Sharon Knolle Freelance Writer

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Multiple choice

Actors in multiple kudos contenders face timing issues

By SHARON KNOLLE

An actor's commitment to a film comes with obligations to post-film publicity, and if it's an Oscar-grade piece of work, the PR stakes are raised even higher.

For every Julianne Moore who lands a rare double nod, there are many more who cancel themselves out come nom time.

"We all fear the split-vote syndrome," admits Lions Gate honcho Tom Ortenberg. He saw it happen last year with Scarlett Johansson when her roles in Lions Gate's "Girl With a Pearl Earring" and Focus Features' "Lost in Translation" yielded double noms at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs but no Oscar mentions.

This year, a number of actors -- Jude Law, Jamie Foxx, Kate Winslet, Gael Garcia Bernal and Laura Linney -- may be competing against themselves for kudos recognition. Obviously, thesps really have no control over when a film will be released.

To avoid this trap, a lot of category juggling occurs in the promotion of a thesp's films. Lead perfs sometimes get squeezed into supporting categories, and vice versa, as key players involved determine what and where to push.

Foxx rap

TheHotButton.com columnist Dave Poland considers Foxx in the Ray Charles biopic one of the few sure things in this year's Oscar race. "Foxx will get nominated for 'Ray.' There's zero question about that. But everyone has already decided that 'Ray' is Foxx's movie, so I think that chasing after something for Tom Cruise will be DreamWorks' primary effort this year in regards to 'Collateral.'"

But don't count out a DreamWorks porting category for "Collateral." "It was a great springboard," says Foxx of "Collateral," which helped raise expectations for his lead role in "Ray."

What about the deafening Oscar buzz?

Foxx admits he's already received advice from some of Hollywood's biggest hitters. "It's like I'm a rookie on the big football team. It's very good to have those type of people who are at the top of their game take time and say, 'Hey, good luck if it happens and if it happens, this is what you do.' Denzel Washington basically told me, 'Don't let it go to your head.' And Michael Mann told me, 'You can't live for (the recognition), because eventually you'll tear yourself up.'"

Indeed, winning is great, it adds box office and prestige to a film, zeroes to the winner's paycheck, and it's not exactly an open secret as to how the campaigns are hatched and run. But getting studios to weigh in on their Oscar strategies is a task that's next to impossible.

Under wraps

None of the major studios would comment on the record for this article. A typical response came from Sony. "Are we thinking about campaigning Jude Law for 'Closer.' Absolutely. Are we going to discuss it with you? No."

Poland expresses a likely reaction from voters when he says, "I think Jude Law will cancel himself out in every way possible. Six movies is just too many."

Law's publicist Simon Halls takes issue with that number, a number that has already drawn a lot of inkink. "It's a little bit misleading that Vanity Fair would say 'Six films!,'" says Halls. "One's a cameo ('The Aviator') and one's a voiceover ('Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events'). Yes, he's the lead in 'Alfie,' but he's part of an ensemble in 'Closer,' and part of a major ensemble in 'I Heart Huckabee's' and 'Sky Captain' is a three-hander." (Some orgs, like the Screen Actors Guild, award ensembles.)

Adds Halls, "You always have to let the Academy decide (which performances are Oscarworthy). I think it's a little presumptuous for anyone (associated with the film) to say, 'Oh, this is going to win an Oscar.' There's certainly campaigning but no one's going to go on record saying 'This is our Oscar film' because they have other films (to promote)."

With two talked-about properties, Walter Salles' "Motorcycle Diaries" (Focus) and Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education" (Sony Pictures Classics), this is Bernal's breakthrough year.

Poland points out, "Focus Features campaigns harder than Sony Classics tends to, but 'Motorcycle Diaries' is also the more accessible role an

d the movie has a better shot at being an across-the-board contender as well." Also in the spotlight this year is Linney, who not only has two films but is coming off an Emmy win for her guest spot on "Frasier," an acclaimed run on Broadway this summer in "Sight Unseen" and a tribute at the Telluride Film Festival. "It's sort of the season of Laura," says Newmarket's Bob Berney.

"The films really complement each other," says Berney of "P.S.," which he is distributing, and "Kinsey," distributed by Fox Searchlight. "I'm not sure ultimately how things shake out, awards-wise, but I think the spotlight's on her, which is great for both films. I don't look at them as competitive.

"It's almost like Charlize (Theron) last year," he says of the thesp's role in "Monster," which had her pegged as a shoo-in for lead actress early on. "I never want to get too ahead of myself, but I know that so far, people have really responded to her in 'P.S.'"

Winslet also looks strong this year -- and she's receiving a tribute at the Santa Barbara Intl. Film Festival.

"She's the one possibility that could end up going both ways," agrees Poland. "Miramax decided that they would push 'Finding Neverland' early. They showed it to everybody on the planet in March. And then they moved it out of the October slot to the November slot, so it shows they're serious because they got good reaction from critics."

But although awards competition and publicity can be cutthroat, actors are only human, after all.

"Most studios share very well," says Ortenberg. "We worked very well with Focus last year in terms of splitting Scarlett's time and trying not to duplicate efforts, in terms of trying not to make her appear in two places at once. The awards season is a very concentrated time. There needs to be a lot of communication and respect for the actor involved."

In the end, Foxx, says, "You can't say, 'I'm going to try and do this for the award.' You do it for the great work. And after that, if the awards come, then that's all great, but you can't live for that."

Date in print: Wed., Oct. 27, 2004

2004 Reed Business Information 2004 Variety, Inc.