With the news that Michelle Williams is campaigning for lead actress, rather than supporting actress, for her performance in Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’, many are wondering if this big step will pay off. With bona fide contenders like Cate Blanchett of “Tár” and Michelle Yeoh of “Everything Everywhere All at Once” voicing all their claims as frontrunners, the category decision caused quite a stir on social media and connoisseur circles. Not only because many felt Williams had locked up the support category for herself to win, but there’s also a sense that she’s basically a supportive player like free-spirited mom Mitzy Fabelman. The film revolves around Gabrielle LaBelle’s role as Sammy, a teenager who falls in love with cinema.
Variety looks back at some of the most notable contemporary “supporting roles” (post 1990), who have been vying for the attention of protagonists or actresses. Most of these entries fell in favor of the actors.
Category fraud is always a hot topic every awards season, with clear industry-leading achievements entered in supporting categories for an easier path to a nomination or a win. It’s not often we see it the other way around, with a questionable assist turning angle to grab attention.
When you look at the cases that didn’t work out in favor of the actors, there are a few that come to mind. Most prominent was Richard Gere, who won the Globe and was nominated to SAG for his tap dance attorney Billy Flynn in “Chicago” (2002), but he ended up missing out on the Oscar nomination. Other examples include Delroy Lindo’s PTSD veteran in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” (2020) and Steve Carell’s hedge fund leader in Adam McKay’s ensemble drama “The Big Short” (2015).
In the early days of the Academy you can find a lot of short performances. Time wise, David Niven holds the current record for shortest performance ever in the Best Actor category, at 23 minutes 39 seconds, for playing Major Angus Pollock in Delbert Mann’s “Separate Tables” (1958). For best actress, that record is held by Patricia Neal, whose turn as housekeeper Alma in Martin Ritt’s “Hud” (1963) lasts just 21 minutes and 51 seconds.
Read Varieties list of the 13 best examples of supporting actors who campaigned for the Oscar main categories below.
Honorable Mentions: Amy Adams, “American Bustle” (2013); Samantha Morton, “In America” (2003); Kristin Scott Thomas, “The English Patient” (1996)