Calling actors self-involved is, true or not, a relatively easy joke. Yet conventional wisdom has often held that as much as Hollywood loves to make movies about Hollywood, those movies do not necessarily do well with audiences at the box office or get much award recognition.
With “Birdman” leading the flock in today’s SAG Awards announcement with four nominations – for best ensemble, Michael Keaton as best actor, Emma Stone for supporting actress and Edward Norton for supporting actor – that notion may have finally gone completely out the window.
In the film Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor on the downside of his fame for playing a popular superhero character. In an attempt to revitalize himself both emotionally and professionally, he mounts a theatrical production of his own adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. Stone plays his rebellious daughter and Norton a disruptive co-star.
This isn’t the first time the SAG Awards have shown enthusiasm toward movies about movies and actors. Just two years ago “Argo,” a fact-based story in which Hollywood hustlers and the CIA united to free American hostages from Iran, took SAG’s ensemble prize and a nomination for Alan Arkin as supporting actor. The year before, the movie “The Artist,” set amid the era of the waning silent film, won best actor for Jean Dujardin, with nominations for ensemble and Berenice Bejo for supporting actress.
In what must be an encouraging stat for the team behind “Birdman,” both “Argo” and “The Artist” would go on to win best picture at the Oscars. Actors are still the dominant branch with the Academy, and so if they have recently come out of their shells to vote for stories about themselves at the SAG Awards, that looks to be increasingly true in Academy voting as well.
This recent turn may have truly started with Robert Downey Jr.’s role as white actor Kirk Lazarus who turns himself into a play actor in the 2008 action-movie spoof “Tropic Thunder.” That performance earned him nominations from SAG, the Golden Globes and the Oscars. Going even further back, "Shakespeare in Love" which made heroes of Elizabethan actors, won SAG's cast and supporting actress prizes before going on to win seven Oscars including actress, supporting actress and best picture.
The inside-out quality of the nominations for “Birdman,” recognizing the emotional and professional struggles of the performer’s life, was captured by the statement released by Keaton -- "As an actor being nominated by actors for playing an actor, I am truly, truly grateful for this honor.”
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