Should First Time Actors Be Nominated For Oscars?

It seems that every once in awhile a film is so good, or the buzz is so strong, that an actor in their very first film simply blows everyone away and is nominated for an Oscar.

My question is, how can you tell if a person, in their very first film, is a great actor or if the casting director was simply a really great casting director and found someone who fits the role perfectly in real life? What if this is the one and only role they will ever play so convincingly, because the role was perfect for that person?

In other words, if it is their first and only film, how can we determine if the performance is due to their great, Oscar-worthy acting ability?

Not to pick on her, but Gabourey ‘Gabby’ Sidibe is getting a lot of buzz for her performance in Precious. Now I haven’t even seen the film but have heard it is excellent. I happened to catch Gabby on Conan’s show the other night and she seems like a great kid, with a fantastic personality and I really, really liked her.
However, she admitted that not only is this her first hit film, this is her first-ever acting gig!

Assuming she does get nominated for an Oscar for this role, is it fair to put her up against, for instance, Meryl Streep who has played hundreds of roles from drama to comedy to musicals and puts forth a convincing character every time?
And assuming Gabby wins (which I wouldn’t begrudge), does that mean she is a better actor than Meryl?

I know that many great actors knocked it out of the park on their first time out - but there are many other cases of actors being nominated/winning and pretty much never being heard of again.

I have mixed feelings and wanted to know what others think; Do you think first time actors should be nominated/win an Oscar based upon one performance in one film?

<Ringo singing>
All I got to do,
is act naturally

Sure I do. Not everybody (or nearly anybody) who fits a role in near life would do a good job acting it - even the very person in a biopic. To act you have to express emotions repeatedly for the camera. You need to show inner thoughts in a very unnatural way. And it all has to look good for the camera.

An acting Oscar is for a particular role, not a lifetime achievement. So I’m fine with first time actors being nominated.

Yes, and that is my “mixed feelings” about it. I know it is not lifetime achievement as lots of people who probably deserve an Oscar never even get nominated. To the extent that a good performance is a good performance, you are 100% correct.

I guess I am just wondering aloud what exactly an “acting” award is; for “acting” or for the “role” - if that makes any sense, and if there is a difference.

Nominated? Of course. Winning? That’s iffy but who’s to say? Tatum O’Neal won Best Supporting Actress for her first role, in Paper Moon, and absolutely deserved it. But, she’s never done anything at that level since. The stars aligned for that one: great script, great director, working with her father.

Precious is a great movie, and Gabby was great in it, and I hope she gets nominated. I don’t know that I’d want to see her win though, not over more seasoned actresses, but that’s up to the voters and it depends on who the other nominees are (I really really really hope Carey Mulligan is one of them).

Mo’Nique, however, deserves both a Best Supporting Actress nomination and the win. It wasn’t her first movie though.

It’s a valid question. Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar for her first role, Effie White in Dreamgirls. I don’t personally see her doing anything that would nominate her for an Oscar again, but then again I don’t think she deserved the award to begin with. But just as it’s not really an award for life-time achievements, it’s not really an award for future promise - though it feels strange that somebody could theoretically win an Oscar on a “fluke”, if there is such a thing.

I disagree. She can act. While I personally was rooting for either Adriana Barraza or Cate Blanchett, she was pretty good in that role. More importantly, she’s proven that her acting wasn’t a fluke. She was fantastic in The Secret Life of Bees, and was the best thing about the otherwise mostly dismal Sex In The City. If nothing else, to make us believe that she truly was thrilled to receive a gift of that horrifically butt-ugly purse? That’s acting. I haven’t seen Winged Creatures, but I’d bet she’s good in that too. But really, she’s young, she can indeed act, she’s still humble and doesn’t take her entry into the world of acting for granted. She could win another Oscar, easily. Lead, too.

Even if a person is cast perfectly, he or she still has to do the job.

So what?

Every year I think less and less of what “Oscar worthy” means, so I’m not concerned about it. :wink: Whether she measures up to Meryl Streep or not, her career will speak for itself. It doesn’t matter if it reflects well on the Oscars or not.

Wouldn’t that be even more impressive, for someone to have an extraordinary performance with so little experience? You mention Meryl Streep. She could throw out a jaw-dropping masterpiece performance in the time it takes your or I to brush our teeth. That’s not to insult her ability, but her 800 years of acting experience certainly play a part.

If Gabby, as an untrained, inexperienced actress, pulls out the best performance of the year, she deserves the award and even more acclaim. The problem comes later, when people expect every performance to be that good.

Exactly. If they did an amazing job on that role, then sure, they deserve to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s a role-specific award. And yes, it’s fair for her to go against Meryl. If Meryl’s acting in her role was better, she’ll win. If Meryl’s acting isn’t better, she’ll lose. It’s that simple.

Or rather, if Meryl gave the kind of performance the academy likes to honor, she’ll win, or vice versa. It’s not as if there’s any objective measure to it.

How often, actually, has this happened?

I can think of five examples, two of which were people more or less reliving their own life experiences, Harold Russell and Haing Ngor. The others were three young actresses who knocked it out of the park - O’Neal, Paquin, and Hudson. That’s roughly one every fifteen years, hardly a high rate of occurrence, and all were for supporting roles. I might be missing someone, though.

I mean, if you’re the best, you’re the best. All five performances were reasonably worthy. If someone puts on a tour de force, why not?

ON REVIEW: Forgot Marlee Matlin, whose Oscar was for a leading role.

Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) and Barbra Streisand (Funny Girl) also won for their film debuts. Of course, they been stars on Broadway, so they didn’t give the same sense of having come out of nowhere as your first five examples.

SOME awards and honors are SUPPOSED to be for a large body of work. It would be ridiculous if Harper Lee had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960, just as it would have been crazy to elect Fred Lynn to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975.

On the other hand, it would ALSO have been a travesty to deny Harper Lee a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, just because “To Kill a Mockingbird” was her first novel. And it would have been silly to deny Fred Lynn his well-deserved 1975 MVP award just because he was a rookie.

And yet, sometimes voters DO reject worthy candidates for awards, on the grounds that it’s somebody else’s “turn.” I’ll never understand that. I think Adrian Peterson deserved the Heisman Trophy as a freshman. Voters passed him over, in part because they figured, “He’ll have another chance next year- better to give it to an upperclassman who’ll never get another shot.”

As it turned out, due to injuries, Peterson never got another real chance. And that’s a shame.

if you do the best work this year, you should be honored for it this year. Because nobody knows if you’ll ever get another chance.

Other winners for their film debuts:

Actress: Shirley Booth, Marlee Matlin

Supporting Actress: Mercedes McCambridge, Katina Paxinou, Eva Marie Saint, Gale Sondergaard, Jo Van Fleet

Most people consider Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi turn as his big screen debut, though he did appear in one previous, minor film a decade earlier.

Greer Garson, Lee Grant, Paul Muni, Maureen Stapleton, and Teresa Wright were all nominated for their film debuts, but won Oscars for subsequent performances.

Angela Lansbury, John Malkovich, and Edward Norton are all multiple nominees who were nominated for their screen debuts, but none have never won. The late Montgomery Clift also falls into this category.

Well, sometimes they’re making up for lost time. Brando lost for Streetcar, but it was to the well-loved Humphrey Bogart, who had never won; Marlon was clearly a powerhouse who would have future chances. John Wayne beat both actors of that year’s Best Picture winner (Hoffman & Voight, who had their whole careers ahead of them), and while a fun performance, it was also clearly a sentimental choice. Similiarly, Al Pacino couldn’t be denied for his 8th nod, for Scent of a Woman ( :gulp: ), while people figured that Denzel (and the others) would have a shot for Lead Actor one day. In each case, they were right.

Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way. “They have plenty of time” never panned out for James Dean, Peter O’Toole, or Greta Garbo, all of whom would’ve likely earned Oscars much earlier in their careers “if they knew then what we know now”, so to speak.

Turning to other categories, Robert Redford won an Oscar for his film directing debut, as did Jerome Robbins (who shared it with Robert Wise, so it probably shouldn’t count).

Orson Welles and Mel Brooks won best screenplay Oscars for their first full-length Hollywood screenplays.

So did Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine), Alan Ball (American Beauty), Diablo Cody (Juno), Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise), John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) and Steve Tesich (Breaking Away), to list some more recent examples.

What about looking at this question from the opposite end.

Someone’s been in the business for 15 years, taking bit parts, cameo characters, or the occassional mediocre lead. Then one day, through a fluke, the stars allign. Perfect part for the perfect person and bam! they hit that slow pitch right over the fence.

It’s a knockout performance. Completely Oscar worthy. But…we also have 15 years of evidence that they’re really just a mediocre actor who got lucky this one time. This guy’s not going to get another shot at an Oscar and everyone knows it.

What then? Is he any more or less worthy than the newbie who has no experience and thus no evidence for or against him?

3 words: F. Murray Abraham. There’s absolutely nothing in his hambone career before or after Amadeus that would suggest that he was capable of a performance as full of grace and anguish and delicacy as his Salieri. And history will eventually show that he won the Oscar over Jeff Bridges & Albert Finney (combined careers of 9 nominations and 0 wins) and they’ll be “F. Murray Who?”

But that year, he saw the brass ring and he went for it. Sure it helped that he was in an Oscar-friendly movie (biopic, costume drama, period trappings), but he was more than just a coattail winner. He earned it.