When best actress nominee Sandra Bullock was trying to figure out which way to go with Leigh Anne Tuohy, the real-life person she portrays in “The Blind Side,” she knew she couldn’t just come up with a simple imitation of the Southern matriarch.
“I met her for eight hours and then went on my journey from there because you really can’t make up your own version,” Bullock said. “Same goes for comedy: I wouldn’t want to just play me. I needed to find my way with this movie because if I played her 100% it would be the Leigh Anne Tuohy movie, so I had to pull back 20% or so to let the other people in.”
Popular on Variety
After going through the film festival circuit and her film’s release and now rounding out the home stretch of awards season, “The Hurt Locker” helmer Kathryn Bigelow says the last year and half has been more of a fun ride than an exhausting endurance race.
“It really is a complete exhilaration seeing this through from where it started,” she said Tuesday morning following the pic’s nine nominations, including picture, director and lead actor. “The feedback has been really gratifying because we set out to attempt to put a magnifying glass on a situation and I really feel we have been able to do that with the overall result.”
Nominated in the lead actress race for her role as Sofya Tolstoy in “The Last Station,” Helen Mirren said that jumping into a character that was outside of her comfort zone was one of the main reasons she took on the role in the first place.
“I think it was partly incredible because unlike the role I played in “The Queen,” who was a person who was very emotionally discpline and in control at all times, Soyfa was the complete opposite, an emotional volcano to say the least, and I think the audience enjoys that.” the thesp said. “I absolutely love jumping into a role that is outside the box, and it was a gift that a role like this was able to come along because the reality those sorts of roles don’t come along all the time but they are the sort of characters that work.”
Morgan Freeman issued a statement thanking the Academy and the “Invictus” team and congratulating Matt Damon, nominated in the supporting actor category. “Most importantly,” Freeman added, “thank you to Nelson Mandela for his encouragement, his blessing and his friendship — without which this film would not have been possible.”
Maggie Gyllenhaal is quick to admit she had reservations working with first-time director Scott Cooper on “Crazy Heart,” but the helmer quickly showed her that he was more than up to the task.
“The first week on set I was too scared to trust Scott, but there came a point where there was a massive amount of support coming from him and that’s what I want from a director,” she said. “Also, some first-time directors get so scared that they decide how the scenes should play beforehand and how you should respond. That could be the death of a film but Scott never did that to us.”
“Precious” helmer Lee Danielswatched the Oscar nominations announcements in bed and was still supine when he called Daily Variety.
“I feel like a stuffed pig, I can’t get out of bed,” said Daniels. “I’m just stuffed with joy. I really can’t move.”
The director said he actually didn’t think he’d be nommed.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to miss my buddies.’ Jason Reitman called me last night to ask if I could sleep. We’ve become such good buddies.”
Daniels’ first call post-announcement? A thank-you to Oprah Winfrey.
“When the DGA nom came she called me crying and I couldn’t talk to her, I was running out the door to some press thing,” said Daniels. “So I called her this time.”
Helmer Jason Reitman was on his way to an impromptu celebration at Disneyland with his family when he spoke to Daily Variety. Nommed for “Up in the Air,” he said that, as usual on nominations morning, the first person he spoke to was his father, Ivan Reitman.
“On ‘Thank You for Smoking’ he called to console me. On ‘Juno’ he called in tears with such pride. This time I had the overwhelming joy of sharing this with him. We’re going to go to the Oscars together as co-nominees.
“I can’t sum up what it’s like to be my father’s son and then share this with him. To think of the 32 years of lessons he’s given me and how he’s always brought the best out of me as a human being and a director.”
Though she’s eagerly looking for the next opportunity that arises, “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe, nommed in the actress category, said she won’t forget this award-season experience or the character that got her there.
“I have had a lot fun and I don’t think I have paid for a dinner in 90 days.” the thesp said. “I’m looking forward to moving on to next challenge but Precious is certainly a character I don’t want to kill off because I think she is someone that exists without me because she exists in everyone.”
Even after every guild and critics award “The Hurt Locker” has received, including Tuesday’s Oscar nom for his own work in the lead actor category, Jeremy Renner said he still has a hard time believing the journey he’s been on for the past few months.
“We could never have predicted what has come with this film,” said Renner, “But what I did know is that I had the role of a lifetime and the film was genius and fresh. It didn’t feel like an Iraq War film, and maybe that’s what separated us from other Iraq War films. To hear that we had nine nominations was absolutely jaw-dropping.”
Even with his first Oscar nomination after many decades of acting, “The Last Station” star Christopher Plummer said the real honor is having the opportunity to play such parts with fellow stage actors like Helen Mirren.
“I never go into a role thinking about the awards that go with it,” Plummer said. “I love the idea of the work, the research and getting into the part. … This seemed to be the first true role about Tolstoy and I love doing it and when I get into these roles I always try to make it as different as possible.
“I think with the next film I’ll do something without a beard or European accent, though.”
Actress nominee Carey Mulligan was awake before dawn in L.A.”I was wide awake in the place I’m staying on my own. I was watching on the telly. I didn’t go to bed until 3.”
By 8 a.m., she was well into doing media interviews, between sips of champagne.
“I guess I’ll see friends and hang out,” she said of the day’s agenda. “I didn’t have a plan because it was too unlikely.”
Mulligan says during production of “An Education” she never imagined the pic would get this kind of recognition.
“We didn’t even know if it would get sold,” she said. “For this to happen never crossed my mind for a minute, not even when we were taking it to Sundance.
While she has won a few awards already for “An Education,” “(The Oscar nom) feels like a completely different thing. It’s surreal. It all seems like complete fantasy.”
Vera Farmiga’s mom was more nervous than the supporting actress nominee just before Tuesday morning’s announcements were made.
“She was panicking because she was watching E! and it was :33 and :34 after the hour, and they weren’t switching over,” the actress said. But once her name was called, the whole morning became sort of surreal.
“I’m pretty sober about this whole thing. I loathe announcements where you’re waiting for your name to be called, but now it’s nice that we (the cast of ‘Up in the Air’) can hold hands through all of this. And it’s pretty great to hold George Clooney’s hand.”
“Up” helmer Pete Docter felt a sense of relief that, finally, a Pixar film made the cut for Oscar’s best picture category. Its nomination Tuesday marks the first time an animated film has been on the best pic list since “Beauty and the Beast” (1991).
“It’s pretty groundbreaking and we work so hard on the story,” said Docter, who also received an original screenplay nom. “It reflects the way we look at these films — not as animated or kid films but films. They have the same responsibility or expectation of any other film.”
Even though studio co-topper Michael Barker was ecstatic that Sony Pictures Classics recorded three foreign-language film noms for the first time — for “The White Ribbon,” “A Prophet” and “El secreto de sus ojos,” — and 13 noms overall, the news of Christopher Plummer’s nomination may have been the most rewarding. The 80-year-old actor received his first-ever nod for “The Last Station,” along with co-star Helen Mirren.
“To be a part of that is so wonderful. He’s finally getting what he’s long deserved,” Barker said. “It’s a real high for us.”
When dealing with a small budget, scribe Nick Hornby, nominated for his adapted screenplay of “An Education,” said the core elements — acting, directing and writing — really prove essential.
“I do know that if you are making a film with a budget that is way under $20 million the writing and acting becomes more essential” Hornby says. “I think that is why one of the most interesting thing working with Lone (Scherfig) was she had that outsider eye and really helped the actors and myself capture something with what we were given.”
Composer Michael Giacchino, nominated for his score to “Up,” says this year’s nominations show that the proof of talent is in the storytelling, regardless of genre.
“Animation is just another form of storytelling, it’s not just for kids or just for adults,” he said. “It’s kind of like we have broken out of the kids’ table at thanksgiving dinner and now can sit at the table for adults now.”
“Ajami” co-director/co-writer Yaron Shani was on a long-planned vacation in northern Israel with his wife and 1-year-old baby when he learned of his pic’s nomination in the foreign-language race.
“I forgot about the Oscar nominations,” he admitted. “I said don’t cancel (the vacation) because this is something that we need to relax.”
He’d shut off his cell phone when his wife reminded him the nominations were due, then was deluged with congratulations.
“I opened the cell phone and it was exploding with text messages and the whole world is calling me,” he said.
Shani said it was “amazing” to see the reactions of his wife and the other people around him. “The American Oscar for people is the highest fantasy you can imagine.”
Geoffrey Fletcher, nominated in the adapted screenplay category for “Precious,” was watching the announcement on the Internet from his Manhattan apartment.
“When my name was announced, I just looked at the shapes of the letters, and thought to myself, ‘Wow, that’s me,’ ” said Fletcher. “It was like the feeling when you stub your toe and you’re waiting for the sensation to come, but in this case it was a more joyous feeling than pain.”
Fletcher choked up talking about the call he got from his mother.
“I don’t remember what she said, but she was so happy. All that she and my father and my brothers (did for me), I’m so glad to do something to make them proud. I wish my father could have seen it, too.”
He said he had planned his day with “a list of things that ranged from writing to laundry, but I really don’t know what I’ll do.”
“Star Trek” visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, nommed for the second time (his first was for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”), said of his pre-nomination prep, “I was wondering whether I should set the alarm and wake myself or just sleep through it. But my system is sooner or later somebody texts you. My friend in England texted me — he’d been watching the BBC.”
Guyett praised his f/x colleagues and said that any of the seven movies in the vfx bakeoff were worthy of a nomination.
“My heart goes out to everybody who didn’t get nominated, but I’m very elated,” Guyett said Tuesday morning. “I put a lot of love into that movie.”
Christopher Boyes, who received both his 12th and 13th nominations for sound mixing and sound editing on “Avatar,” deemed the tally “lucky 13.”
The four-time winner said getting this noms news never gets old.
“You pour your heart out into these films, and to see people recognize the work you’ve done is the greatest gift you could have in your career,” said Boyes. “I have a huge smile on my face right now.”
Boyes, who was out for a walk, said, “My first call will be to my fellow nominees and my crew. This project is 100% about the crew who supported me for the last three years. It’s a testament to them and my fellow mixers.”
The initial thoughts that came to Mark Boal, nominated in the original screeplay category for “The Hurt Locker,” following his nom was appreciation for director Kathryn Bigelow and producer Nicolas Chartier in allowing his words to make it to the bigscreen.
“I’m just so grateful that Kathryn believed in it and Nicolas put money into it,” Boal said. “I know how difficult it can be for a writer to find financing and a director. I’m filled with gratitude. If it hadn’t been for them, the script would still be in my back pocket. And with the film doing well on DVD, the writer might even see some money. Now that’s a rare event.”
“In the Loop” writer Armando Iannucci — nominated in the adapted screenplay category with his co-scribes Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche — kept himself busy all day “in a very wet, dark London” to avoid obsessing over the announcements Tuesday. He was at lunch a group of friends including thesp Steve Coogan, who has a cameo in “In the Loop,” when one of the pic’s producers rang with the news he’d been nommed. “Then I ran out into the rain to get a good signal,” Iannucci said.
“This is so much fun and just a perfect end to what has been a very enjoyable process,” he added. “For me, for my first film to get this kind of recognition is just unbelievable. It’s exciting and I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Andrew Kosove, producer of “The Blind Side” along with Broderick Johnson, said he’s not into the kudos jockeying but admitted that couldn’t stop watching the nominations announcements repeatedly on Tuesday morning.
“My wife made me get up and then I watched on my DVR and kept backing it up and asking myself, ‘Did they really say that?’ ”
As for the film’s critical and box office success, Kosove added: “The truth is it’s a unique movie in its simplicity. It’s the oldest story in the world, about a good Samaritan, and it makes people feel good and feel something about what’s possible.”
“Coraline” helmer Henry Selick, whose pic was nominated for top animated film, roused himself before dawn to watch the announcement from a motel in Berkeley, Calif.
“It feels pretty wonderful. Something new,” he said of his first-ever nom.
Selick said he’d been doubtful as to whether “Coraline” would be nommed. “I was mainly greatly relieved. I think I’ve been holding my breath for at least two weeks.”
Of the field of animated features, which also included “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “The Secret of the Kells” and “Up,” the director said, “I love the range of the types of stories, the looks and the techniques. Four handmade films — two stop-motion, two hand-drawn — and one good old-fashioned CG.”
Regardless of how evil the character of Hans Landa is in “Inglourious Basterds,” Christoph Waltz, nommed in the supporting actor race, said he couldn’t remember when he had so much fun playing a part.
“It was more fun than it looks. The fun and fulfillment went into every fiber of that character and I had my best time of my actor’s life,” Waltz said Tuesday. “A lot of that came from feeding off of Quentin. Quentin in terms of cinema and film is an enlightened being, and I have never been around someone who is that inspiring. A lot of my performance came from his guidance.”
For director Louie Psihoyos, the most important aspect of receiving a doc nom for “The Cove” is that the film will have a wider audience, and those who watch the Oscars on March 7 will have a greater awareness regarding the slaughter of dolphins in Japan.
“I didn’t get into filmmaking to win awards, but to save the oceans,” Psihoyos said Tuesday morning. “The reason this nomination is so important is, from what I understand, the Academy Awards is the most watched show on Japanese television. … I wanted to create a legion of activists with this film, and the best parts of my days are responding to kids who want to help. I’m using the film as a teaching tool.”
“We were trying to bring hand-drawn animation back with this film,” said writer-director John Musker, who, along with Ron Clements, saw “The Princess and the Frog” receive a nom for top animated pic. “It’s great to see it validated and have a place both artistically and comercially. It’s the kind of trade were were taught by the nine old men at Disney. … The challenge in front of us is to convince the people who sign the checks and convince those going to theaters that hand-drawn still has a place in film, and we’ll do our utmost to keep it up.”
Added Clements: “There’s a legacy to hand-drawn films and it’s about using different paintbrushes. There are still lots of different ways to make animated movies.”
“An Education” producers Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey were watching NBC’s feed of the nominations on the Internet from their office in London when they were announced. “We were leaping up and down,” said Posey, who then had to call her husband, scripter Nick Hornby, who was too nervous to watch. She broke the news he’d been nommed, too (for adapted screenplay).”He just whooped,” she said. “I’m afraid he was already getting texts from his agent and Carey (Mulligan, nommed for lead actress in the film). He was barely listening to me. I think he decided to go pick up the kids from school as a way to decompress.”
Dwyer called the nom “one of the best feelings in the world.”
“It wasn’t an easy sell,” said Dwyer, “but we thought it was a universal story and the entire journey has been fantastic. Getting an Academy Award nomination is the ultimate.”
With all the admiration Jeff Bridges has received for his perf, “Crazy Heart” songwriters and fellow nominees T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham said they were surprised about the extent the music from the film has taken off as well.
“Hell no, I never thought it would get this far,” said Bingham. “And it’s interesting how the movie has opened up the music to a broader audience since its release.”
Added Burnett: “From my perspective the music is part of Jeff’s performance, and I feel like we are in his wake but it is surprising to me how much people have responded to the music.”
Three-time Oscar-winning vfx supervisor Joe Letteri got the news he’d been nominated for “Avatar” in a hotel in Santa Monica, having flown in the night before from London.
“I’ve developed a method to avoid jet lag: Don’t sleep,” he joked Tuesday morning.
Of the nom, he said, “It feels great, because it’s not just visual effects but nine nominations for the whole film. That really is a validation for the whole process we started four years ago. And all the scientific and technical advancements we had to come up with to make it work.”
“Nine” songwriter Maury Yeston knew how hard it was to jump from theater to film, but said the greatest honor isn’t the first-time nomination (for the song “Take It All”) but that he’s in the company of film composers already at that level of achievement.
“The truth is my first reaction is that my work is allowed to stand among the other honorees is such an honor and to me that’s real the award,” Yeston said. “I really knew we were doing something special because of this song. It’s a labor of love to write a dramatic moment for a character at such a turning point in the story and that is the moment I really knew this is something special.”
“The Hurt Locker” d.p. Barry Ackroyd, nommed for cinematography, said there was something special about the film in that it had the feel of European-style filmmaking.
“Our first conversation with Kathryn (Bigelow) was about realism,” Ackroyd said. “And the second part about that conversation was to put the camera in hand and out of the dolly and crane so that it draws people into the film — makes you feel it — and to give it almost a documentary feel.”
“I always say there is a difference between cinema and film,” Ackroyd added. “And I think we were making a little bit of that European cinema.”
When he first read the script back, “Inglourious Basterds” producer Lawrence Bender said he knew the project, alongside helmer Quentin Tarantino, was a journey he would love from the moment it started.
“It has been a train that hasn’t stopped since Quentin gave me the script back in July of 2008,” Bender said Tuesday, as he concurrently received a congratulatory note on his Blackberry from former Vice President Al Gore on the film’s best-pic nom. “When I read the script I knew we were doing something special and I said if we don’t fuck this thing up we are in good shape.”
For “Precious” producer Sarah Siegel-Magness, the joys of noms morning included not just her nom in the best-pic category but hearing Gabourey Sidibe’s name called as lead actress.
“It’s a clear recognition of people’s abilties and work,” said Siegel-Magness of the thesp who was plucked from college for the role. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before. You’re only as good as what you’re doing or what you just did. Lee (Daniels, director) has such a keen sense of people’s abilities and he finds talent in the oddest places. Choosing her wasn’t a gamble but an opportunity to go outside the box and find a diamond in the rough.”
The producers of “Food, Inc.,” nominated in the documentary feature category, set out to make a movie about what’s in food but never thought the pic’s impact would reach a point where policymakers were looking to make changes because of it.
“Who would of thought when we started six years ago doing a film about how food gets our table that we would not only get nominated that policymakers were taking our guide under advisement and that the Secretary of Agriculture who says they want to make changes in this arena are talking about it.” said producer Robert Kenner. “More than anything, we want people to have the right to eat whatever they want. But we should know what is in it, too.”
Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, nommed for the first time as sound editor (with Christopher Boyes) on “Avatar,” confessed, “I didn’t really sleep very much. My poor husband said, ‘Why don’t you get up and do something?’ I finally feel asleep at 5. Then the phones and emails started coming and the bings and bongs started to wake me up.”
One of those congratulatory calls was from fellow nominee Anna Behlmer, one of the few women to be honored by the Acad for sound.
Said Whittle, “It’s a really really awesome club to be a member of. It’s amazing. It’s great. I highly recommend it.”
Her plans for the day? “I’m going to Chez Panisse for lunch and have champagne with a friend of mine. Then I’m going to celebrate with my husband — who works for Pixar, so he’s a little conflicted.”
Composer Alexandre Desplat, nominated for “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” said the first thing he wanted his music to do was to bring life into each little puppet that would be put onscreen.
“There is something really special about these little puppets and it was calling for music,” he said following Tuesday’s nomination announcement. “When I first saw the dailies I was amazed by the beauty and it was really inspiring and the way we tried to approach it was as if the puppets were making the music themselves. I didn’t want the music to be bigger than the characters, and I think we accomplished that.”
“Inglorious Basterds” sound mixer Mike Minkler, with three Oscars already to his credit, was asleep after a long night working on “Hot Tub Time Machine.”
“My son called me. I was surprised, we thought we were a long shot,” he said. “I was mostly happy for the film, because I love this movie and Quentin is such a genius and such a joy to work with.”
Minkler expected his Tuesday to be “just another day” on the new project. “We’ll probably end up having to work the day of the Oscars as well,” he said with a laugh, “But I bet they let me out.”
Anders Ostergard, co-director (with Lise Lense-Moller) of documentary feature “Burma VJ,” was watching the live feed from Copenhagen.
His first thought? “Big job ahead — lots of work to make people realize it’s a serious contender.”
“Of course I was excited but I realize it’s going to be a huge challenge,” Ostergard said.
By early evening he’d been fielding press calls nonstop. He said he’d pause to celebrate later, but didn’t know how. “I wish I knew haven’t thought so far ahead. I’ll just sit down and digest the whole thing.”
Where many directors want nothing but control, Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, the editors of “The Hurt Locker,” said director Kathryn Bigelow was open to their thoughts on how the film should be cut.
“She was very open-minded to whatever approach we wanted. We came up with the first cut and then enhanced her authenticity and were given a lot of freedom to do what we did,” said Innis.
“We decided to go with a classic way of editing, which gave the film a Hitchcockian suspense style to it instead of the natural war-film look.” added Murawski.
There are plenty of things about “The Hurt Locker” that stand out, but according to sound mixer Paul Ottosson the sound was one thing the team wanted to stay in the background.
“It was never about wowing the audience,” said Ottosson, who was nommed for sound mixing with Ray Beckett. “What we wanted was to be very realistic and be very deep and comprehensive and be aware of surroundings. We wanted to make it very stressful but never distract you to where you were walking out saying, ‘God I love that sound.’ ”
For $30 million indie “District 9” to grab a vfx nom over much more pricey studio tentpoles was an upset, said vfx supervisor Dan Kaufman.
“There was a really good response to it at the bakeoff. But these are giant movies. How’s it going to compete with that?” Kaufman said Tuesday morning.
He said he tossed and turned all night and got the news by email, from a friend.
“I’ll probably go out with some family and friends tonight,” he added. “It’s weird. I’m not sure what to expect from all this, but it’s pretty great.”
As far as “The White Ribbon” producer Stefan Arndt is concerned, the nomination of Michael Haneke’s World War I drama is as good as a win.
“Ever since I first I started in film, and that’s since the age of 13, I have never allowed myself to even dream of one day belonging to the illustrious circle of Oscar nominees,” said Arndt of Berlin-based X Filme. “Just the nomination is for me a tremendous thrill, almost more than the award could be. All of the other films are excellent films. They should just pick the best one. My undreamt dream is already fulfilled.”
Cinematographer Christian Berger was also nominated, the first time ever a German film has received a second nom in addition to the best foreign-language category. Berger and Haneke previously worked together on “Cache” and “The Piano Teacher,” among others.
Editor Julian Clarke was well-established in the Canadian film community before “District 9” came along, and the two worlds “couldn’t have been more different.”
“We were running around with camcorders, and there was this great indie sensibility to it,” said Clarke. “It was a challenging movie. there was something meaty in the transformation (of lead character Sharlto Copley) and how rock bottom he hits. It’s the kind of raw emotion you don’t often get in a popcorn film.”
More than anything else, “District 9” helmer Neill Blomkamp hopes moviegoers see his sci-fi actioner, which is up for best pic, as a two-hour escape, even if it does contain other messages.
“I’m as much as about spaceships and guns and heads exploding as anyone, but we were conscious that the film shouldn’t take itself too seriously. We wrote it to be satirical and have fun,” said Blomkamp, who is also nommed for adapted screenplay with Terri Tatchell. “There are things underneath the sci-fi, horror and gore. It’s about a human that has everything stripped away from him and audiences can instantly relate to that.”
For Michael Haneke, director of “The White Ribbon,” the helmer says that no matter what the film there are always difficulties but that those problems only make the end result that much more meaningful in the long run.
“It was harder to work with young children and it was harder to make this film because it was a historical film and the budget is higher you don’t want to let your producer down,” Haneke adds. “Every film poses challenges that you never met before when filming them though and that is why all my films become personal by the end.”
When coming up with the look of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,” art director Anastasia Masaro always knew she had to keep director Terry Gilliam’s vision at heart.
“It was less talking and more going by feeling,” she says. “We just knew in our guts on what something would look like and Terry is the same way. We all know what his aesthic is and you have to work in those parameters but bring your own ideas to work as well.”