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Relief for Lead Actress Rivals as Viola Davis Goes Supporting for ‘Fences’

It hasn’t just been Oscar-watchers on the sidelines paying close attention to the campaign details of Viola Davis’ “Fences” performance this season. Rival campaigns have had their eyes glued to the scenario as well.

The lead actress contest is incredibly competitive with performances from Emma Stone (“La La Land”), Natalie Portman (“Jackie”) and Annette Bening (“20th Century Women”) considered top-tier players, and everyone from established perennial Oscar favorites (Meryl Streep in “Florence Foster Jenkins,” Amy Adams in “Arrival”) to impressive newcomers (Ruth Negga in “Loving”) clamoring for a seat before the music stops.

Any of the campaigns behind those contenders would be eager to see Davis, who won the lead actress Tony for the play’s revival six years ago, vacate the category. They got their wish over the weekend.

After finally seeing the film herself last week, Davis felt her performance as Rose Maxson was a supporting one, and Paramount is respecting her decision. On Monday, the studio will submit her in the supporting category for Screen Actors Guild Awards consideration. The same is expected with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. for the Golden Globes.

There had been some debate both online and off (and internally) about how this performance would be positioned. Sometimes the smallest things spark a little drama on this beat. But as ever, it will be up to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ actors branch to determine where to nominate the performance when it comes to the Oscars; unlike SAG, the Academy (and the HFPA, for that matter) is not bound by category placement.

Oscar voters have reversed category submissions before (Benicio Del Toro in “Traffic,” Kate Winslet in “The Reader”). HFPA members have as well (Rooney Mara in “Carol,” Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”). Generally speaking, though, everyone falls in line.

And should Davis go on to win the supporting Oscar? She’ll join “The King and I” star Yul Brynner as one of only two actors to win a Tony and an Oscar in two different categories for the same performance.

The Playlist originally broke the news of Davis’ SAG submission.

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