How Oscar Chats Can Change the Race

Though it’s a month after the Oscar nominees were announced, those who made the short list are still making the rounds.

Daniel Day-Lewis, nominated for his role as the 16th president of the United States in “Lincoln,” was recently at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, where he participated in a nearly two-hour Q&A and accepted an award.

Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro, both nominated for their performances in “Silver Linings Playbook,” appeared the same night on opposing latenight talkshows — Cooper sat with David Letterman, De Niro chatted with Jay Leno. And the normally reticent De Niro participated in a Q&A last week at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica on the same day his hands and feet were encased in cement before the Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

Which opportunities nominees partake in is carefully considered by the actor’s studio and PR teams. Schedules also play a factor, as some nominees may already at work on their next projects.

While they all want to win the industry’s biggest prize, they don’t want to appear as though they’re chasing it, says Kristopher Tapley, editor-at-large at Hitfix.com. “It’s a delicate balancing act.”

To be sure, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has its rules.

“It is the Academy’s goal to ensure that the awards competition is conducted in a fair and ethical manner,” it states on the org’s website, where it lists regulations for several forms of lobbying including screenings, social media and personal appearances.

Face time can and does make a difference, especially in races that are perceived to be close (the Academy doesn’t release final vote tallies), says Darryl Macdonald, director of the Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival.

“When you boil it down, it’s a race for numbers, and every extra vote you can pick up in the race for an Oscar — no matter what category you’re in — is an added bonus,” he says.

The Palm Springs fest’s awards gala, which draws 2,000 guests and includes many Academy members who live or vacation in the area, is regularly an important stop in the season’s meet and greet derby. Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Helen Hunt, Naomi Watts and “Les Miserables” director Tom Hooper were among those who were in the desert oasis for the festival’s 24th edition in January.

As was Sally Field, a lifetime achievement honoree who charmed the audience with stories about her experiences as an actress, from TV’s “Gidget” in the 1960s to “Lincoln,” the film for which she is nommed now.

“Look at the coverage that she received for her remarks: across the country, in the trades and mainstream newspapers. That can’t help but enhance her chances beyond simply getting the nomination,” Macdonald says.

On the red carpet at Palm Springs and at several locales since, Diana Madison, host and exec producer of the nationally syndicated entertainment news show “Hollyscoop,” has interviewed many of the same celebs at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and other events.

“Some of them tell me that they’re uncomfortable, and that it’s the least favorite part of their jobs, while others have mastered it and have fun with it. They know how to use it to their advantage,” she says, adding that when filmmakers such as George Clooney stop to talk passionately about their work, it helps “generate more positive buzz for them and their film.”

While positive notice may help nominees gain awards season traction, a look at Oscar history from the past decade also makes a strong argument for keeping a low profile.

In 2003, Martin Scorsese (“Gangs of New York”) and Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) were among the nominees for director, with Scorsese widely regarded as the front-runner. Both were ubiquitous in the weeks leading up to the ceremony, yet it was Roman Polanski, living as an expatriate in Paris since the 1970s, who won for “The Pianist.”

Two years later, Scorsese was in the running again, this time for directing the celebrated Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator,” which received a leading 11 nominations. But it was Clint Eastwood (“Million Dollar Baby”) who took home the prize.

Scorsese received his seventh Oscar nomination for 2007’s “The Departed” when he kept a much lower profile, and won.

In 2010, Mo’Nique didn’t want to upend her schedule after receiving a supporting actress nomination for “Precious,” so she largely avoided the awards circuit. Besides, she already was busy, taping a daily talkshow in Atlanta for BET and raising three kids, including twins who at the time were 4 years old.

“Her kind of non-campaign became the campaign,” Tapley recalls. “To her credit, she consistently said the work was going to speak for itself, and that narrative became something that the Academy (members) could respect because they like to think they feel that way — that the work speaks for itself.”

What appears to work for one nominee may not for another, says veteran Oscar campaign consultant Tony Angellotti.

“Every campaign is, without question, entirely contingent upon and tied to the personality of the person involved,” he says. “There’s no way you can blueprint a campaign in the acting categories. You have to be able to dodge and weave — the times, the circumstances and what’s going on in the zeitgeist all weigh in at the end of the day.”

But there is one notable constant that’s true of every successful Oscar pursuit.

“It starts with great work,” says David Strasberg, creative director-CEO of the Lee Strasberg Theater & Film Institute. “That’s the part that you have to have to begin with, and then everything else is possible from there.”

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