Sunday 22 October 2017

Oscars blog: Best Actor - Will Leo finally take home the Oscar?

Join Meadhbh McGrath every day this week for musings on the campaign...

Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio

Meadhbh McGrath

The road to the Oscars has been as long and eventful as ever. Before the little gold men are handed out, we reflect on the highs and lows of this year’s campaign ahead of the ceremony on Sunday, February 28.

Best Actor


Bryan Cranston - Trumbo

Matt Damon - The Martian

Vicious: Leonardo DiCaprio as frontier guide Hugh Glass in a scene from 'The Revenant'
Vicious: Leonardo DiCaprio as frontier guide Hugh Glass in a scene from 'The Revenant'
Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs
Bryan Cranston gives a tour de force performance as the title character in Trumbo.
Matt Damon in The Martian
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl trailer

Leonardo DiCaprio - The Revenant

Michael Fassbender - Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne - The Danish Girl


When it comes to winning an Oscar, it’s not enough to just deliver an outstanding performance. A lot more goes into an awards season campaign, as a crack team behind each of the nominees meticulously crafts what is called an “Oscars narrative” to make a win for their actor feel more meaningful and deserved.

If there’s a sure bet in any of the acting categories, it comes in Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant. Since his first nomination in 1994 for a supporting role in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, ‘Poor Leo’ has been nominated time and again – leading to a wealth of excellent memes and even a video game, Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage which gives fans the chance to help Leo take home Oscar gold - but he’ll be hoping for glory come Sunday night.

Although things were shaky at first, by now Leo is almost certain to win. His peers in the race are no lightweights, but Eddie Redmayne just won last year for The Theory of Everything (and The Danish Girl has proved divisive with critics and audiences), Matt Damon was snubbed by the Screen Actors Guild (which represents the most significant voting body in the Academy, the actors), there’s a lot of love in Hollywood for Bryan Cranston but voters weren’t as smitten with Trumbo as other guilds, and, despite Michael Fassbender’s spectacular turn as Steve Jobs, his film underperformed at the box office, and was withdrawn from over 2000 cinemas just two weeks after release.

Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs

On top of this, Fassbender is notorious for his aversion to Oscar campaigning, telling GQ in 2013 (the year he earned a nomination for 12 Years a Slave): “I’m not a politician, I’m an actor.” Some believe his refusal to campaign cost him the Oscar that year, and hasn’t helped him this year either.

That leaves us with Leo. An not only has he given a stunning performance as Hugh Glass, a 19th century fur trapper abandoned by his fellow explorers, but Leo and his team have shaped a near-bulletproof Oscar campaign, all built around the “he’s due” narrative.

Bryan Cranston gives a tour de force performance as the title character in Trumbo.

It’s a very powerful Oscar narrative, one we saw Julianne Moore carry to a Best Actress win last year for Still Alice. For Best Actor, the Academy typically favours a slightly older actor, and now that Leo has turned 41, he is, in the eyes of voters, finally “ready” to be welcomed into the winners’ circle.

By working with auteur directors like Martin Scorcese, Christopher Nolan and now Alejandro González Iñárritu, Leo has proven his worth and made the difficult transition from ‘celebrity’ to legitimate actor.

While he’s certainly had a lot of great roles, Leo also has a reputation as a bit of a playboy with a penchant for supermodel girlfriends.

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In The Revenant, he’s managed to turn that around by playing a part that demanded a gruelling personal sacrifice. Matthew McConaughey achieved a similar feat when he won Best Actor in 2014 for Dallas Buyers Club.

Between sleeping inside a horse carcass, eating raw bison liver and plunging himself into freezing rivers while wearing 100 pound furs, no actor has suffered more for his craft this awards season than Leo – and boy, do we know it.

Matt Damon in The Martian

We’ve been reminded at every turn that this was an excruciatingly difficult film to make, that Leo is a vegetarian, and, interestingly, of his off-screen charitable and environmental work.

His campaign has been keen to emphasise his charitable side, one of the more appealing and redeeming qualities of his personality, something Leo himself highlighted during his Best Actor acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, where he delivered a message about climate change and the importance of respecting indigenous communities.

Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl trailer

By linking the struggle of the film to his environmentalism, Leo can establish himself as an even weightier candidate in this Oscars race.

So Leo ticks all the boxes here: he braved the elements, he underwent a dramatic physical transformation, he played a real person (another sure-fire way to grab the gold), and he managed to deliver a striking performance without saying very much (the complete opposite of Fassbender, who memorised 180 pages of dialogue for Steve Jobs).

It’s looking like Best Actor will be all about Leo.

Leonardo DiCaprio with the Best Actor BAFTA (The Revenant) in the press room at the EE British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Opera House, Bow Street, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday February 14, 2016. See PA Story SHOWBIZ Baftas. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire

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