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These first-time Oscar nominees revel in their 'life-changing' moment

These first-time Oscar nominees revel in their 'life-changing' moment
First-time Oscar nominees, left top to bottom, Laurie Metcalf, Timothée Chalamet, Mary J. Blige, and on the right, Allison Janney, Lesley Manville and Daniel Kaluuya share their excitement. (Jay L. Clendenin / Kirk McKoy / Al Seib / Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Ah, you never forget your first Oscar nomination.

For some, it comes after decades of respected work. For others, it's their first major role. Some know their work was different this time because audiences were weeping. Others knew it when they discovered the sudden appearance of their faces in Internet memes. For all, there's nothing like it. Here, six of this year's first-time acting nominees agree: It's "life-changing."

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Mary J. Blige

Florence Jackson, “Mudbound”

What was different about this role for you?

Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

I knew it was different from the other work I had done when I read the script. I knew it was going to be a huge undertaking. The difference to me is I completely disappeared. There was not a trace of Mary J. Blige there.

When were you aware the reactions to this performance were different from your others?

It was at Sundance. It was the first time people were seeing the movie, that all of us were seeing the movie. It was surprising. We got a standing ovation. After, we walked outside and were kind of standing around, and so many people were coming out with their eyes stretched, looking at me. ‘What are they looking at?’ So it was at Sundance that I began to find out people were moved by the performance.

Timothée Chalamet

Elio, “Call Me by Your Name”

When were you aware the reactions to this performance were different from your others?

Timothée Chalamet
Timothée Chalamet (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Immediately after our premiere at Sundance. This is the first project I am the lead of that has really taken off, so everything that has happened beyond the initial festival screening has been brand new and, for the most part, beyond my wildest dreams. I have spent years dreaming of being an actor and was given the great gift of collaborating with true artists and now spending over a year getting to promote it!

What does this nomination mean to you at this moment?

This nomination is truly overwhelming. I am simply in awe of not only the history of the ceremony but also with the nominees included in my category this year. Any recognition for a young artist is a real marker of encouragement to keep pursuing a career — and I will!

Allison Janney

LaVona Golden, “I, Tonya”

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What was different about this role for you?

Allison Janney
Allison Janney (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

The idea of playing a real-life character was a bit of a challenge and slightly scary ... and although I did not get to meet LaVona prior to filming, I was able to view footage of her online. I spent days trying to find whatever I could on the internet to help me get her speech patterns, her facial expressions and an insight into what made her tick. Then I took what I learned and filled in the rest with some intuition and creative license.

What does the nomination mean to you at this moment?

This is definitely an exciting time for me. Of course every actor dreams of this moment, and the fact that one of my closest friends [screenwriter Steven Rogers] gave me the gift of this part makes this nomination so profound. It makes it special for our whole group of friends [who] have all supported each other through the years. I’m just so grateful to everyone who went out to see ‘I, Tonya’ and loved this movie as much as I loved making it.

Daniel Kaluuya

Chris Washington, “Get Out”

When were you aware the reactions to this performance were different from your others?

Daniel Kaluuya
Daniel Kaluuya (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Memes. There were loads of memes. And loads of stuff with my face on it. “Wait, hold on, that’s never happened with my performances before.” [laughs] I haven’t been on Instagram. It was kind of going everywhere, everyone was talking about it. I’d never had an experience on this scale. People wanted to make art out of the stuff we’d done. People taking ownership of it and making it their own.

What does the nomination mean to you at this moment?

It’s life-changing. The realms of possibility have widened. I can stand a bit straighter in terms of decisions moving forward in what I want to do.

Lesley Manville

Cyril, “Phantom Thread”

What was different about this role for you?

Lesley Manville
Lesley Manville (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Working with an American director, which I had done before, but I haven’t done it very often. [Paul Thomas Anderson] is an extraordinary director to work with. He’s so warm and collaborative and open. There’s nothing of this archetypal, if you could imagine an archetypal Hollywood director, to be. He’s a thoroughly decent, proper person. And, of course, I had the benefit of working with a living legend, Daniel Day-Lewis. Paul honestly is one of my favorite people in the entire world. And I’ve met a lot. [laughs]

What does the nomination mean to you at this moment?

In terms of my career, it may well open up things a bit more for me in the States. That would be great.

But the thing, more than anything, that means something to me, is … it feels to me like the culmination of over 40 years of hard work, putting in the time, doing lots of plays for very little money when I was young. Just working very hard. It feels to me like a personal moment. I had a lovely, quiet evening the night I got nominated, at home. It was a good moment to quietly reflect and take stock. I just felt very proud of myself, and that’s the best feeling you can have.

And it’s really great for my son. There’s not many people who’ve been to the Oscars with both their parents. [Her ex-husband, father of their son, is fellow nominee Gary Oldman]. I think he realizes he’s in quite a unique position.

Laurie Metcalf

Marion McPherson, “Lady Bird”

When were you aware the reactions to this performance were different from your others?

Laurie Metcalf
Laurie Metcalf (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

The premiere at Telluride, which was the first time anyone connected with the film had watched it with a typical audience, a movie-buff audience. I heard the reactions around me. Parts of the movie I had never seen before, so I was enjoying [them] as much [as] the people around me — half of it, then I was squinting through my parts.

But listening to the responses, the laughter and also the tears … then walking out afterwards and hearing people say, ‘I’ve got to call my mom.’ That was the first time I thought, “Oh, what a note this has struck.”

What does the nomination mean to you at this moment?

For an actor, it’s maybe the highest recognition that can come your way. To receive it, and especially for a project you care so much about, it just means the world. I treasure being a first-time nominee, especially in the field of women in my category.

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