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Fresh Faces Light Up Awards Season Acting Races

There are always a slew of familiar faces that pop up every awards season. The former Oscar winner whose latest project has her looking at yet another nomination. Or the actor who seems to be a fixture on the circuit whether his latest performance is on the big or small screen. But often, it’s the unexpected newcomers who leave the biggest impression.

John David Washington landed the biggest role of his career in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and he now has individual Golden Globe and SAG Awards nominations for his performance, and he also earned a nomination as part of the film’s ensemble, to show for it. Despite acclaim that began at the Cannes Film Festival and stellar box office this summer, Washington says he’s still shocked by the reception.

“I’m glad you reminded me [of the noms], because I’m still sure they’re going to just say, ‘Oh we made a mistake. It’s not, it’s John David Williams, not Washington.’ You know what I mean? I’m in an alternate universe right now,” Washington says. “I was so overjoyed. And I was really happy, too, for Spike and Adam [Driver, who also earned Globe and SAG noms]. So, yeah, I was suspended in disbelief for the longest time. I still am.”

Washington, who also earned his first Independent Spirit Award nomination for “Monsters and Men,” has someone in the family who knows a bit about the awards season marathon, dad Denzel. The 34-year-old says his father has given him some sage advice about his current success.

“The advice I’ve been getting, which I’ve been taking to heart, from the old man is, ‘Enjoy,’” Washington says. “Enjoy it and celebrate.”

Like Washington, lauded actors such as “Leave No Trace’s” Thomasin McKenzie and “Eighth Grade’s” Elsie Fisher have been working their way through the industry for some time, despite their youth, to get to this level of recognition. For “Roma’s” Yalitza Aparicio and “If Beale Street Could Talk’s” KiKi Layne, however, it’s been a much quicker jump.

Layne, for instance, had just moved to Los Angeles in 2017 when, despite having no representation at the time, she found out about the casting for Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” by helping another friend with his audition. That led to a callback that changed her life.

“I really appreciated how patient Barry is and just how attentive he is to all of our needs as individual artists,” Layne says. “He just really creates a space that you feel comfortable trying new things, opening up, even potentially making mistakes, and I think that patience that he has is reflected in his work where you can see that some moments linger a little longer than maybe a different filmmaker would’ve allowed.”

“Beale Street” centers on the relationship between Tish (Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). It’s Layne’s first feature film role and the movie was nominated for a Golden Globe, motion picture — drama and earned numerous other accolades before it even hit theaters. Layne finds the whole experience “unbelievable.” She adds, “I will say this. When we were making the movie, we had no idea, first of all, that it would be watched, it would be seen, let alone that it would be nominated for all those awards. So, it’s mind-blowing.”

Mind-blowing is also a word to describe the rise of Awkwafina. The Queens-born rapper and actress stole the show in both “Ocean’s 8” and “Crazy Rich Asians” over the summer. The latter was not only a box office smash, but also cultural phenomenon that resonated greatly with the Asian-American community.

Initially Awkwafina witnessed audience members crying tears of joy following screenings of the movie and, after it came out, she experienced a lot of love on social media. It was a visit to the Grove in Los Angeles, however, that truly made her understand the film’s impact.

“People just coming up to me, which had never happened before,” Awkwafina says. “It’s funny, because I really did think that I was ‘known’ before this, but after ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ it was like, ‘Man, I was really not known before that,’ you know? Just from the love.”

Awkwafina is not only a scene stealer in a movie that was nominated for a Globe comedy, but also SAG Awards nominee as member of the ensemble. She takes the recognition in stride saying, “I never thought Awkwafina could work. I never thought that she would last longer than the normal viral scan. I thought that I would have to go back to [work at] a bodega, that is, back in 2013.”

That being said, “But these two movies? I can’t attribute it to anything but fate. Something magical, something came out of nowhere and they did change the scope of how I’m now seen. They’ve changed the scope of the scripts I’m getting, and that’s really cool, and I’m looking forward to a very positive 2019.”
A new year that could find her with some shiny new hardware.

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