What's Behind The Best Supporting Actress Curse? Plain, Old, Unmagical Sexism As legend has it, winning that Oscar is a career killer. But film critic Amy Nicholson says it actually has everything to do with the kinds of roles available to women.
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What's Behind The Best Supporting Actress Curse? Plain, Old, Unmagical Sexism

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What's Behind The Best Supporting Actress Curse? Plain, Old, Unmagical Sexism

What's Behind The Best Supporting Actress Curse? Plain, Old, Unmagical Sexism

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

As if there's not enough controversy over the Oscars, there's also the matter of a curse. For decades now, a rumor has circulated in Hollywood that winning best supporting actress will kill your career. NPR's Neda Ulaby looks at what's really going on.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Best-supporting-actress-curse truthers trace its origin to Marisa Tomei’s win for the movie "My Cousin Vinnie" back in 1993.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARISA TOMEI: Thank you so much (laughter). This is such a great honor to receive this.

ULABY: Tomei was then honored with rumors doubting the legitimacy of her win. And like other victims of the so-called curse, Tomei did not then star in a bunch of big movies, as you might expect. She joined the ranks of Mira Sorvino and Mercedes Ruhl, whose film careers basically fizzled after winning for "The Fisher King" and "Mighty Aphrodite," or Jennifer Hudson, who hasn't had any movie parts that compare with her role in "Dreamgirls," or Kim Basinger, Amy Nicholson, who's chief film critic for MTV News.

AMY NICHOLSON: She won for "L.A. Confidential," and then she just immediately had no work for three years.

ULABY: Basinger was then 44. That's part of the problem. Best supporting actress rewards lots of women who are older than 40, who are black or brown or who are not traditional beauties.

NICHOLSON: You look at a winner like Brenda Fricker, who won for "My Left Foot" - you know, the same film that Daniel Day-Lewis won for, which turned him into a huge star. And three years later, you have her playing roles like pigeon lady in "Home Alone 2." And you see that happen to a talented actress and you can't help but wonder, yeah, is there a curse?

ULABY: There's not a curse, Nicholson says. There's plain, old, un-magical sexism.

NICHOLSON: You know, it's a symptom of the fact that there aren't a lot of roles. It's really just a symptom of the movies, you know?

ULABY: Then there's the expectation that Oscar winners should take meaty, meaningful roles. For this kind of actress, that often means tiny art house movies. Show up in a big, dumb blockbuster for exposure and capitalize on your win, and people make fun of you, like when Angelina Jolie followed her best supporting actress win for "Girl Interrupted" with "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and its dialogue like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER")

ANGELINA JOLIE: (As Lara Croft, grunting).

NICHOLSON: But nobody makes fun of Jeff Bridges going from "Crazy Heart" to "Tron" or Christian Bale going from "The Fighter" to Batman. There's a strange double standard.

ULABY: Amy Nicholson says Jolie helped prove that the best supporting actress curse is bogus.

NICHOLSON: And now she's the most reliable female box office draw that we have.

ULABY: Or look at Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Penelope Cruz or Tilda Swinton. Before her best supporting actress nomination, Swinton flew under the radar for years.

NICHOLSON: But then she wins for "Michael Clayton," and suddenly she's in every single movie. I mean, she's even here, you know, this month in a Coen brothers movie playing two roles.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HAIL, CAESAR!")

TILDA SWINTON: (As Thora Thacker) Don't confuse me with my sister.

ULABY: There's no talk of a best supporting actor curse, says Nicholson, because those wins tend to go to established, older stars - Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin - or to compelling foreigners like Javier Bardem or Christoph Waltz. Meanwhile, lady Oscar winners have to deal not just with one alleged curse, but two.

NICHOLSON: Sure, sure, sure, you might win the Oscar for best supporting actress or best actress, but then you're probably going to get divorced.

ULABY: Believe it or not, this curse was taken seriously by researchers at the University of Toronto. They did the math. They found best actress winners do have a 63 percent higher chance of divorce -yet another story Hollywood tells us about the perils of women having it all. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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