The Oscars love overacting: Will Smith and Jessica Chastain, awarded

Rumor has it that, when Philip Seymour Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor for his work in front of ‘Truman Capote’, Heath Ledger protested: “I thought that the award goes to who acts better, not who acts more” . It is true that he himself resorted to expressive subjugation years later when it came to embodying the Joker, the role that gave him his posthumous statuette, but in any case his complaint was not without reason: the Hollywood Academy likes to reward overacting, whether in the form of verbal and gestural tics or, in general, of any of the formulas and affectations that make the acting effort so clear and divert attention from everything else; that is the reason why Meryl Streep continues to accumulate nominations, why Sean Penn has two Oscars despite being the world champion of histrionics and why, after finally winning the trophy for passing the footage of ‘Essence of a woman’ ( 1992) yelling “Hoo-hah” – his previous great performances of him had been ignored by academics – Al Pacino spent the next decade yelling absolutely everything.

That unhealthy taste for excess is reiterated in the case of the winners of the 2022 Oscars: Will Smith in the Best Actor category and Jessica Chastain in the Best Actress category. Both are producers of the respective films – ‘The Williams Method’ and ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ – for which they are vying for the award, and those two films have been carefully designed and promoted in order to provide them with the award. Chastain spends his time giving a pyrotechnic display of gestural and vocal tics, and Smith’s work is essentially pompous speeches and intense stares.

But the most important thing is that, for the sake of the power of conviction, both have undergone radical transformations -he notably gaining weight, she through a combination of prosthetics and makeup that in some scenes make her look like a provincial ‘drag queen’- to resemble their characters as much as possible, people who really existed. The Academy has been equating that kind of cross-dressing with acting excellence at least since Robert De Niro gained 60 pounds to play boxer Jake La Motta in “Raging Bull,” the film that earned him his second statuette.


Considering that these metamorphoses usually entail physical deterioration and psychological suffering, they are intimately linked to the concept of sacrifice, which is nothing more than the other great criterion that the Academy takes into account when it comes to distributing the interpretive prizes. Voters love actors who give their all for art, who flog for their characters, They suffer like dogs. Charlize Theron knew this when she underwent an intense process of ugliness, gaining 15 kilos and literally destroying her skin, to look as much as possible like the serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the biopic ‘Monster’ (2003) and thus win her Oscar; and so did Leonardo DiCaprio when he shot ‘The Revenant’ (2015), whose footage is the clearest proof of how far an actor can go – as far as fighting a gigantic bear, devouring raw bison liver and even gutting a horse, all the while grunting and groaning in the process – to get his Oscar for good.

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There is no doubt that Chastain and Smith also feel that it is their time, that they have accumulated enough merit over the years to earn their golden reward. And his victory represents a new confirmation that, in the opinion of Hollywood, It is those kinds of roles that make performers great and not, for example, the more subtle jobs offered by other nominees this year, as Andrew Garfield for ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ in the Best Actor category or Olivia Colman for ‘The Dark Daughter’ -or even Penélope Cruz for ‘Parallel Mothers’- in the Best Actress category; that to win an Oscar, in effect, better is usually synonymous with more.

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