You’ve seen that look before, the one “Juno” star Ellen Page and other first-time Oscar nominees sport when on TV or gracing magazine covers, chatting about “the Oscars.” The phrase “deer in headlights” comes to mind.
The star of the comedy about a sarcastic, sweet and pregnant teen who decides to have a baby is a veritable babe in the woods herself. She turned 21 this week.
“It’s been something I try and roll with,” she says with a nervous laugh. “Of course, it’s been very unexpected, this overwhelming reaction to this little film we did. The awards, all of this, even if I probably won’t win, is just very surreal.”
Ruby Dee, at 83, is also a first-time nominee. She’s up for best supporting actress for her work opposite Denzel Washington in “American Gangster.” She’s a bit overwhelmed by it all, too. But she’s wearing the ring that her husband of 56 years, the late Ossie Davis, put on her finger “for luck” as she makes her Academy Awards appearance Sunday night.
“I know a little of what (Ellen) is going through. I too was intimidated when it was announced, had a real fear-to-tred on this whole Oscar thing. But even if you don’t win, you should go.”
Marjane Satrapi, 38, co-directed the animated film version of her life’s story, told in her autobiographical graphic novel “Persepolis.” It’s about growing up in revolutionary Iran, rebelling against the mullahs, moving to Western Europe and rediscovering her Iranian roots, a lot for an animated film to chew on. She’s also a first-time Oscar nominee. And like Dee and Page, she’s a long shot. She knows that all the smart “best animated film” money is on “Ratatouille,” the Disney-Pixar cartoon about a French rat who longs to be a chef..
“Of course I have a shot,” Satrapi says, with a little too much of a giggle to be convincing. “Normally, a film like this would never earn an Oscar nomination, serious animation, and black-and-white animation at that. To many people, animation is a genre, a children’s genre, so we also have the movie about penguins (Surf’s Up) and the movie about the rat who likes to cook. But to me, animation is just the medium for the story I wanted to tell.”
She has her fingers crossed, but she’s looking for support against the Mouse’s rat cartoon in every corner.
“You hope I win, don’t you?”
Every Oscar night has its favorites, and Julie Christie (“Away From Her”) and Marion Motillard (“La Vie En Rose”) are the best actress favorites opposite Page. Ask her how thrilled she is, and she’ll tell you she’s more thrilled for somebody else.
“I just adore Laura Linney,” Page says of the veteran character actress, nominated for playing a vulnerable, unhappy daughter of a father who has to be put into a nursing home in “The Savages.” “I was almost more excited for her than I was for me. I know it’s silly to get that way, and it’s not why she’s an actor and not why I’m an actor, but to give her that recognition, and no one was really talking about `The Savages.’ And she’s soooo good in that movie! So good in everything.”
Is this a way of not thinking about the heady company Page will be in competition with Oscar night?
“I guess,” she says with a hint of “busted” in her voice.
Even though Dee won best supporting actress honors from her peers at the Screen Actor’s Guild last month, Oscar handicappers don’t expect that sentimental vote to translate to an Oscar. It’s her first nomination. Maybe that’s enough.
“I’ve lived through so many things,” she says, laughing. Winning or losing an Oscar pales beside the world she’s seen change around her. She’s lived through segregation, racism that thwarted her career. She has outlasted those who would hold her back. This is a moment of triumph, and a chance to pass on a little perspective.
“Maybe you’re better off having this happen later, getting slapped down a few times, having your ego bruised,” she says. “I say to young people like Ellen, accept this for what it is. Stay grounded. Keep your eye on the big eye that dwells within you and don’t let the adulation go to your head. It’s temporary.”
Jessica Lange has two Oscars on her mantle, a new indie film (“Bonneville”) in theaters and a little advice to share with the first time nominees. Have something in mind to say, “just in case.” Whatever you do, she suggests, “Don’t scream and cry and all that if they call your name. It’s just a part in a movie. These people who come apart at the seams when they win forget that nobody will remember you won by the time the next Oscars come around.
“And if you win, the best Oscar speech I can remember was one of the shortest. Tommy Lee Jones. He said, `Thanks for all the work.’ That’s what it’s about.”