Having won a best picture Academy Award for The Last Emperor 25 years ago, Jeremy Thomas could be excused for being blase about this year’s nominations during his holiday on Sydney’s northern beaches.
But like the rest of the movie world, the English producer logged onto the Oscars website at the appointed time – 12.30am eight days ago – and learnt good news. His latest movie, the Norwegian adventure Kon-Tiki, was nominated for best foreign-language film.
After a few hours sleep, Thomas woke to 150 congratulatory emails from colleagues and friends.
While this week’s Golden Globes were a glitzy event and a career highlight for actor Hugh Jackman when he won for Les Miserables, the Oscars remain very much the main game in Hollywood’s awards season.
And again they demonstrate this year how significant Australian actors have become in the movie business.
It is not just the trio who join hair and make-up artist Rick Findlater as the country’s nominees this year – Jackman, Jacki Weaver and Naomi Watts. Three of the nine movies nominated for best picture feature Australian talent: Jackman as Jean Valjean and Russell Crowe as Javert in Les Miserables; Weaver as the mother of a troubled teacher in the poignant comedy Silver Linings Playbook; and Jason Clarke as a CIA officer and Joel Edgerton, his brother Nash, and Callan Mulvey as members of the Navy Seal team who kill Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty, which was strikingly shot by Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser.
John Jarratt – Quentin Tarantino’s favourite Australian actor – has a small role in the director’s Django Unchained, which is also up for best picture.
To put that in perspective: when Geoffrey Rush won his Oscar for Shine in 1996, only two Australians had been nominated previously for acting Oscars – Judy Davis (in 1984 and 1992) and Peter Finch (1976).
But in 13 of the past 15 years, Australian actors have been nominated 22 times for four wins so far. Jackman is the best chance this year, though Daniel Day-Lewis is warm favourite for Lincoln.
Or to put it another way: you would struggle to find Australian actors in the top 10 movies at the worldwide box office 20 years ago. Now they feature in six of the 10 highest-grossing movies: Sam Worthington in Avatar, Chris Hemsworth in The Avengers, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and others in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Ben Mendelsohn in The Dark Knight Rises and Geoffrey Rush in two Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Jeremy Thomas, whose movies include Crash, Sexy Beast and Rabbit-Proof Fence, believes Australian actors have a ”charm and this open face” which helps them succeed in Hollywood.
”There’s an enormous amount of acting talent,” he says. ”And directing talent? Full of it, in all areas, like art-house and Andrew Dominik in specialised films to mainstream filmmakers and unique filmmakers like Peter Weir and Phillip Noyce. And I’ve left out 20 others including the new breed like David Michod.
”Somebody in government decided, hey, we can really make something special for Australia out of the movie business. They decided to unleash a lot of money and now Australia has to be considered a world-class player alongside the UK, US, France and Italy.”
Thomas believes so many Australian actors make it because of the cultural similarities, language and, in the case of the males, a natural masculinity that comes from growing up outdoors with a good diet.
”Men who live in a cold place and grow up with an unhealthy diet without the beach, it’s a different idea of the body,” he says.
Findlater, the Oscar-nominated hair and make-up artist, believes the country’s actors succeed so often because they are open to collaboration.
”Australian actors listen,”
he says. ”They absorb information.”
He believes many American actors are more concerned about ensuring they are recognisable on screen rather than appearing in character.
Hollywood-based Noyce (Newsfront, Patriot Games, Rabbit-Proof Fence) says Australian actors get extensive training in theatre, TV, film and drama school. But he agrees that character comes into it.
”The greatest thing Hollywood likes about Australian actors is that Oz men are 200 per cent male and Oz women are, in comparison to Americans, level-headed and self-assured,” he says.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.