THR's Oscar Icons Portfolio: Steven Spielberg, Eva Marie Saint, Michael Moore

9:01 AM 2/20/2013

by Edited by Leslie Bruce

Contenders past and present -- Spielberg with Benh Zeitlin, Marlee Matlin with Quvenzhane Wallis -- swap tales about their biggest awards night fears (giving birth onstage!) to how winning changed their lives.

Oscars Icons Spielberg - H 2013
Joe Pugliese

Oscars Icons Spielberg - H 2013

This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When The Hollywood Reporter gathered Oscar contenders past and present to pose for our cameras, there was a great deal of mutual admiration on display.

Beasts of the Southern Wild's Quvenzhane Wallis gushed to Marlee Matlin, "You're so pretty!" And the Children of a Lesser God winner praised the 9-year-old actress' "raw and natural" performance.

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The Oscar veterans also shared words of wisdom and swapped anecdotes with some of the awards-season newcomers. Steven Spielberg, who has earned a total of 15 nominations (with three wins), reminisced about his first nomination to Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin, “When you look back over the hundred years of Hollywood, and the 80-plus years of the Academy, you realize that just being there is such an accomplishment.”

And documentarian Michael Moore offered his tips on giving acceptance speeches to filmmakers Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi (5 Broken Cameras): "Don’t thank your parents. They know you appreciate them."

Meanwhile, screenwriters Diablo Cody (Juno) and John Gatins (Flight) revealed why they think the Oscar-season experience is a plot twist more strange than any storyline they could conjure. Says Cody, "Being inside the show felt like a bizarre pep rally."

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Also taking part in THR's Oscar Icons 2013 package: actresses Naomi Watts and Eva Marie Saint, actors Christopher Walken and Philip Seymour Hoffman, sound recording mixer Greg P. Russell, composer Thomas Newman and costume designer Colleen Atwood.

Profiles by Leslie Bruce, Scott Feinberg, Stacey Wilson and Jordan Zakarin

Pictured: Steven Spielberg, left, and Benh Zeitlin

  • The Blond Bombshells

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    When Watts, 44, arrives for this photo shoot, Saint, 88, greets her by joking, “I don’t recognize you dried off!” The younger actress received her second best actress Oscar nomination this year for her portrayal of a tsunami survivor in Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible, and the older actress, best known for her work opposite Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954) and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), is excited to praise her fellow leading lady for her physically demanding performance: “You are so great. It was just incredible.”

    When Saint won the best supporting actress Oscar for Waterfront 58 years ago, she accepted it in New York -- the show was being held on both coasts and cut together via television -- and made her way to the stage slowly because she was nine months pregnant. She began her speech by saying, “I may have the baby right here!” (She gave birth two days later.)

    Saint has been back to the Oscars since -- she co-presented Penelope Cruz with a statuette four years ago -- and laments: “What’s changed a lot is the hype that we have now. Every day something comes in the mail. Back then, you just did a movie, and if you received an award, you said, ‘Thank you.’ You didn’t have to be clever.”

    Watts, who soon will appear as Princess Diana in Oliver Hirschbiegel's Diana, says she wishes she could have worked in Saint’s era -- which seems to surprise Saint, who jokes, “You could do Waterfront! Let’s do a remake!” Watts laughs: “Let’s do it. It probably will happen at some point.” Groans Saint, “That’s true,” and adds that she has no plans to retire (she recently wrapped production on Akiva Goldsman's directorial debut Winter's Tale, which also stars Russell Crowe and Will Smith). "But if you played the part, that would be OK."


  • The Outliers

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    "Why don't we just count?" suggests Christopher Walken to pal Philip Seymour Hoffman during this photo shoot. The 70-year-old Oscar winner (for 1978's The Deer Hunter) is explaining to his A Late Quartet co-star that when famed Italian director Federico Fellini would film two actors of different tongues having an exchange, he would have them count to each other in their respective languages. Hoffman seems genuinely intrigued as Walken starts chanting random numbers (in English, at least).

    For these Hollywood outliers, being somewhat unpredictable has served their careers well, as they are two of the industry's true actor's actors. (Walken received his second Oscar nomination in 2002 for his role in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, and Hoffman, who took home the statuette in 2006 for his lead performance in Bennett Miller's Capote, clocked his fourth nomination this year for Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, about a charismatic cult leader in the 1950s.) Based primarily on the East Coast, each actor has transitioned from stage to screen and comedy to drama during the course of their careers.

    "You get tired of one thing after awhile," says the 45-year-old Hoffman. "One thing, over and over." (However, The Master is Hoffman's fifth project with Anderson.) Walken admits that he hasn't seen all of the 100-plus films he's appeared in over his decades-long career.

    When Hoffman asks him why he chose a particular role (he whispers the film's name under his breath), Walken, never one to mince words, responds: "For the money. I knew the script was terrible when I read it." But both agree that capturing the Oscar was the real turning point in their storied careers. Says Walken: "It meant getting scripts. It meant getting noticed."

  • The Young Ladies

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    One could argue that Marlee Matlin made history three times the night she won an Academy Award for her stirring performance in 1986's Children of a Lesser GodRanda Haines' adaptation of Mark Medoff's play. In 1987, at age 21, she was the youngest woman ever to win a lead actress trophy and the first deaf actor to grace the Oscar podium -- and for her film debut, to boot.

    But on this sunny morning inside The Living Room at The Peninsula Beverly Hills, the 47-year-old actress encounters a pint-size admirer who's excited to see her for a completely different reason. "I loved you on Blue's Clues!" exclaims current nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, 9, of Matlin's appearance in the erstwhile Nickelodeon program about an adventurous animated puppy.

    Their meeting is equal parts heart-tugging -- Matlin greets Wallis with, "You're so pretty!" while Wallis shows off a bit of sign language -- and perhaps history-making: If Wallis takes home the statuette for her breakout role as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild (a role she nabbed at the mind-boggling age of 5), she will assume Matlin's throne as Oscar's youngest leading lady. 

    "It's like she's been making movies her whole short life," marvels Matlin of Wallis' performance. "I was mesmerized -- it was so raw and natural." For Wallis' part, her meteoric ascent into history is "something I never expected," and if she finds herself at the microphone Oscar Night, "I will thank God and everyone who gave me this chance," she says.

    Matlin, who says she will never forget the "surreal moment" when co-star William Hurt signed her name onstage 26 years ago ("I thought he was playing a joke on me!"), offers Wallis just one piece of advice: "Don't forget to thank the Academy. And your mom and dad," says Matlin, smiling. Wallis, carrying one of her now-ubiquitous puppy purses out into the winter sun, assures her with conviction. "I won't forget, I promise!"

  • The Legend and the Rising Star

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    Spielberg, 66, has been making movies since before 30-year-old Zeitlin was born. In fact, the legendary director received his first best director Oscar nomination for 1977’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind nearly five years before Zeitlin entered this world.

    Now, the two men -- the latter of whom told THR that he was “raised” on the former’s films E.T. The Extra- Terrestrial (1982), Jaws (1975) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) -- are both nominated for the same best director award, something that Zeitlin calls “surreal” and “an honor.” Spielberg is nominated, of course, for Lincoln (he also earned a nom in the best picture category for the film), an epic look at the America that existed 150 years ago, and Zeitlin is up for Beasts of the Southern Wild (he also is nominated for best adapted screenplay), a tiny indie about a remote corner of today’s America.

    Many have called Beasts “Spielbergian,” likening it to a film like E.T., in the sense that it paints a portrait of an innocent child forced to encounter the harsh realities of adulthood. Stacey Snider, who runs Spielberg’s studio DreamWorks, arranged a screening of Zeitlin’s film for Spielberg shortly after it premiered in January 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival, telling him he would love it. He did, watching it twice in three days.

    During this THR photo shoot, Spielberg, who now has accumulated seven best director nominations (winning for 1993’s Schindler’s List and 1998’s Saving Private Ryan) and 15 nominations in all, gave Zeitlin some advice on the new director’s first nomination. “When you look back over the hundred years of Hollywood, and the 80-plus years of the Academy, you realize that just being there is such an accomplishment,” explains Spielberg, who was honored with the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1987. Zeitlin long has appreciated the power of Oscar: “As a kid, I went straight to the Academy shelf at the video store.”


  • The Agitators

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    Filmmakers Burnat and Davidi, the minds behind the current Oscar-nominated documentary 5 Broken Cameras, might consider Moore something of a good-luck charm. The duo requested that the renowned documentarian -- a champion for their project about Burnat’s Palestinian village’s peaceful protest of encroaching Israeli settlements -- attend January’s Cinema Eye Awards in New York, where their documentary was nominated, to accept the nonfiction feature award on their behalf if it won (Burnat and Davidi were out of the country). It won.

    So on this day, Moore arrives gripping a large metal statuette of an oversized eye with long, spike-inspired eyelashes, finally able to present the award to the filmmakers, joking that they might have trouble getting it past airport security -- especially if they mentioned it came from him. “I was seriously moved by it in a way that when you leave the theater, you’re shaken to the core,” says the Oscar-winning documentarian (for 2002’s exposé on gun violence, Bowling for Columbine), who featured the film at his Traverse City Film Festival in 2012. “What digital allows is more democratization. We’re going to see some incredible films like this one from all around the world.”

    The filmmaking pair is grateful for the support of Moore, who has made a career of capturing controversial social and political issues onscreen (he was nominated for the Oscar again in 2007 for his documentary Sicko, about health care in the U.S.). “I believe that these kind of films change people, and people feel more close to the story and to the reality,” says Burnat, noting his special connection to Cameras because it’s a story of his life and family. “It was very important to show the world and show the people outside Israel what the reality is in Palestine and what’s going on, what is the truth.”

    Moore, the consummate whistle-blower, considers this film one of the strongest contenders this Oscar season -- across all categories. “It isn’t just one of the best documentaries of the year, it’s one of the best movies of this year,” expounds Moore, who told the pair not to hesitate between speeches if they win because show producers will play them off. “I’d put it on the same level as any of the other great fiction films made this year.”

  • The Perennials

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    For these two industry veterans, one can’t help but consider the adage “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” Both composer Newman and sound recording mixer Russell have garnered double-digit Academy Award nominations throughout their storied entertainment careers, but neither has yet to win the coveted gold statuette.

    Both craftsmen are nominated again this Oscar season for their work on Sam MendesSkyfall -- the best-reviewed Bond film in the half-century history of the franchise and with the biggest box-office numbers -- and have a strong chance of at long last taking home the award. (Also nominated this year for Skyfall is 63-year-old cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has accumulated 10 nominations of his own but has yet to win.)

    The 57-year-old Newman, a member of the incomparable Newman musical dynasty (cousin Randy went 0-for-15 at the Oscars before getting his first win on his 16th nomination), has earned 11 Academy Award noms over his career, the first two coming 18 years ago for Little Women and The Shawshank Redemption. And Russell, 53, now has received an astounding 16 nominations, beginning with Black Rain in 1989 and encompassing many of the biggest action-movie blockbusters made since, including several from director Michael Bay.

    Newman, who won the BAFTA for best original music on Feb. 10, is a longtime collaborator of Skyfall's Oscar-winning director, having worked on all but one of Mendes’ features since the helmer’s first film, the best picture Oscar winner American Beauty (1999). Russell’s mixing partner, as of last year, is four-time Oscar winner Scott Millan, who also has worked with Mendes since the beginning, and Russell emphasizes to THR that he “wouldn’t have had the privilege of mixing this movie for Sam without the generosity and friendship of Scott. It was an honor to work with both of them.” Perhaps this year, at last, that won’t be his -- or Newman’s -- only honor.


  • The Dream Weaver

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    Like many successful women in Hollywood, Colleen Atwood sure knows how to build an army -- literally. Earning her 10th Oscar nomination this year for Universal's Snow White and the Huntsman, the costume design visionary constructed 600 suits of armor for the dark adaptation of the classic fairy tale.

    "The whole process from the starting concept to the time you get your first suit is about four months," says the 64-year-old Atwood, who visited a handful of armories while researching. "After that, it's like an assembly line." Once that process was under way, Atwood could focus on the film's leads, like Charlize Theron's evil queen Ravenna, whose handmade chain mail, boned leather and horsehair battle costume took weeks to create. "I call it the porcupine," says Atwood.

    The veteran designer is no stranger to abundance or opulence, having partnered with fantasy master Tim Burton on nine films, including 2010's Alice in Wonderland, for which she earned her third Oscar. (That film included Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter costume. "I always try to give Johnny a great pair of shoes," she says of her frequent muse. "When he got bored, he wrote on them with ink, which is a nod to Tim because he does that.")

    Atwood's first Oscar came in 2003 for Rob Marshall's Chicago and her second in 2006 for Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha (which included a costume for Gong Li's antagonist, Hatsumomo). "Like all of us in the industry, if we get nominated for an Oscar, we get up and go to work the next day," shrugs Atwood. "It compliments your work, and that's a great feeling."


  • The New Recruits

    This story first appeared in the March 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

    For Cody and Gatins, a win and nomination for best original screenplay -- for Juno and Flight, respectively -- have been equally career-defining. But Gatins is quick to quell the tendency among awards hounds to equate his recognition for penning the alcoholic-pilot drama to Cody's outta-nowhere explosion onto the scene six years ago with her indie dramedy about a precocious pregnant teenager.

    "The truth is, I've been kicking around this f---ing godforsaken town forever," laughs Gatins, 44, a self-described former "C-list" actor whose first serious writing job was on the 1999 teen football drama Varsity Blues -- IMDb reveals he also played a character named "Smiling Man" in the film -- and who segued into more family-friendly fare such as Coach Carter and Real Steel. (He's currently penning the DreamWorks action flick Need for Speed alongside his brother George Gatins.) "This has been a long journey," he says. "I started writing Flight in 1999 before my wife and I had kids, and now we have three. One is 11, and he has a phone!"

    Since becoming only the sixth woman to claim an original screenplay victory, Cody, 34, admits she too has felt her share of angst despite a healthy roster of post-Oscar projects including Jennifer's BodyYoung Adult and her forthcoming directorial debut, Paradise. "I still have to tell myself I'm not wasting time when I pursue some new original idea," says Cody, laughing. " 'No, really, this one could get made! It really could!' I've learned, slowly, to embrace the process."

    Cody and Gatins agree that the Oscar-season experience is a plot twist more strange than any storyline they could conjure ("Being inside the show felt like a bizarre pep rally," admits Cody) but that there are bright moments amid the mania. "I stood next to Ben Affleck in the Nominees Luncheon photo," says Gatins, "and some blogger circled my face and said, 'Wow, it's hard to out-handsome Ben.' And I said: 'OK that's it. I'm done. I can retire now.' "