Published February 19, 2009
How do people with such bad teeth get so many Oscar nominations?
We kid! But seriously, what's up with the Brits?
At this weekend's Oscars, the Best Picture nominees include a story about an American President and a British journalist written by the London-born Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon") and an adaptation of a German novel ("The Reader") with lead roles played by British actors (Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes) written and directed by two British Oscar nominees (David Hare and Stephen Daldry).
And the favorite on Sunday night? "Slumdog Millionaire," a film written by a Brit (Simon Beaufoy), directed by a Brit (Danny Boyle), starring an ethnic Indian who was born and raised in England (Dev Patel) that takes place in India.
But it’s not just Brits. The Academy Awards’ actor and actress categories also include Spaniard Penelope Cruz in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and Aussie Heath Ledger in "The Dark Knight."
Featuring foreign-born stars is a no-brainer at The Golden Globes, which is sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press. This year, five of the six acting Globes went to foreign-born actors; four from the British Isles (Kate Winslet counting for half of those, with a Best Actress in a Drama award for "Revolutionary Road" and Best Supporting Actress in a Drama for "The Reader"), while "Slumdog" took home Best Picture.
But the hometown Oscars?
Nobody says it has to have a strictly American focus, but there is a certain expectation that it will, just as the Globes offer nods to overseas talent. However, when it comes to "highbrow" (read: award-worthy) entertainment, American voters seem to have a hard time embracing American talent. Especially when the Brits start crowding the spotlight.
"To a degree, we see the British as tastemakers," explains John Cork, an American who has written about the James Bond phenomenon for years in books including James Bond: The Legacy. "So [some] look to British culture for literature, music and other arts with much more deference than we do to truly American culture."
Additionally, foreign stars can bring in foreign revenue. A film like “Slumdog” can expect a decent U.S. box office, particularly if it wins the Best Picture Oscar (at press time it had earned $77.2 million domestically, and Nielsen Media By Numbers expects it to top $100 million ), but thanks to its locale, international cast and British heritage, overseas revenue could match or surpass that. Non-nominated films like the James Bond franchise routinely earn over half of their revenue from overseas sales.
Award-worthy films aside, there's also recently been a trend of casting British actors as Americans on the big and small screen, such as Hugh Laurie in "House," Rufus Sewell in "Eleventh Hour," Jonny Lee Miller in "Eli Stone," and Toni Collette in "The United States of Tara."
But don't blame casting directors, says Nancy Klopper, who cast the features "Righteous Kill," "Ray" and "Fantastic Four," plus the upcoming "Love Ranch" and "Defendor." She says that European actors are well trained, “without ego” and very flexible when it comes to accepting jobs on both television and film.
"There is a 'work is work' attitude," she says.
She says that American agents are also "aggressively signing" foreign actors "because the opportunities for them here are abundant. We've always been short of leading men in
"I think with American stars there is a bit more of a 'let's sit back and see what comes to us [attitude],'" says Klopper. "I don't think [American stars] go after things."
Arguably, the best American actors also seem to carry baggage with them: Nominees Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler") and Sean Penn ("Milk") have a "love 'em or hate 'em" relationship with the public, while nominees like Anne Hathaway turn in star roles with "Rachel Getting Married," but balance them with dreck like "Bride Wars."
Like her or not, Kate Winslet does not slum around.
It's almost as if the American public - and awards voters - know a bit too much about their homegrown stars to find them truly talented, while the enigma wrapped in an accent of the European actor still carries with it a mysterious glamour.
That said, Americans aren't the only ones getting their roles taken out from under them - in addition to "The Reader," the Germans had to deal with Brits in the major roles in "Valkyrie."
The good news for American actors there? Tom Cruise is the head Nazi in the nomination-free film.
Well, we'll take what we can get.