Will Smith and Jessica Chastain walked away with leading actor and actress statuettes for their performances in “King Richard” and “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” at the SAG Awards. Their success has catapulted the two to the forefront of their respective Oscar races, which could create a first in Academy Awards history. It also shows that if performers want a date with a major acting award, they may have to make their own opportunities happen instead of passively waiting around for Hollywood to present them with a killer script.
If the two actors, who are both on their third Oscar noms for acting, manage to pull off wins, it would be the first time two actors won for movies they produced. In addition, they would be the third and fourth in the 94-year history of the Oscars to achieve it.
The possible frontrunners would follow last year’s best actress winner Frances McDormand for “Nomadland,” which also won best picture, making her the first woman to win both categories the same night. McDormand was the second to produce herself to an acting win preceded by Laurence Olivier, who directed, produced and was an uncredited writer for the best picture winner “Hamlet” (1949), and won best actor. However, during the time when the statuette was given to the studio for the Academy’s top prize, Olivier wasn’t officially credited as a winner or nominee. The rule would change two years later with producers being credited as nominees and winners, beginning with “An American in Paris” (1951).
Nonetheless, McDormand and Olivier may soon have company. Last night’s SAG Award winners indicate that there’s a strong possibility of two more occurrences, marking a first in the same year.
Read more: Variety’s Awards Circuit Predictions Hub
In Hollywood, we’re seeing a pronounced trend of acting entrepreneurs. In the new order, many A-listers are taking up the mantle on stories and doing the leg work to get the projects made, allowing studios to acquire them later in the process with less possible risk to their bottom lines. That’s partly a reflection of the way tastes have changed at the studios. Most movie companies are in the business of making franchises and superhero adventures, and spend a lot less time developing the kind of adult dramas and auteur fare celebrated by the Academy Awards. So if today’s stars want their date with the golden guy, they may have to do get more intimately involved in the production part of the process.
Before Brad Pitt won best supporting actor for his work as an aging stuntman in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood,” his Plan B Entertainment company made him an Oscar-winning producer for “12 Years a Slave” (2013), which Pitt also had an acting role. Founded by Pitt, with his then-wife Jennifer Aniston and late Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey, Plan B has been behind other Oscar winners like “Moonlight” (2016) and “The Departed” (2006), along with other nominees such as “Moneyball” (2011) and “The Big Short” (2015), the former of which landed Pitt a lead actor nom.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way Productions has had hands in many of his Oscar-nominated acting roles such as “The Aviator” (2004), “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013), and his winning role in “The Revenant” (2015).
Smith, also nominated for best picture for the Warner Bros distributed drama, is only the second Black creative to be recognized in both categories during the same year. The first was his fellow nominee from “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” Denzel Washington, for his self-directed and produced the film adaptation of the August Wilson play “Fences” (2016). Washington will produce the entire Wilson catalog.
Smith produced the film through his multimedia production company Westbrook, which he runs with his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Earlier this year, the couple closed a deal to sell a minority stake to the media venture run by former Disney executives Tom Staggs and Kevin Mayer. Actors are finding lately that the real money isn’t just being made in the salaries they command for star vehicles, it’s from the content companies they lead. Case in point Reese Witherspoon, the Oscar-winning actress whose media company Hello Sunshine sold for roughly $900 million to, wait for it, Staggs and Mayer.
Smith’s original production company Overbrook Entertainment, which is now one of Westbrook’s subsidiaries, was involved in both of the actor’s two previous Oscar noms for “Ali” (2001) and “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006). Now fresh off his inaugural Emmy nom for Netflix’s “Cobra Kai,” Westbrook has big-ticket items on the horizon, including the action-thriller “Emancipation” with Apple.
If his luck continues into the March 27 Oscar ceremony, he would be only the fifth Black man to win lead actor, following — Sidney Poitier (“Lilies in the Field”), Denzel Washington (“Training Day”), Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”). Coincidentally, Smith lost his two past noms to two of those men, Washington and Whitaker.
As one of the producers of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Chastain is in the thick of an effectively wide-open lead actress race that has yet to reveal a clear frontrunner.
“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was produced through Freckle Films, Chastain’s production company, who bought the rights to Tammy Faye Bakker’s life back in 2012 before the founding in 2016. Launched to develop and showcase female talent, Freckle Films continues to make strides with its all-women producing team of Kelly Carmichael, Rachel Shane and Gigi Pritzer, who brought the autobiographical film to the finish line, along with distributor Searchlight Pictures.
Despite tepid reviews and box office for the biopic, Chastain is a highly respected actress in the business, with two previous Oscar noms for “The Help” (2011) and “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). Both Chastain and her fellow Oscar nominee Kristen Stewart (“Spencer”) are the only two in the lead actress category to have won a statuette. In contrast, Olivia Colman (“The Lost Daughter”), Penelope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”) and Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”) are all past winners.
Outside of Chastain and the McDormand, as mentioned earlier, other notable women have been nominated for lead actress, who also served as producers. Margot Robbie in “I, Tonya” (2017) and Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs” (2011) are the other most recent, ultimately coming up short.
In the Academy Awards record books, very few actors-turned-filmmakers have been recognized for both picture and acting in the same year, but interestingly, the same names show up on the list. Among them, Warren Beatty has done it four times in his career, for “Bonnie and Clyde” (1968), “Heaven Can Wait” (1978), “Reds” (1981) and “Bugsy” (1991). His Oscar win came for directing his 1981 historical epic. Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood have both done it twice, the former with “American Sniper” (2014) and “A Star is Born” (2018) and the latter with two best picture and director winners, “Unforgiven” (1991) and “Million Dollar Baby” (2004).
Since the expansion of the best picture lineup in 2009, the SAG and Oscar winner for best actress has failed to line up three different times — Glenn Close (“The Wife”) and twice for Viola Davis (“The Help” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”). For lead actor, it’s failed to line up on two occasions, with Washington (“Fences”) and Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) missing out on Oscars after nabbing SAG honors.
Could this occurrence of acting winners being their own bosses continue? Aside from Chastain and Smith, other celebrities in the awards running with projects also had them serving as actors. Bradley Cooper, who is nominated as a producer for Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” also starred in the film but couldn’t secure a lead actor nom. Others included Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (“The Last Duel”), Mahershala Ali (“Swan Song”), Halle Berry (“Bruised”) and Adam Driver (“Annette”).
Will we see Smith and Chastain standing on the Dolby Theatre stage? Oscar voting opens on March 15, so there’s more time for adjustments and buzzy momentum to shift.