Oscars: Supporting actors who campaigned for the lead role
With news of Michelle Williams campaigning for lead actress, instead of supporting actress, for her performance in Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans,” many are wondering if this big move will pay off. With bona fide contenders such as Cate Blanchett of “Tár” and Michelle Yeoh of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” already claiming their claims as favorites, the category decision caused a stir on social media and circles of punishment. Not only because many thought Williams had the support category locked in for herself to win, but there’s also the sense that she is, in fact, a support player as a free-spirited mother Mitzy. Fabelman. The film centers on Gabrielle LaBelle’s role as Sammy, a teenage girl who falls in love with movies.
Variety looks back at some of the most notable modern (post-1990) “supporting performances”, which were campaigned for the attention of the lead actor or actress. Most of these entries turned out in favor of the actors.
Category fraud is always a hot topic every awards season, with clear top performers listed in supporting categories for an easier path to a nomination or victory. It’s not too often that we see it the other way around, with a dodgy support turn that commands attention.
When considering the cases that did not work out in favor of the actors, there are a few that come to mind. Chief among them was Richard Gere, who won the Globe and was nominated for SAG for his tap-dancing lawyer Billy Flynn in “Chicago” (2002), but he ultimately missed out on the Oscar nomination. Other examples include PTSD veteran Delroy Lindo in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” (2020) and hedge fund boss Steve Carell in Adam McKay’s ensemble comedy-drama “The Big Short” ( 2015).
In the early days of the Academy, you can find a ton of short-lived performances. Time-wise, David Niven holds the current record for the shortest performance ever awarded in the Best Actor category, at 23 minutes and 39 seconds, for playing Major Angus Pollock in Delbert Mann’s ‘Separate Tables’ (1958). For best actress, that record belongs to Patricia Neal, whose role as governess Alma in Martin Ritt’s “Hud” (1963) lasts just 21 minutes and 51 seconds.
Lily Variety list of the top 13 examples of supporting actors who campaigned for major Oscar categories below.
Honorable Mentions: Amy Adams, “American Hustle” (2013); Samantha Morton, “In America” (2003); Kristin Scott Thomas, “The English Patient” (1996)