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Oscars Rewind — 2004: Tim Robbins stands tall(est) with win

Actor Tim Robbins poses with his Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role during ton February 29, 2004
Actor Tim Robbins poses with his Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role during ton February 29, 2004
(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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Actors turn into directors frequently, but it’s hard to imagine any actors who earned their first Academy Award nomination for directing before winning an Oscar for acting. But that’s the story of Tim Robbins, who won his first (and so far only) Oscar at the 2004 Academy Awards, held Feb. 29 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood. That night, he took home the supporting actor prize for playing an abuse survivor in “Mystic River.”

But what about that director nomination? Turns out that Robbins — who’s still largely known for his acting — earned his first Oscar nomination in 1996, for directing “Dead Man Walking.” The film, which starred Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, was critically lauded and eight years later would provide a little déjà vu for his 2004 win. That’s because “Walking” earned Sarandon her first (and so far only) Oscar, and Penn his first acting nomination. And both Sarandon and Penn — who briefly dated in 1984 — were in the Kodak Theatre for Robbins’ big win.

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But their reasons for being there weren’t quite the same as Robbins’. Penn was nominated for his acting (in the lead category) in “Mystic River,” and when both he and Robbins won, the film became only the fourth title to ever take home both male acting awards in the same year. Meanwhile, Sarandon might not have been up for an award that night, but she was there to support Robbins — whom she’d been dating since 1988, when they met on the set of “Bull Durham.”

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Dressed in a black suit and tie, Robbins received the Oscar from presenter Catherine Zeta-Jones. “Susan, I love you so much,” he addressed Sarandon. “Eva, Jack, Miles, thanks for being there for me; Susan, thanks for being the best friend one could have.” (Eva Amurri is the daughter of Sarandon and filmmaker Franco Amurri; Jack and Miles are Sarandon and Robbins’ children.)

Alas, Robbins and Sarandon — who never married — are no longer the power couple they once were. They split in 2009.

Addressing Abuse Survivors

But Robbins wasn’t done giving shout-outs. He also thanked “Mystic” director Clint Eastwood (who was nominated but didn’t win that night) by noting, “You’re making my mantel very crowded.” But then his speech took a turn as he used the remainder of his stage time to address potential members of his audience.

“In this movie I play a victim of abuse and violence, and if you are out there and are a person that has had that tragedy befall you, there is no shame and no weakness in seeking help and counseling,” Robbins said. “It is sometimes the strongest thing you can do to stop the cycle of violence.”

Meanwhile, his competition — all actors basically in Robbins’ age range — was fierce and diverse: Alec Baldwin as a casino owner in “The Cooler,” Benicio Del Toro as an ex-con in “21 Grams,” Djimon Hounsou’s AIDS-suffering immigrant in “In America,” and Ken Watanabe in his English-language debut as a warrior in “The Last Samurai.” For Baldwin, Watanabe and Hounsou, this was their first nomination; only Hounsou has gone on to another nomination, in 2007 for “Blood Diamond.” Del Toro was on his second nomination; he’d won in 2001 for “Traffic.”

Robbins also earned one other distinction that evening: As Conan O’Brien pointed out on his talk show “Conan” after the ceremony, at 6 feet 5, he’s also the tallest actor to win an Oscar. “That’s why I’m grateful that you haven’t played ‘Hamlet,’” Robbins quipped to the equally towering comedian.

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