© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rob Edelman: Oscar Trivia

One of the pleasures of working as an editor on the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide is researching the early credits of actors who during the previous year had emerged as bona-fide stars or recognizable supporting players. And it is equally enjoyable to do the same with established actors who presently are in the spotlight as Academy Award nominees.

Take for example Steve Carell, who is up for Best Actor for his dramatic turn in FOXCATCHER. We all know Carell from THE OFFICE, his TV sitcom, and from such big-screen comedies as THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, EVAN ALMIGHTY, and DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS. But you can trace his career all the way back to 1998, before he embraced stardom, and find him playing small roles on the big screen. Many of these characters do not even have names. In a film titled HOMEGROWN, a comedy with Billy Bob Thornton and Hank Azaria, Carell is credited as “Party Extra With Funny Pants.” In a film titled TOMORROW NIGHT, a comedy directed by Louis C.K., Carell is billed as “Mailroom Guy Without Glasses.” (By the way, a pre-SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE Amy Poehler also is in this film. Her character is: “Woman Getting Squirted.”)

In recent years, Benedict Cumberbatch, nominated for THE IMITATION GAME, has become one of the world’s most popular and respected actors. Once upon a time, however, he did have a few “nameless” credits. One example is in a film titled TO KILL A KING, a British-made historical drama which dates from 2003. This film is loaded with familiar names and faces, playing such historical figures as Oliver Cromwell, Sir Thomas and Lady Anne Fairfax, and King Charles I. But you’ll also find a pre-celebrity Benedict Cumberbatch in TO KILL A KING, playing a character who is billed simply as “Royalist.”

At the time, Cumberbatch was a rising young actor and, here, he is connected to Eddie Redmayne, who has won great acclaim playing Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Back in 2004, Benedict Cumberbatch also played Stephen Hawking in a British television movie titled, simply, HAWKING.

Cinematically-speaking, Michael Keaton is 2014’s comeback kid for his heralded performance in BIRDMAN. If you research Keaton, you will see that his credits go way back to the mid-1970s. The first one I could find for him is in the MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD TV series, in which he is credited in an episode as “Volunteer.” At this point, he still was using his birth name, which is Michael Douglas-- and you all can guess why he had to change his name. The story goes that, after reading an article about Diane Keaton, he decided that “Michael Keaton” sounded good, and so he became “Michael Keaton.”

Let’s move on to the actresses. Patricia Arquette is the odds-on favorite to win as Best Supporting Actress for BOYHOOD. In the “you-have-to-start someplace” category, one of Arquette’s first credits, which dates from 1987, is A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS. This is the sort of credit that ranks with RETURN TO HORROR HIGH and RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, which are some of George Clooney’s early credits. Then you have TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE NEXT GENERATION, which also features a couple of future Oscar winners. They are Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey.

Laura Dern, nominated as Best Supporting Actress for WILD, is the daughter of Bruce Dern, a Best Actor nominee last time around for NEBRASKA. Her mother is Diane Ladd, who way back in 1974 was a Best Supporting Actress nominee as Flo, the waitress, in ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE. In one of the scenes shot in the diner where Flo and Alice work, a little girl briefly appears. She has no dialogue. All she does is sit at the counter and enjoy an ice cream cone. Well, that little girl is seven-year-old Laura Dern-- and it makes perfect sense for her to be an extra in this film.

Finally, a while back, I was re-seeing CITY SLICKERS, the 1991 Billy Crystal comedy, and the young actor who played the Crystal character’s son seemed awfully familiar. When the film first was released, there was no way that I would have noticed him. But there is his name, listed in the end credit roll. He is eleven-year-old Jake Gyllenhaal, an “almost”-Oscar nominee all these years later for his performance in NIGHTCRAWLER.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

Related Content