The remarkable thing about Renee Zellweger [Chicago] is that prior to the musical triumph that is Chicago, the Texan had never sung or danced professionally. It is clear, over the years, how Zellweger has transformed herself, having already received a Best Actress nomination for her mesmerising turn in Bridget Jones' Diary. She may have had to work on that British accent and that weight, but nothing could prepare her for Chicago, a project she didn't want to try and take on. Genuinely surprised that the power of her voice is as strong as it is, she says "that I think the real powerful voice came from my counterpart, my Welsh friend", she says, referring to Catherine Zeta-Jones. However, whether the shy actress wants to admit it or not, sing she does, and she admits that it was something she never expected to be doing. "My singing career started a long, long, long, time ago in the shower to Beatle records and my brother shouting at me to shut up", she laughingly recalls. "I just had it in my head that I could sing, but I think he just wanted to beat me up over ANYTHING. After all, here I was this 6-year old kid doing these McCartney covers and blasphemising his hero in the process." That shut her up, musically, for a time, until "the drunken Karaoke moment in Bridget Jones which was such a blast for me to do." That hardly prepares us for the tunes she belts out in Chicago, which the actress describes as "a very different form of expression " but she was surprised that director Rob Marshall was remotely interested in this gal from Austin, Texas, with little proven musical ability. "That Rob Marshall, for some strange reason had it in his head that this was going to work and I trusted him on every level." That was until after she understood the script. "I got this script, read it and I didn't understand it at all. It just didn't translate at all," she confesses. "I don't know the musical, I hadn't seen it before, so I'd never seen any of the numbers performed, so I had no idea what any of the lyrics meant on the page. So I thought it was a very bad idea that I should become involved with something whose meaning I had no idea about," Zellweger exclaims. After much prodding from her manager, she was finally persuaded to talk to him on the phone "and his ideas were inspiring." Asked what she though Rob might have seen in her that persuaded him to go after her in the first place, the actress becomes shyly embarrassed on some level. "I don't hear that kind of stuff. He started to go out on that and I start to shut off because I don't know how to take that stuff, so I shut down and go away." Admitting to her own insecurities which seem considerable, she admits that she can't take compliments. "I just can't do it, never have." Yet in Chicago she gives a ballsy, sexy performance as Roxie, whom the actress describes as "very honest even though our lives' perspective is very different." Not the easiest character to relate to, agrees Zellweger. "In fact the way that she looks at life and the choices that she makes are antithetical to those that I make in my own life", she admits, laughingly. "I wouldn't say there is anything that I could identify with except for her honesty." She also pushes her sexuality more on screen than ever before. "I just play a girl who does that", she says simply. "That's a big part of who she is. It's her currency so that was new and interesting."
She completely envelopes Roxy and Academy voters agreed. Zellweger has a real shot at taking Oscar home with her for a film that nobody expected would emerge as successful as it has.
All of these women have been able to prove themselves as virtuoso screen performers, meticulously hiding behind a complex and fascinating character. Who is likely to add Oscar to her bookshelf? My pick is Nicole Kidman, following her recent triumphs at the Golden Globes and BAFTAS.
As for the rest of the Oscars, so many performances to speak about, so little time. For Performance by an actor in a leading role, the nominees are:Adrien Brody The Pianist;
Nicolas Cage Adaptation;
Daniel Day-Lewis Gangs of New York;
Michael Caine - Quiet American and Jack Nicholson About Schmidt.
An interesting dilemma. Nicholson may have won the Golden Globe but his Oscar chances don't seem quite as bright for his 12th nomination. Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, a former insurance agent in America's Midwest who is trying to deal with his recent retirement, a personal tragedy and the coming marriage of his only daughter to a man he considers an idiot. When we met in December, the legendary actor said: "I looked at him as the man that I might have become if I wasn't lucky enough to wind up in show business," Nicholson commented in his familiar drawl.
The story, about a man losing hold of his life after a series of losses, raises a lot of issues, among them retirement. What happens when your job no longer drives your day? What happens when your children get older and your loved ones move away ? They're issues Nicholson has had to face in his own life. "For instance, my daughter Jennifer has a clothing shop she is opening, so she is in her own business now and I don't get to talk to her as much as I did a year or so ago," the father of four said. He wouldn't be drawn on his Oscar chances except to hope "that our entire cast is recognised." Kathy Bates certainly was.
Michael Caine deserves to take home an Oscar, but the controversy surrounding Quiet American makes it unlikely. The remaining nominees have an equal shot. Day Lewis is methodically brilliant and powerful, a popular choice. Cage has an Oscar and the Academy rarely awards lead acting prizes for comedic work, but Adaptation's ingenuity and audaciousness could translate in Oscar glory. Adrien Brody is remarkable in this superb Holocaust survival tale. It's the kind of film that generates Oscars, and Brody has a real shot but he is a first-timer.MY PICK: DANIEL DAY-LEWIS FOR GANGS OF NEW YORK.
The supporting nominees are always the toughest to pick and remain the least predictable. The men, in this category, are all seasoned veterans who have paid their dues, and any one could take home an Oscar. For Performance by an actor in a supporting role the nominees are:Chris Cooper - Adaptation
Ed Harris - The Hours
Paul Newman - Road to Perdition
John C. Reilly - Chicago
Christopher Walken - Catch Me If You Can
An interesting collection of actors playing intense, sometimes tortured characters. Newman was wonderful but the film's summer release diminishes his chances. Walken is the Hollywood outsider and Catch Me too mainstream to garner an Oscar. Harris has been nominated three other times and is a popular Hollywood institution, while Reilly hasn't quite proven himself to Academy voters despite his flurry of exquisite performances last year. If Adaptation wins anything, it will be for Chris Cooper's work.MY PICK: CHRIS COOPER FOR ADAPTATION.
Women continue to shine in the Best Supporting Actress category. Will it be Kathy Bates for About Schmidt? Julianne Moore for The Hours? Queen Latina for Chicago? Meryl Streep for Adaptation or Catherine Zeta-Jones for Chicago? Even a seasoned Oscar observer may find it tough to predict the outcome of this race and it's anybody's guess. Since musicals have a tough time getting the major awards, my pick is CATHERINE ZETA-JONES FOR HICAGO.
This year, more than any other, the Academy Awards remain unpredictable, which is not a bad thing. For Best Director Martin Scorsese is a likely recipient out of Rob Marshall, Chicago Stephen Daldry, The Hours, Roman Polanski, The Pianist and Pedro Almodovar for Talk to Her, but for Best Picture, The Pianist is my pick out of The Hours, Chicago, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Gangs of New York. Whatever the results, Oscar 2003 will remain full of traditional kitsch, acerbic humour and not to mention those gowns on display, for better or worse. Hollywood's night of nights is coming as are those tearful speeches and plastic smiles. But then, this is Hollywood after all.Oscar, Oscar, Who'll Won the Oscar? → CLICK HERE!
- Paul Fischer