Oscars: Denzel Washington, Emma Stone and 8 Other Acting Nominees on Hardest Scenes, Connecting With Characters and More

11:39 AM 2/10/2017

by THR Staff

From first-timers to the ultimate veteran (Queen Streep), the nominees share the challenges and thrills of their work.

Casey Affleck, Denzel Washington, Emma Stone and Meryl Streep
Casey Affleck, Denzel Washington, Emma Stone and Meryl Streep

  • Casey Affleck

    'Manchester by the Sea' (Roadside Attractions/Amazon Studios)

    Roadside Attractions

    Affleck nabbed his second Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Lee, a bereaved handyman, in writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's Manchester by the Sea. He talked with THR about why arguing with Lucas Hedges (who plays his nephew) was so much fun and how a fellow nominee's movie made a big impact on him as a kid.

    What were your first conversations with Lonergan?

    They were practical and useful because it was about how Lee behaves in the scene, how he behaves with all the people he comes across, why he is acting a little bit strangely and how he sort of derails what otherwise would be normal human interactions. If he says to Michelle [Williams'] character, "There's nothing there," it's not that. There's so much there — he just can't let anyone touch it. It's sort of like a shattered vase that's been put back together without any glue. If you touch it, it's just going to crumble again.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Andrew Garfield

    'Hacksaw Ridge' (Lionsgate)

    Courtesy of Mark Rogers/Cross Creek Pictures

    Garfield is nominated for the Mel Gibson-directed Hacksaw Ridge, in which he plays real-life World War II U.S. Army medic Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist who served without a gun. The English actor, who's currently in London preparing for a run of Angels in America, spoke with THR about his nonaudition for Gibson, his paradoxical affinity for war movies and Mahatma Gandhi and the Oscar acceptance speech he's already given.

    What was your first meeting with Gibson like?

    It was more about us getting to know each other. He doesn't audition people because he thinks it's cruel and unusual punishment to actors — which, I think, actors would agree with. He is so instinctive about everything, so he can feel if a person has the right qualities to play a part.

    Are there any similarities between you and Doss?

    I don't know if there were a lot of similarities. It was things that I longed to be more of myself that I saw in him. I've always loved war films. I am fascinated by the violence that man does to his fellow man. The fact there was a man of peace in the midst of a horrible war — I was interested in that.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Ryan Gosling

    'La La Land' (Lionsgate)


    Ten years have passed since Gosling earned his first Oscar nomination (for Half Nelson). He's still press shy but has warmed to the limelight after winning a best actor in a musical or comedy Golden Globe for his jazz pianist role in Damien Chazelle's La La Land. Gosling spoke with THR about his favorite scenes and Oscar night advice.

    What was the hardest scene to shoot in La La Land?

    One is the very first scene I shot, when I play a pretty complicated piano piece in one take. I had only been playing the piano for three months. Damien brought in a hand double, but I knew his dream was to shoot it without one. I was able to do it, but it was really sort of trial by fire. There were many challenges still ahead, but it was nice to have one of them under our belt on day one.

    Any advice for a first-time Oscar nominee?

    Bring your mom.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Viggo Mortensen

    'Captain Fantastic' (Bleecker Street)

    Erik Simkins/Bleeker Street

    Since The Lord of the Rings, Mortensen has shied away from blockbusters, instead opting for complex indies like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises, for which he received a lead actor Oscar nomination. Now he's scored his second for Captain Fantastic, in which he plays a counterculture dad raising his six kids in the wilderness.

    How is this nomination different than your first?

    It was a new experience then, but I suppose each time is exciting. I was just as happy this time, especially because it was such a team effort. I certainly didn't expect that to happen with Captain Fantastic, an independent movie that was fortunate to have great word-of-mouth.

    How did this role come to you?

    I didn't know [writer-director] Matt Ross, but I'd seen his work as an actor and also his first movie. As I was reading the script, with each page I liked it more. When I finished, I knew this was one of the best original screenplays I'd ever read. And the role was one of the best challenges I'd been offered, so I didn't have any doubt about wanting to do it. I was a little worried about how Matt was going to pull it off because it is an ambitious undertaking for an independent movie, with a limited shooting time and having so many young kids in it.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Denzel Washington

    'Fences' (Paramount)

    Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    Portraying Troy Maxson in August Wilson's Fences earned Washington a Tony in 2010 and now his eighth Oscar nomination for the film adaptation, which he also directed. He spoke with THR hours after accepting a SAG Award — which he described as "such a shock!"

    What did you learn about Troy while making the movie version of Fences?

    In order for his betrayal or disap­pointment to work, we have to believe these people really love each other. That didn't come to me until I was directing because I'm looking at everything as opposed to just my character. We bring Rose [Viola Davis] to his job, and he rejects her — that's not in the play. I knew it was going to make the audience dislike him even more.

    Is it bittersweet to be recognized amid the current news landscape?

    No. What's going on in the world is more important than whether I win an Oscar. I hope we continue to have the freedom to express and shape opinions, or whatever we do as actors. But I don't get the two mixed up. It's the world we live in, and we better open our eyes.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Isabelle Huppert

    'Elle' (Sony Pictures Classics)

    Guy Ferrandis/SBS Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

    French actress Isabelle Huppert is no stranger to the awards circuit — at least outside the U.S. She has won countless prizes, including two Cannes acting awards and a Cesar award, in a career that has spanned five decades and hundreds of movies and plays, including collaborations with such masters as Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Michael Cimino, Maurice Pialat and Michael Haneke. Thanks to her jarring turn in Paul Verhoeven's controversial Elle, Huppert finally is getting the stateside recognition she deserves, including a Golden Globes win. On the way back from yet another film shoot, her 12th project in the past two years, Huppert spoke to THR about vying for her first Oscar.

    You've received dozens of awards over the years, but this is your first Academy Award nomination. How are you living the experience?

    For an American actress, it's already a big deal to be nominated, so you can imagine what it's like for a foreign actress — especially a French actress for whom English isn't even their mother tongue! It's an exceptional event, especially as there have been very few foreign actresses nominated over the years. So I'm trying to live it exceptionally.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Ruth Negga

    'Loving' (Focus Features)

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    If moviegoing audiences weren't yet familiar with Ruth Negga, that changed Jan. 8 when Meryl Streep name-checked the Ethiopian-Irish actress during her much-discussed Golden Globes speech celebrating the diversity of Hollywood. "If I was at home, I would have jumped up and down and started screaming," laughs Negga, 35, who on Jan. 24 found herself with something else to celebrate when her name was announced among the Oscar nominees for best actress. She's being recognized for her portrayal of Mildred Loving in Jeff Nichols' Loving, about the couple behind the Supreme Court's landmark 1967 ruling on interracial marriage. The first-time nominee spoke with THR about her personal connection to the story, how the real Mildred (who died in 2008) might have felt about the film and why she's bringing peanuts to the Oscars.

    What drew you to the story of Mildred and Richard Loving?

    There's so many different reasons. You feel such empathy for this couple and what they went through. That resonates with me, and I think with any genuine human being — but also, I suppose, because I'm mixed race, although I had a very different history, personally, from what they went through, and the country that I come from has a very different history from America. I like being part of unearthing previously untold stories, bringing more and more attention to this couple. Their love for each other was such a tender, good thing. I think that's what people have responded to.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Natalie Portman

    'Jackie' (Fox Searchlight)

    Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival

    Natalie Portman had been showered with nominations and wins before, but never for playing a historical figure. Now the 35-year-old actress has her second Oscar nomination for her evocative portrayal of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy — in Jackie, directed by Pablo Larrain. She spoke to THR's Stephen Galloway about the pressures of re-creating an icon, Jackie's powers of observation and memory, and her own lost mentor.

    You played a real-life character you couldn't meet. Did you feel an extra historical burden?

    It's different if they're still alive — then you have this responsibility to them. So maybe it was freeing, in a way, knowing that she wasn't going to watch it, you know? It's got a different challenge — you have to get to a threshold of believability before anyone can ever relate to you emotionally. If you don't look enough and sound enough and walk enough like her that we can buy her as this character, then they can't lose themselves in this story no matter what story you're going to tell.

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Emma Stone

    'La La Land' (Lionsgate)


    She has won the Golden Globe Award. She has won the Screen Actors Guild Award. She swept the festivals. And now, the 28-year-old redhead generally is considered to be the frontrunner for this year's best actress Oscar. The Arizona-born Stone, who, along with Ryan Gosling, sings and dances across a dreamy Los Angeles landscape in Damien Chazelle's La La Land (itself the frontrunner for best picture), sat down with THR for a chat about acting, her tennis diet and what it's like to play Roseanne Roseannadanna.

    In La La Land, you play a struggling young actress in Hollywood who makes it big. In other words … yourself?

    Sure, but in the sense that you find pieces of yourself that relate to your character. You may substitute one person for another, or one experience for another. But you're still building a character. I mean, I didn't work in a coffee shop or give up a dream of going to college — but that's because I was a semi-delusional 15-year-old [when I started acting]. But I did live with two actresses for three years, two of my best friends.

    What was the hardest scene to shoot in La La Land?

    The audition scene. You know what Damien wrote in the script? The only thing it said in the stage directions for the song in the audition room was, "Mia sings, she is astonishing." That was the only stage direction. I read it and I was like, "Damien, that's a lot to live up to, adjective-wise."

    Read the full Q&A here.

  • Meryl Streep

    'Florence Foster Jenkins' (Paramount)

    Paramount Pictures/Photofest

    Although she garnered a record 20th Oscar acting nomination for playing an eccentric socialite dubbed "the world's worst opera singer" in Florence Foster Jenkins, the 67-year-old actress proved her voice was as clear and forceful as ever at the Golden Globes. Her impassioned acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award excoriated then President-elect Donald Trump and eloquently championed diversity and the arts. THR asked a few of her peers to describe their favorite Streep performance.

    NICOLE KIDMAN: "Sophie's Choice is for me … exquisite. That's probably a flawless performance. Did she win for that? Look, see? I don't even know. I feel like she should win all the time. She can do anything. The woman can do anything."

    DENZEL WASHINGTON: "First thing that came to my mind was Out of Africa. Kramer vs. Kramer as well. I loved Sophie's Choice. Let me tell you: I sat next to her in the read-through on Manchurian Candidate, and I'm going, 'Man, she's killing it. She's brilliant just sitting around a table and reading!' "

    Read the full story here.