×

Sundance ripple effect pays off

Eye on the Oscar: Actress Preview

As it turns out, the Sundance Film Festival and the Academy Awards have a much tighter bond than their respective pedigrees suggest.

In the past decade 14 actresses with films that debuted at the Park City, Utah, indie showcase have gone on to Oscar validation in the lead or supporting category.

And it’s not just such veterans as Holly Hunter (“Thirteen”), Patricia Clarkson (“Pieces of April) and Annette Bening (“The Kids Are All Right”). A slew of previous unknowns including Catalina Sandino Moreno (“Maria Full of Grace”), Amy Adams (“Junebug”), Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), Gabourey Sidibe (“Precious”) and Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”) have received boosts from the fest that resulted in making the final cut at nominations time.

This year is no different. Performances from a previous Academy Award winner, a scream queen and a non-pro have all broken out of the indie box and received widespread recognition.

The Sessions” marks a resurrection of sorts for 49-year-old Helen Hunt, who triumphed on Oscar night 14 years ago for her performance in “As Good as It Gets.” By portraying a sexual surrogate opposite John Hawkes, Hunt says she appreciated the film’s refreshing, shame-free, “unadorned” take on sex.

“(The film exposed) this part of life that lives in the shadows and under mean jokes and weird lights and horrible, painful body images,” Hunt says. “Watching what happens if you take all that away is pretty wild.”

Known primarily for her roles in horror films including “Final Destination 3” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” Mary Elizabeth Winstead, 27, exhibited some serious acting chops in James Ponsoldt’s “Smashed.” Her emotionally complex take as a rock-bottom alcoholic catapulted her from popcorn-pic actress to indie drama screen queen.

“This role was by far the biggest challenge that I’ve ever faced as an actor,” Winstead says. “Playing drunk was daunting, but once I determined how I relate to this woman, by figuring out what, in my own life, is my alcohol, it became much easier for me to inhabit the character.”

Sundance also served as a platform for discovery when it came to Louisiana native Quvenzhane Wallis, who played Hushpuppy, an intrepid 6-year-old who survives extreme hardship, both economic and natural, in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”

According to Wallis, the role of the burdened, wise-beyond-her years Hushpuppy, which the 9-year-old began auditioning for at age 5, was “fun because I was a kid playing a kid.”

When it came to being slapped by Dwight Henry, her on-screen father, Wallis describes the scene as “kind of funny.” Her mother, Qulyndreia Wallis, says a stunt teacher showed Quvenzhane how to turn and fall without ever having to be hit, which might have added to Wallis’ sense of protection despite filming in physically trying circumstances.

Despite their age difference, each performer agrees that Sundance 2012 was a momentous career occasion.

“It was huge,” says Winstead, who grew up in Salt Lake City. “It was simultaneously nerve-wracking and exciting. I started to cry before our movie even came on the screen.”

Eye on the Oscar: Actress Preview
Lit icons take on added dimension | Better-half roles balance support with strength | A will to live when the odds prove overwhelming | Sundance ripple effect pays off

Popular on Variety

More Scene

  • Jessica Biel Limetown Premiere

    Why 'Limetown' Star & Producer Jessica Biel Thought the Show Was Based on a True Story

    In a world of increasingly outlandish headlines, the story behind “Limetown” — in which an entire community in rural Tennessee disappears overnight — seems plausible. Even Jessica Biel, who executive produces and stars in the Facebook Watch television adaptation of the hit 2015 podcast, was initially convinced that it was real. “I just thought I [...]

  • Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Watchmen

    Yahya Abdul-Mateen II Talks 'Watchmen,' 'Matrix 4': 'I'm Not Nervous At All'

    Yahya Adbul-Mateen II is facing some serious pressure. The actor is in the middle of a massive career surge, taking on roles in HBO’s “Watchmen” and the upcoming “Matrix 4” — and with those roles, the expectations of their fans.  “I have the responsibility of upholding something that was already done while also bringing in [...]

  • David Lindelof Watchmen Premiere

    'Watchmen' Creator Damon Lindelof Weighs in on Martin Scorsese's Marvel Criticisms

    Damon Lindelof disagrees with Martin Scorsese about his recent claims that Marvel movies don’t qualify as cinema. The director’s proclamation, along with the polarized critical reception of “Joker,” are the latest salvos in a long history of questioning comic book movies’ place in cinematic history. The lingering question: Can superhero fare be considered “high art?” [...]

  • Anne Hathaway Modern Love

    Anne Hathaway Talks Mental Health Awareness, Playing a Bipolar Woman on Amazon's 'Modern Love'

    In Amazon Prime’s upcoming “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway sheds light on an important facet of living with mental health issues, playing a bipolar woman who struggles with dating. “We’re all becoming more sensitive, wiser and more cognizant of gentility, and especially emotional gentility. I think those conversations are starting to happen. And I think the desire [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content