When Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden were nominated for Oscars for their roles in "Pollock," Harris' labor of love, which he spent 10 years trying to make, one could almost hear a collective cheer going up in Hollywood.

With his chiseled features and piercing blue eyes, the 50-year-old Harris has been a respected and much-sought-after actor in the film industry for two decades, but has never climbed into the ranks of Hollywood's leading men like a Harrison Ford or a Mel Gibson. Still, his performances have often electrified audiences, and he has twice received Oscar nominations for best supporting actor -- once as the mysterious director in "The Truman Show" (1998) and earlier as a NASA mission control flight director in "Apollo 13" (1995).

The stage-trained Harden, 41, is the daughter of a U.S. Navy captain who made her feature debut as a gun-toting, poker-faced moll in "Miller's Crossing." She's gone on to work on films like "Space Cowboys" and "Meet Joe Black."

Now these two working actors, who first met while performing on the New York stage in 1994 in Sam Shepard's "Simpatico," find themselves front and center at Hollywood's biggest dance. Harris has been nominated for best actor, while Harden is nominated for best supporting actress.

In "Pollock," Harris' first directorial effort, he plays the self-destructive Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. Harden plays his wife, Lee Krasner, whose efforts to promote her husband's career often stymied her own growth as an artist.

On a recent blustery day in Santa Monica, the two sat down to chat about the Oscar spotlight. As in the film, they seem a good team.

Question: Ed, do you have any advice to give to Marcia Gay, since this is her first Oscar nomination?

Harris:
Practice sitting down and pick a name, not your own, of the five people in your category and practice hearing that name read as the recipient of the awards.

Harden: What does that do?

Harris: You are used to not hearing your own name, so you are not incredibly disappointed if they don't call you.

Harden: [laughing] It's true!

Harris: [to Marcia Gay] Do you know what you are wearing [to the Oscars] yet?

Harden: No, I have no idea. I've had commands from the captain, my father. He's suggested that I wear something champagne-colored and strapless, and [said,] "By God [you've] got what it takes to hold it up!" I said to him, "Dad, I didn't realize you and the boys were so passionate about haute couture on the 7th Fleet." I mean, give me a break! He drew me a sketch of the dress, and it was like a designer sketch because his hand shakes [from Parkinson's] a little bit. It was this really great sketch.

Q: [to Harris] How different is this Academy Awards for you from the previous two?

Harris:
It's different because it's my film. Our film. But it's this film that I worked really hard on and feel responsible for. It's almost like being surrounded by, I don't know, something comfortable, something good. I feel so good about the movie that I feel very free, no matter what happens at this thing. I really do. It's filled me up.

Q: Do we put too much weight on winning an Oscar?

Harris:
I think totally. It's a very conflicting thing because, yeah, of course you want one. I can't say I wouldn't want to win, you know what I mean? Yet, on the other hand, I know that in terms of my life and my work, it's just a [expletive] statue. It's like the golden calf or something. I don't worship the thing. I think some people do.

Harden: Someone said, "Oh, Marcia, you get to be princess for a day." I said, "Honey, I don't want to be a princess. I want to be a queen"--and [joking] God knows I have enough friends who are queens who are telling me what to do. In that way, it is heady and you enjoy the ride and the recognition. You get to be queen for the day.

Harris: I wouldn't mind going through my whole life not getting [an Oscar] and people going, "Well, he should have." I've always felt like an underdog in this business anyway. I don't know what to think about it. I know if my name were called, I would be very excited. The only problem is I don't have enough time to thank all the people I'd want to thank.