Acceptance speeches challenge every actor


A successful movie star is a full-time performance artist. George Clooney, for example, effortlessly navigates the media gauntlet, playing the genial, self-deprecating charmer who still is able to rise to a serious occasion. Tom Cruise, on the other hand, has struggled in recent years as the gung-ho boyishness he projects -- which served him well earlier in his career -- has come to look too forced.

With awards season in full swing, the winning stars face one of the toughest challenges in their ongoing performances: the acceptance speech. Sally Field's 1985 Oscar acceptance for "Places in the Heart" -- "You like me, right now, you like me!" -- erred on the side of naked earnestness. Roberto Benigni's over-the-top antics when he won the best actor Oscar for "Life Is Beautiful" in 1999 was too much of an act; you could almost feel the Academy members who had voted for him regretting their decision.

Monday night's 64th annual Golden Globes provided the first test for this year's class of awards recipients, and nobody flunked out.

As the newcomer, Jennifer Hudson, best supporting actress for "Dreamgirls," demonstrated maturity. She was at once overcome -- "This goes far beyond anything that I could have ever imagined" -- and appreciative, saying, "Thank you for making me feel so welcome." She then cinched it by dedicating the award to the late Florence Ballard, the member of the original Supremes on whom her movie character is loosely based.

When playing a real-life character, such acknowledgments are de rigueur. "The Queen's" Helen Mirren -- who embodies both a Dame, a member of England's acting royalty, and a dame, wise-cracking bawdily with reporters backstage -- expressed her debt to Elizabeth II, saying modestly, "I think you fell in love with her, not me."

Meryl Streep, picking up her sixth Golden Globe, for "The Devil Wears Prada," could be forgiven if she came across as American royalty, adopting the plumby grandeur of a modern-day Olivia de Havilland. But Streep always knows how to keep a moment real and down to earth, referring to her fellow nominees as "gals" and thanking Fox for donating the movie's designer duds to charity. Her fellow actors hold her in awe, but she doesn't raise herself above the crowd.

"Dreamgirls" supporting actor winner Eddie Murphy was the most low-key of the group. Never losing his cool, he still came off as genuinely honored. "The Last King of Scotland's" Forest Whitaker was the most emotional, taking a moment to collect himself before going on to recognize the Ugandan actors who took part in his film.

Coming out from behind his "Borat" mask, best comedy actor Sacha Baron Cohen offered the funniest acceptance speech of the night, a ribald account of how he risked death from his co-star's suffocating buttocks.

The Globes themselves came too late to influence Oscar noms; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' balloting closed before the ceremony. So though Baron Cohen made a good impression, a best acting nomination still is a long shot for him given the Academy's preference for heavy drama. But if he and the "Borat" writing team do earn a screenplay nom, his Globes audition will hold him in good stead.

Now the main challenge facing the acting front-runners is keeping it fresh. Most of the same players will be offering thank-yous Saturday on E!'s broadcast of the Critics' Choice Awards. They also will be in play Jan. 28 at the SAG Awards. But then, part of being a full-time performance artist is constantly tweaking the performance.