Oscars: Best Actor Nominees Reveal Biggest Challenges, Memorable Moments on Set and Co-Star Chemistry

10:22 AM 2/12/2019

by THR staff

Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Willem Dafoe, Rami Malek and Viggo Mortensen reflect on their work and a whirlwind awards season.

Oscar Nominations-Best Actor-Split-H 2019
Courtesy of Films

  • Christian Bale

    Christian Bale spent up to four hours in the hair and makeup trailer every day and gained 45 pounds to become the 46th vice president of the United States in Adam McKay's Vice. He cheekily thanked Satan for inspiration in his Golden Globes acceptance speech — but on set, the 45-year-old immersed himself so deeply in the world of Dick Cheney that McKay claims Bale became somewhat of an advocate for the politician. Says Bale, "I was always looking for the good."

    You were born in the U.K., but you also have American citizenship. When did you become an American citizen?

    I can't remember when, but I've been one for bloody years because I wanted to vote. It was a wonderfully significant moment for me because I got made a citizen along with veterans who had fought and who had amputations. It was tearful beyond belief because it was absolutely wonderful and it was small. It wasn't a group of 5,000. It was a couple of hundred. We all got to chat together and understand the full meaning of what we were doing — and how significant it was for us, coming from other countries, to truly believe in the experiment of America.

    How important was Lynne Cheney's support for Dick?

    If it had not been for Lynne, he would be a lineman, he would be a hard-drinking tough guy. He would be imitating Jedediah Smith, all of his heroes, and he would be having bar fights and be very happy. Lynne gave him that impetus. It took 11 years to go from the drunk tank to youngest chief of staff. That's Lynne.

    The film revealed the patience Cheney seemed to have to get things done.

    Well, you start seeing that with obviously the first introduction of Roger Ailes in the hallways early on [versus] somebody like Cheney, who despises retail politics, he has no interest in that, and he's no good at it. Lynne is extraordinarily good at it, but Cheney is no good at it and has no interest in it but understands the incredible power of it, and so will use that to his benefit and now has become an extraordinary force within politics of that mentality. And the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine [requiring TV and radio broadcasters to present contrasting viewpoints on controversial issues], which is something I think is phenomenally important — and Adam was very surprised when I said to him the other day that many people I speak to have no idea what that was, that it's gone. It's gone, and therefore you get opinioned news reporting.

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  • Bradley Cooper

    The test to see whether A Star Is Born would really work came in the very first week of shooting, according to producer Lynette Howell Taylor. The team was out in the desert for four days in between Lady Gaga's sets at Coachella, filming onstage performances and backstage scenes as part of the montage when Ally (Gaga) first goes on tour with Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper). "Everybody was like, 'Will this work? Can he sing? Can we be convinced that she's never done that before?' " Howell Taylor recalls. The answers were yes, yes and yes, she says. "It became so apparent that there was this comfort level and trust between these two artists. Him trusting her musically, trusting himself, that he could be this rock star. It was so clear, the preparation he'd done. The year of voice lessons, singing lessons, guitar lessons, piano lessons and immersing himself in that character was paying off because that first week, he had to be Jackson Maine — this confident, experienced musician. It all came to fruition in week one." 

    You stepped into A Star Is Born after Clint Eastwood left. Did you talk about it?

    In fact, I pitched it to him. He talked to me about doing it before we did American Sniper, but I thought I was too young. [Later] it had passed to him, but he said no. Then I actually had a dream — I know it sounds crazy — and I saw the beginning of the movie and went to Warner Bros. the next day. I said, "I want to make this low-budget idea of A Star Is Born, here's what it is." And they said OK. And then [it was about] just drilling down more and making it as personal to me as I could.

    Why didn't you direct sooner?

    I just was too scared. I just wasn't ready. That's the one benefit I think I have had, waiting so long. You sort of know when you're ready for something.

    What did you not expect about directing when you did it for the first time?

    For it to be as joyful as it was. I felt like I was in exactly the place that I was supposed to be in that moment.

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  • Willem Dafoe

    It's been 32 years since Willem Dafoe earned his first Oscar nomination, for his supporting role in Platoon. Since then, the prolific actor has played memorable characters in both tiny indies (2018's The Florida Project) and tentpoles (Spider-Man 3Aquaman). Dafoe, 63, earned his fourth Oscar nom for playing Vincent van Gogh in Julian Schnabel's At Eternity's Gate. He caught up with THR to talk about this season and if he still paints.

    How does it feel to be nominated specifically for this movie?

    This is very special because the movie's special. It's a unique film made with a lot of love — made as a personal expression about Vincent van Gogh from an artist making a film about an artist. It was just a wonderful role. One of the beautiful things is it will help for it to be seen more widely.

    Did you hear from Julian after your nomination was announced?

    Yes, of course. Since this movie, we've really been joined at the hip. It was the kind of situation where it was such a great experience for me and such a fluid experience. He's a strong personality, but as we were doing it, really I didn't know what he was doing and what I was doing — it was like we were the same person. And when you have that kind of union, when you're working, it's very exciting.

    What's one thing you learned from working with Julian on this movie?

    Just truly a different way of seeing — a different way of perceiving. Just thinking about some of the things that happened in van Gogh's life and being in the places that he was, all that was a very transformational mix.

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  • Rami Malek

    Rami Malek didn't start out the season as a frontrunner for awards accolades. Fox's Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, had been plagued by on-set drama, leading to the firing of its director, Bryan Singer, who has at the same time been embroiled in accusations of sexual misconduct. But Malek's transformation into Queen frontman Freddie Mercury won over audiences (the film has earned $833 million worldwide to date) and voters.

    The 37-year-old Mr. Robot star began racking up the nominations and awards, taking both Golden Globe and SAG Awards honors for lead actor in a drama ahead of his first Oscar nomination. He even had a moment go viral when, onstage at the Globes, he tried to say hello to Nicole Kidman and was seemingly rebuffed. Malek took some time off from prepping for the next season of Mr. Robot to reflect on his wild awards-season rise.

    Is there anyone you've met this season who has been a highlight for you?

    It's like I said up on that stage at SAG, that category is fairly astonishing, the group of gentlemen that I've been included with. So getting to hang out with them, well, not hang — you know, I've met a few of them for the first time, and I've known a few of them as well. It's been … people always use the word "surreal," but it is true. Who else? Obviously all the fun with Nicole Kidman was pretty hilarious, and I tried to laugh at all of that. I've known her a little while, and we did exchange emails about that event, so that's funny.

    What has it been like to see the world's reaction to this film?

    I knew almost immediately once I started preparing for this that something special was there. Whether that was going to come to fruition or not, I just knew for myself it was going to be a special experience. And I never took it lightly and never tried to anticipate what would be next. I just said, "Finish this." And I'm glad that that was the perspective I had. And it was a real gift to be able to take this all over the world and gauge audience reaction to it, which has been quite a phenomenon to me. It's been embraced by so many countries, and especially aggressively in Korea and Japan, in a way I just never expected. I knew the fan base for Queen is pretty massive everywhere, but you never know how they're going to respond to a film about a band they love. I got my American Airlines miles back, and they said I had circled the Earth either three or four times.

    How does the experience of making this film influence what you do next?

    You know, I never, ever had the goal to look back and say, "I would love to have played a plethora of different characters." I want to have moments with a few individuals throughout my career that I can look back and just really appreciate the stories I got to tell and the individuals I got to portray.

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  • Viggo Mortensen

    In bringing Tony Lip to life in Peter Farrelly's Green Book, Viggo Mortensen, 60, has had audiences wondering whether he has Italian ancestry himself. "I have had quite a few Italian-Americans ask me, 'Are you sure you're not Italian?'— which is the highest compliment I could receive for my work," he says. Nominated for his third Oscar, Mortensen is in the midst of prepping for his feature directorial debut, Falling, in Toronto.

    Do you remember first meeting Mahershala Ali?

    It was at the 2017 Film Independent Awards brunch in Los Angeles. We had a good conversation, probably a good half-hour. That is quite a long time to have a one-on-one, relaxed conversation with someone in the thick of a room packed with movie-business people.

    How did you two foster such chemistry for the film?

    We communicated with each other and with Peter Farrelly quite a bit via email and phone in the months prior to heading down to Louisiana for the shoot. In New Orleans, we got together with Pete for a couple of days to carefully go over every aspect of the script to make sure we were all comfortable with the story and the way our characters were represented. I think the reason we connected so well from the first day of shooting was that we were both open to what the other actor was doing and saying, leaving room for each other's work to inform our individual behavior from the start.

    How did Mahershala’s performance inform your own?

    Mahershala is a subtle and meticulous actor, an artist whose approach mirrors the way I like to tackle the work of constructing and manifesting a character. We are both, each in our way, perfectionists, wanting to get the most out of every shared moment. It was a joyful and rewarding challenge to play scenes with him.

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