'Compliance' Star Ann Dowd, the Oscar Contender No One Saw Coming (Video)

Every so often, the Academy's acting branch watches and rallies strong enough by behind a standout performance by a little-known actor or actress to get that person an Oscar nomination. Sometimes that person never reaches those heights again (i.e. Giancarlo Giannini, Catherine Burns, Keisha Castle-Hughes), other times he or she becomes a Hollywood mainstay (i.e. Marlee Matlin, Melissa Leo, Jacki Weaver), and the verdict is still out on a few (i.e. Sophie Okonedo, Rinko Kikuchi, Demian Bichir). But what is noteworthy is that the Academy -- unlike most other awards-dispensing organizations -- was not so infatuated with the biggest stars that they missed a shooting one.

Q&A: 'Compliance' Director Craig Zobel Faces Down Creepy Criminals and Jittery Audiences

This year, such a nomination might well go to Ann Dowd, a veteran character actress of stage and screen whose face was far more familiar than her name to most people prior until this year, when she gave a performance in Craig Zobel's indie film Compliance -- as a sadsack fast-food restaurant manager who is used by a sadistic prankster to do unspeakable things to one of her employees -- that earned her rave reviews, as well as the best supporting actress award from the National Board of Review and nominations in that same category from the Critics' Choice and Indie Spirit awards.

I recently met up in Manhattan with the New York-based wife and mother of three for a wide-ranging conversation about her life, career and her remarkable journey with Compliance -- a film for which she was paid just $100 per day for 16 days of work, which she spent $13,000 of friends' and her own money to send to awards voters after its distributor declined to do so, and which could catapult her, Oscar nomination or not, to an entirely different sort of career.