The 88th Annual Academy Awards took place on Feb. 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Here is what this Oscar winner said backstage in the Academy Awards press room.
Best Supporting Actor
(“Bridge of Spies”)
Where will you be putting your Oscar? You said in your speech you weren’t sure how the Academy could separate your performances but tonight you out punched Rocky/Sylvester Stallone. How does that feel, and is it particularly meaningful to you?
I don’t know where I’ll put it yet. I find people who come up and say things about competing as actors and I know that it’s necessary to make a show out of it, but those actors are so good … I feel like more I’m a spokesman when you win than something that’s better than the other nominees. And I know that there’s so many wonderful nominees just outside the five of us: Idris Elba and Paul Dano and all kinds of actors too, so I don’t take it too seriously.
When they announced your name, did you think they were going to say Mark Ruffalo?
No, but Mark Ruffalo told me on the Red Carpet that that had happened to him at the BAFTAs, that whoever was giving the award had slowed down after the “R” and a number of people on his team, as people call it, had looked around to congratulate him, and then the dreadful y l a n c e had come forward and crushed his dreams.
Steven Spielberg actually tried twice before to get you in a movie, and you said no. What were those films?
That was the same film: “Empire of the Sun,” and he offered me a small part. I think it must have been 1986. And I turned that down, and then he came back and offered me a better part, and I accepted it, but then a theater director who I very much wanted to work with, had wanted to work with for a number of years, also offered me a part.
And Steven very nicely said I could step away from the film if I wanted to but I had to tell him in four hours, and I did decide after those four hours to step away and do the season of plays. And though the season of plays didn’t go that well, I met my wife on the first day and now I’ve been able to work with Steven again. So it turned out to be an all right call.
You’ve been flying back and forth to the East Coast because you’re currently doing a play in New York. What’s that like having to go back and forth?
It’s very exciting. It’s very exciting. And you feel very grand being driven from a small theater in Brooklyn in a black car to an airport and then flown in one of these incredible, very powerful jets with big windows that you can look out and see Chicago in the distance where I used to live, Lake Michigan. And it’s just a very trippy experience. And arrive here and have so many people you don’t know come up and say very nice things to you. I recommend it.
Did you think about what you would say before you got up there for your acceptance speech or was it all just in the heat of the moment from your heart?
I always think about what I’m going to say, and I choose two or three options. I had to open Sam Wanamaker’s Globe Theatre once and there were seven opening nights, and I had to make a lot of speeches. And I found that if you over prepare a speech, it’s like an over prepared acting performance. It’s best to have a few different options and a few different endings and beginnings.
I almost dropped the whole thing, actually, after the very funny interviews in Compton because I really longed that I was a black actor at that moment receiving an award. But I didn’t drop it. No, I make it up partly, but I know the general things I want to say.
I know I wanted to praise Steven and I wanted to praise my fellow nominees and supporting actors generally, because I really enjoy the work of supporting actors when I go to the cinema. And then there were other things I could have said but I didn’t quite get there. Now I’m remembering. I think it’s best to try and be spontaneous with preparation.
Lupita Nyong’o from Africa is going to be starring on Broadway for “Eclipsed.” Do you think that’s a better way or another avenue that African American actors can take to kind of diversify the industry?
I think African-American actors are in a stronger position now thanks a lot to what Chris Rock has done tonight and what the activists who have been raising the issue around this awards ceremony have said. And I think also there’s a big issue for women, for actresses — that’s been as big an issue for me in these months coming up to this, the revelations about just how dominated this major storytelling form of our culture is by men. I know it’s true in the Shakespeare of work where I work, that the parts, there aren’t the King Lear parts for the great actresses.
So I hope that this awareness that’s been raised very humorously by Chris tonight and angrily by other people, understandably, I hope that’s going to create a lot more diversity. It’s of course not just for the performers, it’s a matter of audiences taking this on, it’s a matter of audiences not just going out for the thrill or the safe bet, but taking a bet on more unusual films and more unusual plays that tell stories about issues or people who are in the minority in society. Wouldn’t you think? Yeah. So I hope this will do a little bit more to change the story and diversify the stories that we listen to and watch.
For “Bridge of Spies,” did you shoot on location somewhere interesting? Did you get to do anything there and enjoy the location where you shot, or locations?
We shot on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin, which is where the actual exchange took place, and it was incredibly cold and we had to wear all kinds of things in our shoes and in our gloves. And then Chancellor Merkel came along about 2 o’clock in the morning, with no hat, no scarf, no gloves, and stayed for about 45 minutes talking with everyone, looking at the camera and everything. She was a little disappointed I didn’t speak Russian; she saw through me right away. But that was very remarkable to make a film of an event that had actually taken place in that space and that’s one of the pleasures of working with someone like Spielberg.
An Academy Award is an honor that often launches a career. You are already quite well established. Do you think this award is going to move you into some kind of different category for you?
I don’t know. I’ll find out, I guess. I’ve been very lucky and always had very interesting work come my way and generated interesting work myself, so we’ll see. It’s just nice to be celebrated, isn’t it? Very nice to be celebrated. Thank you
For more info: Academy Awards website
RELATED LINKS ON byteclay.com:
Academy Awards interviews