Notes On The Season: Kate Winslet Talks ‘Ammonite’ To ‘Avatar’; The Golden Globe Sacha Baron Cohen Tried To Buy; Frank Langella On The Last Great Movie Star
A column chronicling conversations and events on the awards circuit.
Will this now-eight-month awards season ever end?
In a normal year, the way it was originally planned, we’d be spending this Valentine’s Day weekend checking out the BAFTA Awards and prepping for the Oscars just two weeks from now. Instead Monday, the President’s Day holiday, is exactly one month away from the announcement of Oscar nominations, and we still have just a little less than two and a half long months until the Oscars themselves take place on their latest date ever, Sunday April 25, 2021, colliding directly with Emmy season in a never ending whirlwind of zoom panels, virtual screenings, and occasional invites out to a drive-in to see Ammonite. I miss the good old days.
Thanks you Covid 19. Thank you very much.
NOMADLAND OF PREMIERES
Does this season seem like Groundhog Day to you, or am I just too close to it? I mean how many “World Premieres” can Nomadland have? Apparently not enough judging by the invite I got last week inviting me to the “world premiere” of Nomadland on Thursday February 18, preceded by a preview of upcoming Searchlight Films hosted by the Oscar magnet company’s co-chairs Nancy Utley and Steven Gilula. I am especially interested to see what Searchlight has in store for next season so we can get started on that Oscar campaign the minute this endless one ends, that is if it ends.
Searchlight also is offering a “curated concessions crate hand delivered to your door prior to the screening”. Hey, I signed up since I have only seen the film once, and that was way back in mid-September with its then multi World Premieres at Venice (where it won the Golden Lion), Toronto (where it won the People’s Choice honor), and a special Rose Bowl Drive -in screening for “Telluride In Los Angeles”, since that Colorado fest was physically cancelled. It also had a notable premiere as the Centerpiece of the New York Film Festival that month. Since those four “premieres” all listed BTW on the invite, Nomadland has brilliantly worked the festival circuit like no other and racking up critics’ awards like no other. The originally planned early December release was pushed to very nearly the end of the extended 14 month Oscar eligibility period so the company has been able to squeeze every ounce of excitement by making their key contender brand NEW again over and over on the fest circuit, an impressive feat considering the challenge of keeping a contender alive for this long a season.
So before the upcoming “world” premiere of the Chloe Zhao film starring Frances McDormand that is also currently nominated for Globes, SAG, Critics Choice awards, it premiered over the past five months in such world film fest destinations as Helsinki, San Sebastian Spain, Athens, Zurich, Iceland, Hamburg, France, London, Belgium, Ukraine, Mexico, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Estonia, Sweden, Singapore, Uruguay, Bath, as well as such USA fest stops as the Hamptons, Aspen, Middleburg, Mill Valley, San Diego, Montclair, Chicago, and who knows where else that IMDb missed. But on February 18, a day before its Hulu Premiere and official theatrical run it will finally have a “World Premiere”. Okay, if you say so. Did I mention that Nomadland has premiered as well in every award voter’s living room already, either in the Academy’s digital screening room, or via links, or DVD screeners? I think Searchlight just might have set a Guinness World Record for world premieres. Or maybe this is just the first time they are labeling it as such. Gotta hand it to them. They know how to play this Oscar game, as past Best Picture winners Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave, Birdman, The Shape of Things and numerous others that were nominated have proven again and again.
THE GOLDEN GLOBE SACHA BARON COHEN TRIED TO BUY
Over the decades some have said with the right campaign it is easy to “buy” a Golden Globe. Pia Zadora’s late husband famously did in his own way, but really can you buy a Golden Globe? The answer is yes, and that is exactly what 3-time 2021 Golden Globe nominee (Actor and Picture Musical/Comedy Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Supporting Actor Trial of the Chicago 7) Sacha Baron Cohen tried to do. Why, you ask? Why would Cohen who had already won his own Globe in 2007 for Best Actor Musical/Comedy for the first Borat, want to buy another one?
Well, the Globe he tried to buy actually belonged to his idol, Peter Sellers, who won it just seven months before his death in 1980 for Best Actor Musical/Comedy for Being There, the same category Cohen would win 27 years later. He revealed this little tidbit in a recent interview he did with me for my Deadline Video Series, The Actor’s Side. “He was the hero of mine growing up, not in terms of his parenting or his role as a husband. But I remember the moment I was 8 years old seeing him perform and it was as Clouseau, and it was this incredibly broad character. At first I was laughing so hard, but I believed him completely. And all of his characters, despite being over the top and not believable in the hands of almost any other performer are completely authentic and completely three dimensional,” Cohen said after I reminded him in my review of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm I called him ‘a new-age Peter Sellers. “Actually once they auctioned off his Golden Globe for Being There and I tried to buy it, but I got the time zone wrong so I missed that, but I really wanted to get it. He was a really incredible and versatile actor…I have got to say that is the highest compliment you could ever give me, to compare me to Peter Sellers.”
LAST OF THE GREATS
Cohen’s Trial of the Chicago 7 co-star Frank Langella, with whom he is sharing an Outstanding Cast SAG nomination this season, also was a recent guest on an upcoming edition of The Actor’s Side (3/3/21) and we carried on a fascinating conversation, one that also included a revelation about one of his favorite icons, and actually a one-time Sellers co-star in 1961’s The Millionairess: Sophia Loren who has made a triumphant return to leading film roles this season with her starring turn as Madame Rosa in Netflix’s The Life Ahead, a Globe and Critics Choice nominee for Foreign Language Film and Best Song. He just brought her name up as we were talking about his book “Dropped Names” and all the icons he has met in his long career, even though she is not one of those acquaintances. Like so many of us he only knows La Loren from the light of the silver screen. “I saw one of the great movie star performances last night, Sophia Loren in The Life Ahead. When she is gone she will be the last one. Her magnificence on screen, her commitment, her honesty and yet still the movie star quality. It’s extraordinary. She’s able to do both. You believe every minute, yet you are in awe of her majesty on the screen,” he told me. I would have to agree with that. Somehow the critics groups and Golden Globes have passed her over so far this year, but hopefully Oscar will come through with the nomination she deserves. By the way it would be her third. She won the Oscar for 1961’s Two Women, and was nominated again in 1964 for Marriage Italian Style, as well as receiving an Honorary Oscar in 1990 for her career. But a gap of 56 years between lead actress nominations would undoubtedly be a record for Loren, who is now 86 years old and was 26 when she first won.
And speaking of Loren her name has already made it to the Oscar shortlists which were announced earlier this week, but I am not talking about her son Edoardo Ponti’s lilting The Life Ahead which is in contention for Best Song (“IO SI -Seen) and Original Score on those lists, but also for an absolutely charming Documentary Short called What Would Sophia Loren Do? The Netflix docu is among 10 finalists for one of the 5 Best Documentary Short nominations. It’s all about Nancy “Vincenza Careri” Kulik, a New Jersey Italian-American grandmother who has admired the great Italian star her whole life, and patterned her behavior over questions about how Loren would handle things. Its feel good delightful style could go a long way in the race, even featuring a cameo appearance from Sophia herself when she got to meet this ultimate fan. Both The Life Ahead and What Would Sophia Loren Do? are currently running on Netflix and worth checking out.
KATE WINSLET SPEAKS OUT ON ‘TITANIC’, EGOTS, COVID, AND ‘AMMONITE’
When I hopped on the phone recently to talk to Kate Winslet, an Oscar winner and seven-time nominee hoping for an 8th go round with her latest film Ammonite, I had to tell her I have been staring at her face quite a lot lately. My wife and I always insert ourselves into some classic movie scene for our annual holiday card, and for 2020 I couldn’t think of anything that fit that disastrous year better than Titanic, and thus we became Rose and Jack. She laughed all the way from her home on the South Coast of England. “Oh, my God. Have you seen that really weird app that you can download where you can put your face onto someone else’s face? We’ve got this friend, Rory. He’s a farmer. Truly, a farmer, like, he’s a sheep and castle farmer. Well, he sent me a clip the other day of Rose and Jack dancing in steerage when they have that party, but it’s the scene where they’re spinning each other around and around, and alarmingly, this farmer friend of ours had put his face on mine. Funniest thing. You’ve got to check it out. It’s really hilarious. Absolutely hilarious,” she said. Well, at least I stuck to being Jack!
Winslet is truly fun to talk to, a real free spirit. The first thing she wanted to know was how I was surviving this awards season talking to actors on zoom all the time. If they are like Winslet, who is great as usual in the somewhat intense period drama Ammonite, I have no problem zooming even though as I mentioned at the top of this column it feels like a season that will never end. And in the middle of a pandemic as well. When we talked Winslet said her 81 year old dad had just gotten his first vaccination for Covid, and that they are all doing fine 2 1/2 hours out of hard hit London. Her family has gotten into cold water swimming every day, and surviving these strange times. “We’re all just getting through it, aren’t we?” she asked.
She misses the back and forth with an audience, and being able to go to festivals with the film. She was slated for an award at Telluride, which had to cancel their fest for the first time this year. “Telluride was going to do some nice nods in our direction, my direction. I was, actually, particularly sad not to get to go. The thing that I’m finding the oddest of all, particularly with a film like Ammonite, which people have such interesting questions, questions that turn into discussions and important conversation, and I’m finding it very sad not to have that sort of audience connection that, with a Q&A, you really can have,” she said. “It’s not even about audience applause or acknowledgement, but just that connection. That shared experience when you’re all sitting in that huge room together processing what you’ve just seen, and people do react to Ammonite in quite interesting ways based on their own experience, or their own sexuality, or how they lived their lives, and you know, people are obviously very interested in (Winslet’s character) Mary Anning, and who she was, and what she did. So, I’m finding that there’s so much to share, to say, to debate, really, and not being able to do that with people, it’s just a little bit sad.”
In the film she is a brilliant scientist and geologist based on the real life Anning, the unsung hero of fossil discovery in her era. She is a complex woman, repressed in some ways, who lives with her mother and shares a slow- burning affair with a married younger woman (Saoirse Ronan) who comes to visit. It actually was to have premiered in competition in Cannes last May, but that venerable festival was cancelled as well due to the Covid 19 pandemic. “I was just excited and terrified by the challenge that she’s completely different, and I’m nothing like Mary Anning. Nothing like her, and I was quite scared about playing her, but I had a really interesting reaction when I read the script because I found myself thinking something I think I’ve never thought before. I found myself thinking, ‘oh, my God’. I don’t think I could handle watching somebody else play this part’. You know, it’s sort of like I’ve just got to grab it,” she said adding that the idea of working with Ronan was a really big deal as well.
In some ways they have had similar careers, both receiving their first four Oscar nominations apiece by the age of 25, And of course there is also the much talked about love scene between the pair, one that feels wholly real and authentic. Winslet said it evolved from the page in director Francis Lee’s script. “It wasn’t better or otherwise more of something or less of something. It was just different. Any love scene, actually, always ends up changing shape when the actors get in the room because actors always have opinions, but what was completely wonderful for me, and something that I’ve really sort of learned how I’m still learning about, quite honestly, is that the feeling that I had of sort of a quality, and it just felt so safe because the heterosexual stereotypes were gone,” she said. “It was extraordinary to me to learn how different it is doing the scene with a member of the same sex, and I have played LGBTQ roles in the past, but never in such an intense, intimate way, but it’s really taught me a lot.”
Winslet has won an Oscar, an Emmy for the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce, even a Grammy (for the audiobook “Listen to the Storyteller” in 1999), so it begs the question: when will she hit Broadway to get that Tony and become an EGOT winner? “(Producer) Scott Rudin keeps telling me that, and actually, so does my son. My 17-year-old son is, like, ‘Mum, you’ve got to do it. Al right?’ So, this is pressure. My son loves all the records and the statistics. Sometimes he’ll say ‘do you know, you hold a record for blah blah blah’. I’m like, ‘why do you know that?’ It’s so funny. It’s really lovely, now that they’re older, my older two, my daughter’s 20, and Joe’s 17, my little one’s 7, but the older two, they’re just so proud, and it’s wonderful, It’s really, really wonderful,” she said.
Before if and when she hits Broadway though she has lots of work to do in film, and a return to another HBO limited series, Mare of Easttown airing on April 18 in which she plays a detective investigating a local murder in Pennsylvania. She managed to finish it finally working with strict new Covid protocols. She also worked again with her Titanic director James Cameron in Avatar 2 as a new character, Ronal, and now expected for Christmas 2022 – hopefully. She had a good time on it. “Avatar was an incredible experience. I got to free dive and hold my breath for long periods of time, and work with some incredible people, and you know, it’s part of that huge machine that is really so impressive and very collaborative, and everyone was so lovely,” she said. “I had quite a few scenes with Sigourney Weaver, both in and under the water, and she’s just a terrific, extraordinary person, I am as excited as everyone else to see it when it comes out.”