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On the double-bubble

Thesps with multiple roles face tough choices

NEW YORK — Miramax has altered its campaign plans to avoid a battle of dueling Patricia Clarksons.

The thesp will be pushed for best actress — not in the supporting stakes as was originally planned — in Miramax’s “The Station Agent” and as supporting actress for United Artists’ “Pieces of April.”

The respective distribs and Clarkson’s reps worried that two bids might cancel each other if she were touted as supporting actress in both ensemble pieces.

The dilemma of where to position Clarkson in the awards races is one of several conflicts this year and the latest episode in the perpetual debate surrounding the candidacy of actors with multiple roles.

Focus Features will push Scarlett Johansson in the supporting actress race for “Lost in Translation” despite her having virtually equal screen time with Bill Murray, who is running on a best actor ticket. Lions Gate is angling for best actress recognition for Johansson in “Girl With a Pearl Earring.”

“Clearly she’s always going to be the lead in ‘Pearl Earring,’ given that she’s the title character,” said Focus Features president of marketing David Brooks. “But we wanted to give her the chance to be recognized for our movie, too, because we think she’s amazing in it.”

However, despite the certainty of being honored for only one film, Sean Penn has agreed to compete against himself in the actor stakes for Warner’s “Mystic River” and Focus’ “21 Grams,” both indisputably leading roles.

“There was a lot of discussion on that one, as there is in any category, and those discussions were in concert with Sean Penn’s people,” Brooks said. “But given that his character opens and closes ’21 Grams’ and is such a key figure, it only made sense to put him in the lead category. You let the chips fall where they will.”

In the early days of Oscars, there were a few cases of an actor and actress scoring two nominations in one category (George Arliss, Norma Shearer). Since then, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has since introduced a rule stipulating that no thesp can be nominated twice in any of the four acting categories (lead and supporting actor and actress) in one year.

Double noms are allowed in other categories, including writer, composer and director. For example, Steven Soderbergh competed against himself in the helming category for two films from 2001, “Erin Brockovich” and “Traffic,” and won for the latter.

The Academy leaves the choice of actors and categories up to the distributors, producers and thesps. But ultimately, the final decision rests with Oscar voters — a choice implicit in the line “for your consideration.”

In the case of “The Station Agent,” Clarkson is onscreen for roughly one-third of the running time, so Miramax agreed to push for best actress consideration.

“Patricia is fully committed to supporting both of these films, so this move seemed to make the most sense for everybody involved,” said senior Miramax publicity exec Cynthia Swartz. “While our initial inclination was for her to be considered in the supporting category, after discussing it with her, we agreed to include her as best actress.”

“Every year presents these dilemmas,” United Artists president Bingham Ray said. “It’s rare and refreshing that at the heart of this matter is the concern, commitment and passion of both companies for working with talented people.”

Miramax also faced decisions this year about Nicole Kidman, for whom the company is mounting a best actress campaign for “Cold Mountain” and supporting actress for “The Human Stain.” Two years ago, Kidman was under consideration as best actress for two films, “Moulin Rouge” and “The Others,” scoring an Oscar nom for the Baz Luhrmann musical.

Last year, to avoid competing with her leading role in “Far From Heaven,” Julianne Moore was positioned for supporting actress for “The Hours” despite having more screen time than Kidman, who was positioned for lead actress in the same film (and won). Moore received noms for both pics.

And for “Chicago,” Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated for a Golden Globe as leading actress but as a supporting thesp in the Oscar race, which she eventually won.

Talent handlers are often nervous about votes being diluted by multiple candidacy. But nine actors have scored two Oscar noms in one year by earning lead and supporting noms.

Fay Bainter was first to appear twice in the nominations in 1938 with “White Banners” and “Jezebel,” followed by Teresa Wright in 1942 (“Pride of the Yankees” and “Mrs. Miniver”), Jessica Lange in 1982 (“Frances” and “Tootsie”), Sigourney Weaver in 1988 (“Gorillas in the Mist” and “Working Girl”), Al Pacino in 1992 (“Scent of a Woman” and “Glengarry Glen Ross”), Holly Hunter in 1993 (“The Piano” and “The Firm”), Emma Thompson in 1993 (“The Remains of the Day” and “In the Name of the Father”) and Moore last year.

In most cases, the two noms generated one win. Only Weaver, Thompson and Moore went home empty-handed.

The most unusual double nominee is Barry Fitzgerald, who was nominated for both lead and supporting actor in 1944 for “Going My Way,” winning in the latter category. Academy regulations were subsequently changed to prohibit consideration of the same performance in both races.

(Timothy M. Gray in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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