January 09, 2014

Supporting Actor Hopefuls Go to Extremes

JAN. 8, 2014

As the amoral, drug- and sex-addled right-hand man in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Jonah Hill wore a set of gleaming false teeth. They were based on the look of the trader who helped inspire his character, but they made him talk funny.

“I had a horrible lisp, once I put the teeth in,” he said. So on the advice of a dialect coach, he practiced talking with them in for several hours a day, calling unsuspecting customer-service representatives to shoot the breeze. “I would keep them on the phone for like two hours,” he said, “just asking about all the different appliances.”

Staying in character requires commitment. Among this year’s crop of supporting actor Oscar hopefuls, Jake Gyllenhaal, for his role as a police detective hunting for missing children in “Prisoners,” covered his body with temporary tattoos. In the blue-collar drama “Out of the Furnace,” Casey Affleck got bruised in bare-knuckle boxing sessions. Bradley Cooper endured an unfortunate, but period-appropriate, perm in “American Hustle.” And Jared Leto lost more than 30 pounds and shaved off his eyebrows, among other make-unders, to play a transgender AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Leading men in Oscar-bound films are often called upon to metamorphose, most often from hunkiness to debilitation, chiseled hero to lout (and back again). But actors in roles with sparser screen time may do even more, transforming themselves physically and walking off with their scenes with portrayals of depravity or verbal dexterity. (Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” had both.) The emotional turns, in shorter sequences, become more harrowing: Christian Bale embodied both the spirit and the failure of “The Fighter” in just one scene. And bad haircuts are surprisingly effective for prizewinners: Witness Javier Bardem’s shaggy pageboy in “No Country for Old Men.”

This Oscar season, supporting actor hopefuls are making all the usual moves — transforming bodily and emoting greedily — along with some unexpected shifts. There are comedians doing understated drama (and vice versa, as in James Gandolfini’s turn in the romantic comedy “Enough Said”) and foreign-born actors diving into American films in a major way. And at least one front-runner, Michael Fassbender, has publicly eschewed award campaigning for his performance as the sadistic plantation owner in “12 Years a Slave.”

Most pundits see Mr. Leto and Mr. Fassbender as the leaders in the supporting actor race; both have earned precursor awards, from industry groups and critics, and are part of films with widespread trophy momentum. But the category is often ripe for surprises.

Read more on The New York Times.

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