Jimmy Kimmel on Hosting the Oscars, Donald Trump Jokes and if Hillary Clinton Will Show Up

jimmy kimmel oscars host
Art Streiber for Variety

Being asked to host the Oscars isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Last December when Jimmy Kimmel was at the airport, coming home from a relaxing family vacation in Hawaii, he took a phone call from his agent with the offer. After he hung up — “my response was not one of enthusiasm,” he confesses — he dreaded facing his wife, TV writer- producer Molly McNearney, who had lived through his hosting the Emmys just three months earlier.

“As I approached her, I felt like I was going to tell her I wrecked her car or something,” Kimmel says. “Then we got home, and I had a vicious migraine all night. It wasn’t your typical celebration.”

This Sunday, Kimmel faces off in front of millions of viewers for the most thankless job in show business. The track record of many past Oscar hosts has been jinxed, with reviews ranging from bad (Neil Patrick Harris in 2015) to worse (Seth MacFarlane in 2013) to scorching (the incredibly awkward duo of James Franco and Anne Hathaway in 2011). In fact, the only masters of ceremonies in the past decade to emerge unscathed from the gig were Hugh Jackman (2009) and Ellen DeGeneres (2014), both of whom turned down offers to return. It’s better to quit, they decided, while you’re ahead.

Art Streiber for Variety

None of this is lost on Kimmel, 49, the amiable host of late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on ABC. “I made a decision to try to enjoy the process and be optimistic,” he says. “That said, my subconscious still tells me it’s going to be a disaster. This is a no-win situation. Even if it goes great, you get a lot of shit from a lot of people.”

Although his Emmy telecast was well reviewed, it was the lowest-rated in TV history, with only 11.3 million viewers tuning in to see the sweep by “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” So why host the Oscars at all? “I don’t know why,” Kimmel says drolly. For starters, his agent didn’t really present it as an offer he could turn down — not that Kimmel would. And it’s not as if he didn’t know an offer might be coming, whether he wanted it or not.

“It’s like a Super Bowl for a comedian,” he says. “I think there are certain things that are major touchstones or milestones” — he reflects for a second — “some kind of stones, maybe gallstones. This is the biggest of them all. I won’t even say I like a challenge. Challenges are overrated. But I feel like I have to do it. There’s a lot of negativity that goes along with it, but it’s a pretty great feather to have in your cap. And it’s something that you can tell your grandchildren about.”

Kimmel is the first Oscar host to take on the job fresh off the Emmys, a twofer that has led to restless nights in which he often dreams about jokes.“Originally, it seemed a bit daunting,” says “Kimmel” co-head writer Danny Ricker. “But it’s kind of nice that we have muscle memory for Jimmy hosting a three-hour awards show.”

Kimmel received a high-profile endorsement early on, when Disney-ABC Television Group president Ben Sherwood publicly stated last September that he hoped the Academy would choose the late-night host. So why did it take almost three months for him to get the job? “The producers of the telecast pick the host,” Sherwood says, adding that ABC (which will air the ceremony through 2028) doesn’t have a say in the process. “I never suggested it officially to anyone.”

Sherwood reveals that Kimmel had been on the Academy’s short list for at least two years. “Not only will he be great hosting the Oscars, we get to spread the cost of his tuxedo over two shows,” Sherwood jokes, referring to the Emmys. “He’s a perfect fit. He’s the king of viral video. He’s got great man-on-the-street instincts. You’re going to see him bring all his talents and comedy to bear on the Oscar stage.”

Oscar producers Michael de Luca and Jennifer Todd didn’t extend their invitation to Kimmel until a few weeks before Christmas, which led to rampant speculation that he wasn’t their first choice. (They say he was.) Kimmel thought he’d been passed over, and his team almost took him out of the running because they got tired of waiting for the offer.

“I assumed there was a long list of people they asked before me,” he says. “I fully interrogated Mike and Jennifer, and they swear it’s not true.” He thinks about it. “If anyone was asked before me, my guess would be Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.” (Todd, who runs Damon and Affleck’s production company Pearl Street Films, says, “That’s hysterical. Those guys would never host an awards show. It’s too much work.”) Finally, Kimmel says, “I would have liked to have a little more heads-up.”

Kimmel will be steering the Oscars at a time when movies are struggling to stay ahead of TV in the water-cooler wars. None of the nine movies nominated for best picture is a major blockbuster — though “Hidden Figures” and “La La Land” both recently crossed $100 million at the U.S. box office. “I would have liked to have seen ‘Deadpool’ get nominated,” Kimmel says of the 20th Century Fox comic-book tentpole that was snubbed in all categories despite getting Golden Globe nominations. “I do think there’s a certain type of movie that’s not considered for awards. It’s a shame, because there’s nothing serious about the movies; they’re an escape.”

Art Streiber for Variety

The ratings for recent Oscar telecasts on ABC have been down, with the boozier Globes taking away some of their thunder. Last year’s Academy Awards show, headlined by Chris Rock, hit an eight-year low, with 34 million viewers. Kimmel has so much to worry about — he says he doesn’t get enough tickets to invite all his friends, although his parents are coming — that he’s not sweating the numbers.

“I think it has very little to do with me,” Kimmel says, acknowledging fractured viewing habits. “I don’t care if the Oscars are up 3%. I don’t care if they’re down.” Other producers have tried to interject hipness into the long telecast (Hello? Presenter Zac Efron?), to little success. This year, an effort to shake up the nominations by recording pre-taped testimonials from past winners like Jennifer Hudson and Marcia Gay Harden was mocked on Twitter as coming across like an infomercial. Kimmel slept through the nominations announcement. “I never get up early to watch anything,” he says. “I always figure it will still be there.”

Unlike hosting recidivists Billy Crystal and Jackman, Kimmel doesn’t sing or dance. But he can make a room explode in laughter. For the Emmys, he enlisted Jeb Bush to play a chauffeur in a pre-recorded bit by personally emailing him and flying to Florida to shoot the scene. “I just pestered him until he had no choice,” Kimmel says. “He said, ‘All right, you maniac, I give up!’” While he won’t reveal how he’ll open the Oscars, he doesn’t rule out a cameo from Hillary Clinton. “Possibly,” he says. “I’m not saying that to be coy. I’m saying that because I don’t know.”

Under President Trump, the Globes and SAG Awards doubled as political rallies, with fiery speeches from winners like Meryl Streep and Mahershala Ali. The political situation at the Oscars is already heating up — after Trump’s Muslim ban, UTA canceled its party, instead donating $250,000 to the ACLU, and Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (foreign language nominee for “The Salesman”) issued a statement that he would not attend the ceremony. But Kimmel doesn’t see it as his job to stir up Hollywood’s liberal outrage. “I don’t think it will be very political,” he says of his monologue. “There will be some element of that to the show. A lot of it depends on what happens.”

Similar to the Emmys, he has enlisted the 14 members of his writing staff to craft his opening number and other jokes. “It’s too early to write political jokes, because the things that are happening today will feel dated,” says McNearney, the “Kimmel” show’s other co-head writer, who watches from backstage, scribbling last-minute zingers on Post-it notes. “If Trump doesn’t want to be on the broadcast, he has to be on his best behavior in the days leading up to it.”

One advantage in Kimmel’s corner is that he’s an avid movie-lover. He lists his appreciation for “La La Land” (even though he doesn’t like musicals), “Moonlight,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “the movie with aliens” (that would be “Arrival”). He watches up to four a week, to prepare for quizzing celebrities on his late-night show.

In the winter, Ryan Gosling taught him how to waltz, a moment that didn’t make his heart swoon like you’d expect. “I’m naturally kind of shy,” Kimmel says. “Even though I’m dancing with another man and you’d think it would be all laughs, there’s something about it that’s just a little weird. I’ve never had a dance lesson before.”

He had Mel Gibson shave his beard on national TV while promoting “Hacksaw Ridge.” And he told Casey Affleck he was staunchly backing him in his awards campaign for “Manchester by the Sea” after learning which other actor almost had the role. “Whatever makes Matt Damon unhappy makes me happy,” Kimmel says about his pretend nemesis. “So yes, I’m still rooting for Casey.” Those personal relationships with celebrities could help him win over the room at the Oscars. “You want the audience to laugh,” Kimmel says. “If you get that, the people at home will as well.”

Kimmel discovered the power of the big screen from a young age. As a kid in Las Vegas who grew up without cable TV, he spent every summer Tuesday at a 25-cent movie theater watching “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Peter Pan” (which he saw three times in a row in a single day). “My cousin Ann would drag a huge purse into the movie theater that was filled with burnt popcorn,” Kimmel remembers. “It would get confiscated about half the time. It was always a bummer when teenage ushers took our food away.”

Kimmel has been cramming for the upcoming show by watching old Oscar telecasts to get into the rhythm, and he defends the honor of his idol David Letterman, who was panned for his disastrous 1995 duties. “I do know why Dave got flack,” he says. “It’s because Dave badmouthed his own performance the next day. If you were a fan of ‘Late Night With David Letterman,’ you enjoyed it.”

The theme of this year’s show, according to the producers, is the evergreen celebration of movies. “When we’re not being earnest, we want to be funny,” De Luca says. There will also be sobbing during the tribute to all the actors who died. It’s been a particularly hard year, with the passing of Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin and others. “One thing I can promise: This is going to be the greatest ‘In Memoriam’ in Oscar history,” Kimmel says. “Kudos to God’s booker, because he or she really scored this year.”

Kimmel recorded a tribute to Mary Tyler Moore for his show in which he threw a knit cap in the air. But many of his younger Twitter followers didn’t get the reference, dissing his hair for looking ruffled. He handles his Twitter account himself, reading all of his own mentions, which could cause pain if there’s criticism for the Oscars. “For a while, people were accusing me of plucking my eyebrows, which I have never done in my life,” Kimmel says. “It starts to make you self-aware.”

Kimmel has spent 14 years on late-night TV, working 70 grueling hours a week as a micromanager who tinkers with everything from his promos to his opening monologue, which he rewrites every afternoon. “I said to my wife the other day, ‘I did not get into comedy to look at Excel spreadsheets.”

The landscape has changed dramatically since he started, with Stephen Colbert duking it out with Jimmy Fallon for the top spot, leaving Kimmel in perpetual third place. He has thought about retiring his show after his contract is up in 2019. “I want to go out on my own terms,” Kimmel says. “If we ever feel like we’re repeating ourselves, I think it’s a good indication that it’s time.”

What would he do with his free days? He’s got some ideas. “I like to draw. I like to make sculptures. I’d like to write a book at some point. Doing the show every day doesn’t leave time for that.”

And he laughs when asked if he’d consider more Oscars hosting. “I’m just going to focus on the one and see how it goes,” he says. “It’s funny, because part of the reason I was asked to do this is because the Emmys went well. If I do really well, I’m just going to have to do it again.”

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  1. ovstevlockweb says:

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  2. ralph bridges says:

    i am so sick of president trump bashing..honestly, grow up and support our country. we look like idiots.

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  4. Agonizing Reappraisal says:

    All of us should really fight back and get these mouthy celebrities right where it hurts – their money. I myself have been boycotting Hollywood for years. I don’t have cable or satellite, I haven’t been to a Hollywood movie since they brought out The Exorcist with the added footage. I’ve been to foreign films on the big screen along with older movies like The Maltese Falcon, The Wild One along with other similar older films. Boycotting a new movie is very damaging to everyone involved. From the actors, directors, producers and even the studios. If you were to buy a 1950’s DVD in the $5.00 bargain bin at Wal-Mart, actors don’t benefit from that along with directors. Only those entities that own the ancillary rights to the film.

    It’s important to remember that most celebrities spend their money as fast as they make it. Even if one of them like Streep or De Niro were to quit today, they would find it difficult to change their style of living.

  5. Ajadhi says:

    “after Trump’s Muslim ban”…IT’S NOT A MUSLIM BAN! Who are you CNN??

  6. USAFmedicVET says:

    Acting is the only profession where you can show up for work blind drunk, or coked out of your gourd, or both and STILL make $10 Million and get awards and adoration and praise! Unfortunately, many don’t live long enough to appreciate it! But WE are the stupid slobs who elected Trump and work a job, and mind our kids, and think long and hard before we slap down $15 for a lousy movie made by drunken dope head!

  7. USAFmedicVET says:

    I love it when they talk about the ‘courage’ an actor had in his portrayal of a gay character or today’s buzzword a ‘Transgender’, which he was paid $10Million! It probably takes MORE COURAGE to actually BE gay or Transgender.
    It takes real courage to make sacrifices in service for your Community or your Country! But they don’t have awards shows for that and nobody get paid

  8. RC says:

    It is fascinating to watch Tinseltown’s and the Oscar’s descent into irrelevance, just as it is to see how many actors and actresses miss the point that airing their beliefs alienates more people than it influences.

  9. Mojo Mofo says:

    The Oscar’s are a pathetic parade of mentally ill liberals celebrating themselves for “acting”. The entire concept is a joke and on top of that we need to watch them vomit their nonsensical and anti-American citizen bile? No thanks.

  10. redruffansore says:

    Oh Kimmy, if you swallow the DNC beef dirigible and then regurgitate the talking points, it doesn’t matter if you set the curtains on fire and killed everyone in there, the mission was the message and you were the tool. Now back to the tool box, there is more for you to do.

  11. Randolph says:

    I think Hillary will only make an appearance if she wins the Oscar for “Criminal, War Monger owned by the Bankers who does the best impersonation of a Caring, Independent Feminist,”. LOL

  12. John Steel says:

    Too much patting on the back for actors. Seems like there is an award show every week. It would be better not televised.

  13. billrow says:

    Oh great…another Trump bashing fest…if I want to see that I can watch CNN

  14. What is the point in watching? All it will be is, “Me, me, me, me, I hate Trump, me, me, me, me…I hate Trump supporters…me, me, me.me. If you were cool you’d be watching..me, me, me,…” Yawn.

  15. James Ridge says:

    I’ve lived and worked in Hollywood for 25 years; have produced no shortage of content for these self-congratulatory narcissism-fests. The public only sees a couple of them, but they are constantly throwing themselves “breakfasts” and “presentations” where they sit around ogling profit graphs and infographics about how amazing they are. And there’s nobody in town with a reality check; that’s your job, America. Do it!

  16. Award shows have become less moneymakers more spectacle entertainment akin to violent, roadside car accidents.

    WHO DID THEM IN ?

    ANSWER: THEY KILLED IT THEM FOR THEMSELVES.

  17. Hillary will fit right in with all the self-deluding bad actors. Like Obama she must slink to Hollywood for her adulation fixes after being toppled from her paper mache pedestal. Hollywood is the safe space for
    alt-left radical chic NWO failures.

  18. John Collins says:

    I would rather run into oncoming traffic than watch the Oscars.

  19. Egc Clark says:

    I won’t be watching either nor my friends. Hollywood= establishment. They’re totally entrenched. Don’t want to hear the lecturing hypocrites. They all back the globalist agenda of the Borg. barf city. Real individualists don’t care what they say.

  20. Jim says:

    It is an absolute OUTRAGE that these people make the money they make and they somehow feel they have the moral high ground when it comes to answering the plight of those in need. These people are disgusting in ever way possible. SHAME on the morons who put these imbeciles on their pedestals. I will not be watching their asinine awards show.

  21. Brian says:

    My advice to Kimmel: “Keep it moving”.

  22. Navy Veteran says:

    I really don’t care about Oscars. You have a bunch of wealthy clowns who live in their gated homes, attempting to perform Kabuki. These people have lived in their isolated world for so long, they are out of touch with real America.

    Oscars are just cake frosting applied on a pile of crap. Its still crap, not fit for consumption. Hollywood hasn’t developed quality original work in decades, many are remakes of remakes, so sad. Only innovation has been in special effects, I would suggest moving these type of award categories to the prime-time hour and have the clown category taped and edited for inclusion with commercial breaks.

  23. Randy says:

    Liberals and Hollywood ilk are out of touch with the American people. I won’t be watching. In fact today is a big day for me finally cutting the cord and getting rid of DIRECTV . No mo e money for channels that are liberal and anti Trump and conservative.

  24. Dave says:

    Maybe Hillary can open another jar of pickles.

  25. Millionaires congratulating millionaires for being good at being fake and pretending to be something they are not. No wonder they support left wingers.

  26. Al Sharpton says:

    Or…maybe millions of people really don’t give a goat turd and won’t be watching these Limousine Liberals and Deplorable haters congratulate themselves.

  27. JR says:

    Was watching a clip from the 1970 telecast; the Viet Nam war was on, John Wayne wins best actor for TRUE GRIT. Wayne, a conservative in liberal Hollywood, is handed his Oscar by Barbra Streisand. No political message in the presentation or the receiving; politics put aside to celebrate the movies. Bob Hope managed a monologue without mentioning Nixon – not terribly popular in Hollywood. Point is, with Hollywood re-making old classics, I wish they could learn from the old award shows. There is a place for movies, and a place for political speeches; the two don’t mix.

    • Navy Veteran says:

      Your talking old Hollywood, those of the “Golden Era”. In an era majority of actors and executives grew up during the great depression and fought in WWII and Korea. If they couldn’t serve they spearheaded efforts on the home front. Big difference from today’s lot, as close as these clowns come in harms way is prancing around in spandex and plastic armor portraying comic book figures.

  28. depressionbaby says:

    So a “Comedian” needs 14 writers? I thought a Comedian was really a Comedian instead of somebody who could make other people’s scripts sound funny.

  29. Don Smith says:

    Ahhhh Jimmy, you can’t save the Oscars. With mediocre films to review and award even the most stalwart of followers are tuning out. And folks like me who can’t stand the grandstanding, insults and back slapping never tune it in. NEVER. We can’t stand Hollywood and this event is all about Hollywood. You’re a sometimes funny guy but save your brand. Get out there.

  30. ShawnM says:

    No thanks. Need to clean up the basement.

  31. Lois Blake says:

    TRUMP didn’t enact a Muslim ban.
    Get your facts straight Variety.

    • Erasmo Flores says:

      On MSNBC this morning. On Wednesday’s broadcast of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-host Mika Brzezinski stated President Trump “could have undermined the messaging so much that he can actually control exactly what people think. And that is our job.” They have no reason to use facts. It is their job to control what we think…….

  32. Byron V. says:

    Will not be watching. Tired of the Trump bashing by pampered rich people being stylish. Bashing Trump takes no courage in Hollywood.

  33. Rod Strong says:

    Please don’t click over to the Oscars even if it’s for a second, it will still count as a view. Watch some of the pre Oscar show if you need a little fix but watch something else during that time period. Have an Andy Griffith Show marathon or watch an old 1970’s movie of the week but just don’t watch the Oscars. There are so many quality shows and movies that were made before 1990 to keep you entertained and never have to watch anything new coming out of Hollywood.

  34. Only good thing about the Oscars is that it’s just once a year.

  35. dlmstl says:

    Leno kept the late night flame flickering after Carson, but now it’s totally gone. Thought Letterman would be OK, even after he lost the Tonight Show, until he allowed his dark, snarky side to dominate everything. He never fully recovered losing the Carson gig. Granted, these host positions are thankless tasks with more down side than up. None the less, Kimmel is just another of the cookie cutter, pop culture gaggle of Sillywood wanna be’s. Sadly, outside of Disney’s animated movies, the era of ‘must see’ films is fading fast.

  36. Kent Lemon says:

    I believe I am going to pass on the “Trump-Bashing Lib Virtue Signaling Back-Slapping Show”

  37. Jack Armstrong says:

    I can hardly wait for the Oscars. This will give me chance to boycott many liberal Hollywood actors at same time. Normally – I have to boycott maybe one or two at a time – per each film.
    This will be a real bonanza.

  38. John Michael says:

    Kimmel is 3rd to Fallon and Colbert???? Could you imagine what a disaster the Oscars would be if one of those other 2 were host?

  39. Gabriel says:

    Remake after remake, soft immoral porn and special effects ad nauseum. The left’s perversions, Chinese influence and lack of new ideas have reduced Hollywood to a mere shadow of its former grand self.

  40. zbacku says:

    I won’t be watching, so whatever Kimmel does makes no difference. I stopped watching these Hypocritical Elites after 1983. And I don’t care one bit what these morons think. They are all a non entity to me. They care nothing about the real world. Heck, they life in such delusion that reality is just a dream.

  41. mustcrochet says:

    Won’t be watching. Haven’t for years. The Oscars are now a political platform and have nothing to do with honoring movie making. Best movies I’ve seen this year were “Arrival” and “Hacksaw Ridge”. I enjoyed “La La Land” but it wasn’t best picture material. Emma Stone was amazing, but it is a crime that Amy Adams wasn’t nominated. She WAS “Arrival” and it was her best performance to date. She deserved a nomination and Meryl Streep did not. Andrew Garfield deserves the best actor nod, but since “Hacksaw Ridge” was done by Mel Gibson and has religious overtones, he won’t get it. We all know how Hollywood feels about God.

    People used to watch the Oscars to be surprised by who won, to see the musical numbers, to see the amazing dresses women would wear, and to watch the reactions to the winners. Now all people will get Sunday night is ANOTHER tirade against Trump, which is getting so old and worn out. We get it. Hollywood hates Trump. MOVE ON. We don’t care what Hollywood thinks. Why anyone would think that people who dress up and pretend for a living have anything worthwhile to say regarding politics? WE DON’T CARE. The public spends their hard earned money to be entertained, not brow beaten. So Hollywood – shut up and act and keep your opinions to yourself.

  42. S. Stegg says:

    Jimmy, tell your people (actors, directors, etc.) to shut up about politics and accept their awards graciously. Tell them to THANK the people who helped them get to where they are and you will be a success. Allowing these petulant, narcissistic egomaniacs a platform to spout pre-programmed and spoon-fed, hateful and irresponsible (not to mention untrue) speeches will doom you and your “show”. People just DON’T WANT TO HEAR WHAT ANY OF YOU BOZOS THINK (if that is what you call it) ANYMORE.

    Personally, I won’t be watching. I doubt your “show” will be on much longer. You have all grown too big for your diapers. We don’t like your choices for winner (and whiners). We prefer to see winning based upon quality and not diversity. We want to be entertained, NOT preached to.

    Figure this out or go the way of the dinosaur. Just look at what is happening to ESPN if you don’t believe me. I read where they are losing 10,000 viewers a day. And so it goes.

  43. Joe Walsh says:

    The Oscars are nothing more than an industry award. Why should anyone care anymore than caring about the American Pipe Fitters awards? Celebrities are a blight on society and should be ignored. But where would Variety and People be without this obsession?

  44. Jody Rhode says:

    We do not watch this kind of c__p~

  45. GC says:

    The very reason Trump won. The majority of Americans are tired of hollywood, ex. movies that normally should bring in tons of money are now tanking at the BO. “Big” stars are finding themselves diving towards “B” status in popularity and money.

    We (millions of Americans) are tired of Hollywood sh*t. And by HW sh*t I mean their political crap. We don’t care what they do in their private, sick lives but when they come out and blast half of their public, I say screw ’em. I have been a movie buff for decades but find myself being extremely picky as to who I see and what I see. I, along with others have written off several actors completely and believe me, we know what projects they are producing as well.

    Good luck traditional hollywood, you’re on your way down.

  46. Kummin says:

    I’ve never watched. It’s so stupid and unpredictable I get embarrassed just watching. Lowest common denominator junk.

  47. Tony says:

    With all of the political rants of the other award shows recently, I’m definitely not watching this year. For me, and most, movies are entertainment and an escape; performance numbers at the box office have always dictated that.
    The average Jane doesn’t care what people like Streep think, they only care if she does a good job pretending to be Julia Childs, or another character, and speak words a writer puts into her mouth, and all of the other backstage artists that make it all happen.

  48. free2313 says:

    He truly should not worry, firstly, millions of people will not be watching the Oscars.

    Secondly there isn’t one decent movie worthy of even being elected.

    And lastly, the public is fatigue of watching overpaid actors et al., who are over paid throw themselves another award show.

  49. EticketsX says:

    David Letterman’s hosting gig was perfectly up to standards. He took a little gruff for the Uma/Oprah thing but that was funny. Seth McFarland was a good host as well.

  50. Claire Greenleaf says:

    It’s not the host. It’s the movies being nominated. No one is rooting for them, because no one cares. Add that to the anti-Hollywood sentiment sweeping across the nation, and you gt low ratings. Case in point: Johnny Depp made Disney billions and created a character in Jack Sparrow so unique that no one will forget, yet he lost to Sean Penn for some movie I can’t even name.

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