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Why Studios Are Afraid to Put Two Stars in One Awards Category

“Blurred Lines” is the song of the year — and it could also be the theme song for this year’s supporting races.

Julia Roberts, Barkhad Abdi, Josh Brolin, Daniel Bruhl, Steve Coogan, Will Forte and Jake Gyllenhaal are being proposed in the supporting category. Each could be considered a lead, due to their time onscreen, but there is a logic in calling them supporting: All portray characters who are reacting off of individuals who are at the center of the plot: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Kate Winslet, Chris Hemsworth, Judi Dench, Bruce Dern and Hugh Jackman, respectively.

But the supporting definition is partly strategic: Roberts (“August: Osage County”), Abdi (“Captain Phillips”), Bruhl (“Rush”), Forte (“Nebraska”) and Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners”) are all in films where another performer is being touted in the lead category, and studios believe (wrongly) that two noms in one category will cancel each other out.

Abdi, Brolin, Bruehl, Coogan, Forte and Gyllenhaal: That’s six actors right there, more than enough to fill all the supporting slots. But they have tough competition, including George Clooney (a small but crucial role in “Gravity”), Michael Fassbender (“12 Years a Slave”), Chris Cooper (“Osage”), Colin Farrell (“Saving Mr. Banks”), Harrison Ford (“42”), James Gandolfini (“Enough Said”), John Goodman (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Tom Hanks (“Saving Mr. Banks”), Jared Leto (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Matthew McConaughey (“Mud”), David Oyeloto (“The Butler”) and Geoffrey Rush (“The Book Thief”). At this point, all are considered viable contenders. And there are also dark horses, including  James Franco (“Spring Breakers”) and Dermot Mulroney (“Osage”).

Aside from Roberts, supporting actress ranks include Jennifer Garner (“Dallas Buyers Club”), Naomie Harris (“Mandela”), Melissa Leo (“Prisoners”), Margo Martindale (also “Osage”), Carey Mulligan (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years”), Octavia Spencer (“Fruitvale Station”), June Squibb (“Nebraska”) and Alfre Woodard (“12 Years”; like Clooney, making maximum impact with minimal onscreen time).

Nearly all of these films are worth considering in the SAG Ensemble category. But in some cases, the ensemble work is so strong, it’s hard to single out a few; those films include “Blue Jasmine” (Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay); “Lone Survivor” (all are good, but maybe Ben Foster); “The Butler” (Oprah Winfrey) and “Kill Your Darlings” (Dane DeHaan, Michael C. Hall).

And when talking about supporting, there is one key question: Scarlett Johansson. In the past, actors branches have declined to nominate someone who’s heard but not seen. Shouldn’t actors know better? In many ways, it’s harder to create a full character without body language. Johansson is a key to the success of that film, and “Her” wouldn’t work without her.

There are also films that we haven’t seen yet: “American Hustle,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “The Invisible Woman,” “Out of the Furnace” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” (Buzz is building for Jonah Hill in “Wolf,” based on the trailer. In the kudos world, that’s how things sometimes work.)

Often Oscar strategists assume that two actors in the same category will cancel each other out. But recently Octavia Spencer in “The Help” and Melissa Leo in “The Fighter” won, even though another actress from the same film was also nommed. Still, old myths have a way of lingering.

And sometimes voters have their own definition of “supporting.” Kate Winslet in “The Reader” won a SAG Award for supporting, an Oscar for lead. Christoph Waltz in “Django Unchained” last year: Lead? Probably, but Oscar voters rewarded him for supporting.

Blurred lines indeed.

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