In 1977 Jason Robards won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the movie All The President's Men. In this film he played the real life journalist Ben Bradlee. Benjamin C. Bradlee was the man who oversaw the Washington Post while Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were publishing the stories of the Watergate scandal.
In 2006 David Strathairn got his Oscar nod for Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck. Murrow's reports were influential in bringing down McCarthyism.
In 1985 Sam Waterston got an Oscar nod for playing Sydney Schanberg who received a pulitizer prize for his reporting in Cambodia as portrayed in The Killing Fields.
Yet these are the only three examples of real life journalist characters who have received Academy Award nods. (I suppose one could argue that Phillip Seymore Hoffman's portrayal of Capote could be as a journalist...but really that character was so much more than a journalist if Murrow and Bradlee are the baseline).
Two of the performances that I have been most curious about this upcoming year are the supporting roles of two real life journalist characters who I think have an excellent chance of scoring a supporting nod (as mentioned the other day).
In The Soloist, Robert Downey Jr. plays LA Times reporter Steve Lopez who did a series of expose articles about Nathaniel Ayers, a Schizophrenic street performer (played by Jamie Foxx).
In Frost/Nixon, Michael Sheen plays the part of English television presenter Sir David Frost. In the film Frost/Nixon, Sheen will portray Frost who's post-Watergate interviews with Richard Nixon were very dramatic.
For Robert Downey Jr...
I think playing the role of a journalist, especially in a role like the Soloist, were the journalist is partially there just to tell the story and to provide the skeleton to the plot, can be an overlooked non-interesting performance. For example, think of Kate Winslet's performance in the Life of David Gale. She does good, but the part is really just not that challenging.
Yet I think Downey Jr. has a chance. He's hot off of Iron Man, he's hot off of addiction recovery in the tabloids, and the Soloist definitely has the potential to be one of those films that racks up it's fair share of nods as a default choice.
As for Michael Sheen...
Well for starters he was totally worthy of a nod for his role of Tony Blair in the Queen, and after that performance, I'm sure he will be compelling as David Frost. I also think this film has tremendous potential. And finally, I think the David Frost role is far more in line with the roles that get nominated...imitation roles of someone who there is some context for the role they are imitating.
Could there be a double nods for the journalist contenders? Have I missed any one who's been nominated previously for playing a real life journalist?