Why a Cardboard Cutout Is the Star of Awards Season

Agnes Varda_Cutout - Getty - H 2018
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

French filmmaker Agnes Varda received her very first Oscar nomination in 2018, recognized in the best documentary category for her collaboration with French artist JR on the buddy pic Faces Places. But Varda wasn't able to join the 175 others who gathered Feb. 5 for the Oscar Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton, so JR brought Varda's face to share space with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Meryl Streep and Kobe Bryant via cardboard cutout.

The photographer and muralist, who tells The Hollywood Reporter that Varda didn't want to make two back-to-back trips to Los Angeles (she'll be here for the ceremony March 4) because of her age (she's 89), actually created three different cardboard cutouts to bring with him on his trip to Los Angeles (including one featuring Varda holding a cat in front of her face), and he documented the journey on Instagram Stories.

The wild play-by-play revealed that the Varda cutout had its own seat on an American Airlines flight, went through the X-ray scanner and posed with five TSA officials. At the luncheon, the cutout got face time with Spielberg, who gushed, "Agnes, you are the tallest littlest person I've ever met; your films are so tall and so huge and you fill the room wherever you go"; got a nibble from Guillermo del Toro; and stood next to Greta Gerwig. "The photographer didn't want to because they were worried about the glare, but I told them, you have the best cinematographers in the world here, we can figure it out," laughs JR.

JR has been Varda's de facto ambassador during awards season. He also put his co-writer and co-director on Facetime during the recent Los Angeles Film Critics Awards while onstage so she could say a few words, and held up the cutout Feb. 5 at THR's Nominees Night party for selfies with other guests. JR, notable for never appearing without sunglasses, assures THR that the real Varda will be at the Dolby Theatre on Oscar night. 

It's not the first time, however, that a cutout has appeared in the class photo. In 2010, Avatar production designer Rick Carter held a cutout featuring the face of Avatar producer Jon Landau, who could not be in attendance. But Academy insiders say the full-body representation is a new trend. 

This story first appeared in the Feb. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.