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Countdown to Oscars

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
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Former And Current TV Stars Inhabit This Year’s Oscars Race

By Joey Magidson
Film Contributor

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Once upon a time, there was a sort of caste system in place for actors and actresses in Hollywood.

Film and Television were kept as separate as possible, with mobility quite limited and often discouraged. When a performer went from one medium to the other, they were either a TV star on the way up to acting on the silver screen or a film star on the way down, willing to ply their trade on the small screen as opposed to the unemployment line.

Now we know that things have been upended in a big way, as big stars frequently shuffle back and forth. Television is hardly the ghetto that it used to be. And interestingly enough, this awards season features perhaps more former television stars contending for Oscar nominations than we’ve had in some time.

In this year’s Lead Actor category, the most likely nominee with a background on the small screen has to be Denzel Washington. The Flight star spent years on the drama St. Elsewhere before jumping to superstardom on the big screen and a pair of Oscar wins.

Earlier this year, Bill Murray was thought of as a near-lock for Hyde Park on Hudson, and it’s no secret that he’s a legendary alum of Saturday Night Live. Bradley Cooper, who supported Jennifer Garner on Alias before slowly but surely working his way up the cinema ladder to the A-list where he now resides, is eyeing a nod for his career-best work in Silver Linings Playbook.

A level down we have Jack Black, who is amazing this year in Bernie and took all sorts of small TV jobs until becoming a sought-after comedic actor in film. There’s also Martin Freeman, who did television work in the UK before film came calling. He’s a possibility this year for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Finally there’s Tom Hanks, who cross-dressed on Bosom Buddies before getting onto the silver screen and winning consecutive Best Actor Oscars. If Cloud Atlas has a resurgence with the Academy, Hanks could potentially find himself a nominee again.

As for Lead Actress, the current frontrunner Jennifer Lawrence was a television daughter on The Bill Engvall Show before she started winning our hearts in cinemas. Though hardly the most glorious job, it’s safe to say Lawrence has more than made up for it — she could get the ultimate reward this year for Silver Linings Playbook.

Also somewhat in play is Maggie Smith, who not only started with TV movies but also recently made a triumphant return to the small screen with Downton Abbey. If Quartet is a hit, Smith could find herself a nominee here, or a Supporting Actress honoree if The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tickles the Academy in the right way.

Also vying is Michelle Williams, who’s about as far from Dawson’s Creek as you can get these days. Take This Waltz has mostly been forgotten at this point in 2012, but the screeners are out — you can’t completely discount Williams’ chances at a nod.

Best Supporting Actor is a stacked category for these sort of contenders, so I’ll only mention a handful. More than anyone else, I think of the great John Goodman, who is iconic for his work on Roseanne and now could be looking at a first Oscar nod for either Argo or Flight. On the flip side, Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t someone you immediately remember as being on TV, but he made his early bones there before becoming the king of the world. His villainous turn in Django Unchained could be the role to win him his first Academy Award.

Bryan Cranston also stars in Argo with Goodman, but he’s best known for his award winning work on Breaking Bad. If Ben Affleck’s film is a real hit with voters, he could wind up along for the ride with his co-star Alan Arkin, who also spent some time on the small screen before becoming an Oscar winner.

Lastly, James Gandolfini has scene-stealing supporting turns in both Killing Them Softly and Not Fade Away. If Academy members fondly remember his time spent on TV with The Sopranos, they could easily look to reward him in this other medium.

The supporting ladies of 2012 have their share of former TV stars as well. Helen Hunt notably made the transition from owning the small screen on Mad About You to owning the big one with an Oscar win for As Good As It Gets, something that could repeat itself here for The Sessions.

Sally Field has won two Oscars already and seeks a third one for Lincoln, but she’s recently been spotted returning to TV with Brothers & Sisters. Another winner with multiple ties to TV happens to be Melissa Leo. She seeks a surprise nod for Flight, but has highly praised work on Treme to comfort her if that candidacy falls short.

Other long shots include Jessica Biel and Judi Dench, with the former notably leaving the show 7th Heaven to focus on films and the latter spending plenty of time on TV before becoming an often-nominated and award-winning thespian. They seek attention for Hitchcock and Skyfall, respectively. The real X factor here, though, has to be Kerry Washington. She’s received good buzz for Django Unchained, and as much as she’s likely to get attention for that film, she’s also gotten plenty of praise for her small-screen work on Scandal.

Let’s not forget the Best Director race, either. Tom Hooper, of course, went from award-winning work on the HBO miniseries John Adams to winning the Oscar for The King’s Speech in a short period of time. Hooper hopes to win another one this year for Les MiserablesDavid Chase has a legion of fans from The Sopranos and now has the coming-of-age tale Not Fade Away to mark his feature debut. He’s not a likely nod, but he’s certainly worth discussing here or even for Best Original Screenplay.

As you’ve no doubt noticed, the race is filled with both former TV icons now making their mark in movies and those who have gone back and forth with success in both realms. There’s even the potential that we could see almost every major category go to someone with a history on television.

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  • Mark J

    It’s interesting to see how many TV actors have made the jump to film, and vice versa with so many movie stars now implanted in TV series (Jessica Lange, Alec Baldwin, Glenn Close, Don Cheadle, etc.). I think it is nice to see a crossover with the stars. I mean, if you can act, you can act, regardless if the screen is big or small. I think it’s very interesting though, and has certainly made TV arguably better than it’s ever been. Great piece!

  • http://twitter.com/mmmaxi mmmaxi

    This is completely irrelevant in the case of the British actors listed here, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Martin Freeman have all moved fluidly between television, film, theatre and even radio as is the norm for most working actors in the UK. The extraordinary system of actor apartheid practised by Hollywood is an oddity peculiar to the US.

  • ryan

    john hawkes-deadwood, guaranteed nominee this year for The Sessions, more likely than anyone on this list save for Lawerence and perhaps Denzel depending on who you ask.

  • Jessie Makowski

    Super interesting!

  • Kim

    Never realized how many go back and forth between tv and movies

  • Joey Magidson

    There are certainly tons of others to be mentioned another time…