Debunking the 'sup. actor curse'

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Debunking the 'sup. actor curse'

(Wenn.com/AFP file photos)

What does it mean to win best actor?

"One day I had three bad scripts on my desk," Colin Firth told us, "the next day I had 300."

And best supporting actor? Picture an unimpressed agent saying, "I suppose you're going to want more than scale now?"

Of all the honours that can be bestowed, a best supporting actor or actress award seems to carry the least respect.

It's even been said it carries a "curse," one that causes people such as Cuba Gooding Jr. and Mira Sorvino to fall off the face of the Earth (after torching their careers on a funeral pyre of bad movies).

But the "supporting actor curse," like so many dubious truisms (think celebrity deaths and the "rule of threes") doesn't hold up very well when you look at the winners list over the past decade.

Sure, there are still winners who come from nowhere and immediately step into a terrible followup film (Inglourious Basterds' Christoph Waltz and Water For Elephants comes to mind).

And, her trophy notwithstanding, Mo'Nique (Precious) is still most visible as one of the roasters on those Comedy Central roasts and as host of her own talk show on BET.

A few winners from the turn of the century -- including Renee Zellweger (Cold Mountain) and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) -- are not as hot properties as they used to be.

But there are no fundraisers being held for Christian Bale (The Fighter) or Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) or Cate Blanchett (The Aviator) or George Clooney (Syriana).

Basically, supporting actor/actress nods can work in three ways.

One is as a career achievement award -- the criterion by which Christopher Plummer will almost certainly win tonight for Beginners (a good performance, but not as good as the one he gave as Tolstoy in The Last Station the year before).

This dynamic was also in play with awards to Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine), Michael Caine (The Cider House Rules) and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby).

In other years, a supporting Oscar is a bona fide rocket launch, as when a relative unknown named Angelina Jolie stole Girl, Interrupted out from under its putative star Winona Ryder. Or when Javier Bardem parlayed his trophy for No Country For Old Men into a best actor nom last year for Biutiful.

Unfortunately, these very success stories inspire others to think they can suddenly carry a dramatic movie. Robin Williams' Oscar for Good Will Hunting begat the horrors of What Dreams May Come, Bicentennial Man and One Hour Photo. And God only knows what BS is being whispered in Jonah Hill's ear about the many Oscar-winning roles in his future.

But the supporting actor/actress hits its "sweet spot" when the award goes to a great character actor, a "supporting" actor by definition.

We're thinking of Jim Broadbent (Iris), who is at these Oscars in spirit, at least, for his role as Denis the Friendly Ghost, whispering into the ear of Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady. Or Chris Cooper (Adaptation). Or Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton). Or Melissa Leo (The Fighter). Or Martin Landau (Ed Wood) or Joe Pesci (Goodfellas).

These types of actors -- and I include Christopher Plummer among them -- are the backbone of moviemaking. And for them, an Oscar is neither a curse nor a particular blessing. It is mere punctuation in a career that carries on without regard to hot-lists, paparazzi, VIP trailers, entourages and handlers.

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