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.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Love is the Monster

    Neto Villalobos’ ‘Love is the Monster’ Heads to San Sebastian Co-Pro Forum (EXCLUSIVE)

    Chilean director Ernesto “Neto” Villalobos’ third feature, “Love is the Monster,” will participate in September’s San Sebastian Europe-Latin America Co-Production Forum. Having found festival success with his first two features, “All About the Feathers” and “Helmet Heads,” both drama-comedies, Villalobos will head in a different direction with “Love is the Monster,” a psychological thriller co-written [...]

  • Pinewood Atlanta Studios

    Pinewood Group to Exit Atlanta Studios Joint Venture

    The Pinewood Group is pulling out of its Atlanta facility as it refocuses its international strategy. The group announced Wednesday that it has sold its equity in Pinewood Atlanta Studios to the Cathy family’s River’s Rock, its joint venture partner in the facility. The joint venture was set up in 2013 with Pinewood Atlanta Studios [...]

  • El Principe

    Storyboard Swoops on Seven Titles for 2020 Chilean Distribution (EXCLUSIVE)

    Key Chilean independent production-distribution company Storyboard Media has announced a knock-your-socks-off slate of seven domestic features, in varying degrees of completion, to be released in Chile across 2020. Bound for Venice’s Critics’ Week, Sebastián Muñoz’s “The Prince” was a hit at last year’s works in progress section at the San Sebastian Film Festival and will [...]

  • Banijay Rights Signs First Look Deal

    Banijay Rights Signs First Look Deal with Tigerlily Prods.

    Seeking to expand its scripted offering, Banijay Rights has signed a first look development deal with Tigerlily Productions, a U.K. production company whose credits include David Farr’s “The Ones Below” and “Remainder” with Tom Sturridge. The deal covers scripted programming developed, created and produced by Tigerlily for the U.K. and international markets. Tigerlily Productions, which [...]

  • Blanco-en-Blanco

    Stray Dogs Picks Up Int’l Sales Rights to Venice-bound ‘Blanco en Blanco’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SANTIAGO, Chile – In the run-up to the upcoming 76th Venice Int’l Film Festival, Paris-based Stray Dogs has closed international sales rights on Chilean drama “Blanco en Blanco,” which holds its world premiere in the festival’s Horizons sidebar. Filmed last year in the frigid tundra of Chile’s Tierra de Fuego and Spain’s tropical Canary Islands, [...]

  • Gerard Butler Angel Has Fallen

    Film Review: 'Angel Has Fallen'

    “Angel Has Fallen” marks the third time that Gerard Butler, as the Secret Service agent and scowling samurai cowboy Mike Banning, has had to rescue the President of the United States from an international conspiracy so cuckoo bananas that the movie barely expects you to believe it. (Actually, in the six years since this series [...]

  • Jessica

    Ninja Thyberg's Female POV Porn Industry Portrait Seduces Buyers (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Paris-based Versatile has announced a raft of pre-sales on Ninja Thyberg’s debut feature “Jessica,” set in the adult entertainment industry in L.A. World distributors that have pre-bought the Swedish drama take in Weltkino for Germany/Austria, Xenix for Switzerland, MK2/Mile End for Canada, KTH for South Korea and Movie Could for Taïwan. Several [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content