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Can Jennifer Jason Leigh Make History With Her Voice Role in ‘Anomalisa’?

Every couple of years, there’s talk of a an actor being campaigned for a vocal or motion capture performance. It really picked up steam with Andy Serkis in the “Lord of the Rings” films, and then again for his remarkable work in the “Planet of the Apes” movies. And reached a fever pitch in 2013 when Scarlett Johansson snagged some nominations for supporting actress for her voice work in Spike Jonze’s “Her.” But when it comes to the big shows — SAG, Golden Globes, Oscars — such performances fail to make the cut.

So what a pleasant surprise it was to see Jennifer Jason Leigh score an Independent Spirit Award nod for supporting actress for her voice work in Charlie Kaufman’s “Anomalisa.” The Spirit Awards fully embraced the stop-motion flick, making it the rare animated film to receive nods for directing, screenplay and film (Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life” earned the same noms in 2002.)

And the nod is well-deserved; Leigh is fantastic as Lisa, the shy woman who falls for customer service superstar Michael Stone (an equally excellent David Thewlis) while both are staying at a mysterious hotel. Lisa is the only person who has a different voice in Michael’s world — literally, as all the other voices in the film, male and female, old and young, are voiced by Tom Noonan. And Leigh takes the character on a full journey, from invisible to lovestruck to liberated. It’s a testament to how unique the part is that Leigh, a veteran of several nude love scenes, recently stated that the sex scene in “Anomalisa” was the most intimate she’s ever done — even though she and her scene partner were six feet apart.

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Emboldened by the success of the Spirit Award nominations, Paramount is making a push for the “Anomalisa” actors to the SAG Award Nominating Committee, those mysterious 2,000-plus members who choose the actors for SAG Award nominations before the entire voting body casts their ballots for the winner. They have sent out a mailer to voters stating “Last week Film Independent made history by nominating a voice performance for the first time since the Spirit Awards launched over 30 years ago. This milestone reminds us that voice acting is acting.”

Do I really think SAG will recognize voice performances this year? No, especially in a year with such competitive acting races. But it’s great to have them in the mix and a nice reminder of just how difficult voice acting is. And it’s good timing, considering we’re going into a weekend where the film and Leigh have a good shot of scoring some recognition from the L.A. Film Critics Association, which announces awards winners on Sunday. SAG ballots are due at noon on Monday, so it could be a nice push just in time.

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