admire,” he says. “I’m not used to that at all. I’m used to acting like a teenager. Inwardly, I can’t believe I’m talking to this person who means so much to me. You pretend to be cool.”

And having “Oscar winner” before one’s name has a lifelong effect.

“On my obit it will say, ‘Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek,’?” she says. “It’s like being knighted.”

More from Variety‘s Award Season Talent Preview
Femmes front and center | When Oscar happens | Double edge for pics with Oscar bounty | Red carpet prep

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