SYDNEY, Australia – New Zealand anticipated Oscar success for home-grown director Peter Jackson's (search) "Lord of the Rings" finale. But a best-actress nomination for 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes (search) -- the youngest-ever nominee in that category -- was a surprise to the "Whale Rider" star.
The film's distributor had been pushing Castle-Hughes in the supporting category.
Following up his win at Sunday's Golden Globe awards, Peter Jackson was expected to score in the nominations for "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," and he did. His film led the nomination slate with 11, including best picture and director.
Castle-Hughes's performance as a New Zealand girl who defies tradition to lead a tribe of Maori (search), New Zealand's indigenous people, has won praise at film festivals around the world.
Instead, the New Zealand teenager will be up against Hollywood veteran Diane Keaton, Charlize Theron, Samantha Morton and Australia's Naomi Watts for best actress.
Castle-Hughes is the youngest person ever to be nominated for best actress, the Academy said as it made the announcements Tuesday.
Castle-Hughes was plucked from obscurity at 11 to play Paikea in what was her first acting experience. After the whirl of international travel and publicity, she told The Associated Press last year she wasn't sure acting would be her lifelong pursuit.
"I've always wanted to be an actress, but now that I've had the chance I don't know if I really want to," she said. "It's really hard."