As we look forward to seeing Broadway stars back on stage, they have continued to be recognized during this unusual awards season for their efforts on the big screen, in music, and on our TVs. It’s often said that stage work is one of the more challenging arts, so it’s no surprise that many of the best have had experience on Broadway. As we near the end of these atypical honors, let’s take a look at the theatrical backgrounds of those who’ve been highlighted this year.
The Tonys are generally handed out later than other popular entertainment awards—with ceremonies for the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars typically held in January and February (the Primetime Emmys, an exception, usually air in September)—though restrictions and uncertainty surrounding COVID have caused other delays as well. (Jagged Little Pill, now up for multiple Tonys, took home the award for Best Musical Cast Album at the Grammys, which were pushed from January 31 to March 14.) The Globes launched the season later than usual, on February 28, with nominees including the filmed performance of Hamilton and screen adaptations of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Prom, The Fatherand One Night in Miami, as well as Broadway veterans such as Viola Davis, Glenn Close, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Al Pacino, Cynthia Nixon, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Frances McDormand, Cynthia Nixon, Carey Mulligan, Ethan Hawke and Jim Parsons.
Though they’re well-known for their work in film and television, these actors got their start in theater, as have a number of other stars who have collected Tonys in recent years—among them Nixon, Helen Mirren, Laurie Metcalf, Andrew Garfield, Kevin Kline, Helen Mirren and Bette Midler. (Davis won awards in 2001 and 2010; McDormand collected one in 2011.) Sam Eckmann, who writes for the awards prediction site GoldDerby, notes that stage experience can give actors added cachet with voters for various awards—though this has proven less the case recently, he says, with the films adapted from plays.
“It was a big shock that Ma Rainey didn’t get best picture” in any of the most high-profile awards ceremonies this year, Eckmann says, including the Screen Actors Guild Awards and the Critics Choice Awards. (The film was awarded in this category by American Film Institute, the Black Critics Film Circle and GLAAD, and also picked up a number of honors for ensemble acting.) “August Wilson is the American Shakespeare.” Acclaimed director George C. Wolfe’s adaptation of Wilson’s play was not even nominated for an Oscar in that category, though Davis and her late co-star Chadwick Boseman—who has already picked up numerous posthumous awards, including the Globe, the Critics Choice and the SAG for his performance in the movie—earned two of five Academy Award nominations. (Neither Wolfe nor Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who wrote the screenplay, received one.)
Eckmann notes that the category of actress in a leading role was particularly competitive at this year’s Oscars, which aired April 25. The winner, Nomadland’s McDormand—a Tony winner a decade ago for Good People, and a nominee in 1988 for a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire—had been pitted against, in addition to Davis, Promising Young Woman’s Mulligan, known to Broadway fans for her celebrated performances in productions of The Seagull and Skylight; Pieces of A Woman’s Vanessa Kirby, who has earned praise for her stage work in the U.K.; and singer/actress Andra Day, who has not appeared on Broadway—yet—but won the Globe for her performance in The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Davis, Mulligan, McDormand and Kirby had already picked up, respectively, the SAG Award—“the biggest precursor to the Oscars,” according to Eckmann –the Critics Choice Award, the National Society of Film Critics Award and the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival. (Mulligan also won an Independent Spirit Award days before the Oscars ceremony.) Three-time Tony winner Close landed an Oscar nomination—her eighth, with no wins so far—in the supporting actress field, for her performance in Hillbilly Elegy, while Anthony Hopkins took home the leading actor prize for his turn in The Father, Florian Zeller’s adaptation of his own play.
Tony- and Grammy-winning Hamilton alum Odom has also been a big presence this awards season, earning several nominations for his performance as Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami, and still more for the song he co-wrote for and performs in the film, “Speak Now.” He earned nods for Oscars and Globes for both his performance and the original song. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Odom reflected on the different reaches of the stage and screen by recalling a conversation he had with Hamilton director Thomas Kail shortly before the musical’s premiere on Disney+: “Tommy said, ‘Leslie, do you realize more people are going to see you in this role this weekend than saw your entire Broadway run in the show?’ So the potential for that kind of scaling was hard for me to wrap my mind around on opening weekend, but I’ve certainly seen it since.”
Odom and his colleagues will nonetheless keep returning to the stage, no doubt. After appearing off-Broadway in Public Theater’s 2018 production of Mother of the Maid, Close told Daily Actor that she still felt most at home working in theater: “I mean, to me that’s like the essence of the craft, and if you can’t hold an audience from the stage, you’ve lost something in your craft.” And as Linney—a current Tony nominee, along with other stage and screen stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Sturridge, Audra McDonald, Mary-Louise Parker, Tom Hiddleston, Jane Alexander, David Alan Grier and Lois Smith— told Variety last June, a few months into the pandemic, “It’s just in human nature for theater to exist.” The wait would be long and hard, Linney predicted, but “it will be a tremendous relief when that part of the process starts to take care of itself.”
Last updated and effective as of January 14, 2019
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