Marcia Gay Harden discusses her 2001 Oscar win & which nominee was displeased

Twenty years ago, the Academy Awards were still pretty fun. They were a glamorous event and a hot ticket. People saved their best looks for the Oscars and it didn’t feel like you had already seen the nominees at a million awards shows beforehand. At the 2001 Oscars, there was even a big surprise winner: Marcia Gay Harden! MGH won the Best Supporting Actress for her role as Lee Krasner in Pollock, directed by her friend Ed Harris (who also played Jackson Pollock). The film itself is very good, and very much a labor of love and a tour-de-force performance by Harris. But Harden is excellent, and she deserved the Oscar. She was up against Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (most people though Kate would win), Judi Dench (Chocolat), Frances McDormand (Almost Famous) and Julie Walters (Billy Elliott). The reaction to Harden’s name being called is still pretty iconic! So, anyway, I enjoyed this retrospective interview with Harden in Vulture, twenty years after her surprise win. She even spills some tea about one of her fellow nominees being less than pleased with her. Some highlights:

She didn’t really understand the Oscar campaign thing: “Well, please understand, at that moment, I was a complete Oscar ignoramus. Positioning, campaigning — all of those things were completely new to me. I didn’t know that they had people at five in the morning that announced the Oscar nominations. I knew you’d take out ads, but I thought, Doesn’t everybody? I didn’t know how deeply [Sony Pictures Classics co-president] Michael Barker was behind the film. I knew he liked my performance, and I knew he and Ed had worked together in editing to allow Lee Krasner to have a little more resonance.”

She was traveling everywhere: “But then it started being in the running, and I had a wonderful publicist at the time, Carri McClure, who understood all of this. I was busy traveling around the country doing the media thing — going to Texas and Cincinnati, wherever. My mindset was, “Oh great, I’ll go to Texas and get to see my mom! How much fun! Oh my God, they’re flying me everywhere!” Even though I was an established actress at that point, I don’t think I’d ever been on the kind of media tours that Pollock was putting me on.

She hadn’t even been nominated for a SAG Award or Golden Globe: “That’s right. It was only the New York Critics Award. I didn’t know how that would balance the scale. I knew the odds in Vegas were really great against me by the time they came up.

She thought it was unlikely she would win: “Oh, it was unlikely in my brain. It was a dream that Ed would win, and I was thrilled to be there. They all say, “It’s easy to say that when you’ve won an Oscar.” But for me, that night was the win. And then winning was the win!

Who did she think would win? “Kate [Hudson]. Yeah, and by the way, everybody deserves to win. In that moment, everybody has presented such worthy performances that it’s really hard to tell. I would have felt really happy for anyone because each has a moment in their performance that you’re like, “Yep, yep, yep.” When they called my name, it was a blur. When you go through the footage, you can still see my dad standing up well into the thank-you speech going, “Bravo!” Somebody behind him said, “Sir, you must sit down!” I was like, “Please don’t let it be Scorsese.”

Her speech began with “what a thrill”: “That was the one unscripted line. I will tell you that I did kind of mess up because I had my little crumpled sheet in my hand. I’d rehearsed it in the car, but I thanked my husband after my lawyer and everybody laughed and I didn’t understand why. Maybe because it made him seem like he was second.

Her fellow nominees were happy, with one exception: “It’s new blood. It just felt great. And by the way, I felt the girls were really happy for me as well. There was one I will not mention — but it wasn’t Kate — who seemingly wasn’t so happy.

Whether the one person was Julie Walters: “It’s not her….Mm-hmm. But I would never say anything negative because what a night, right?

So it’s either Frances McDormand and Judi Dench: “And I’m friends with Frances McDormand. There you go…Frances doesn’t give a sh-t. But I don’t want to say anything negative about anybody, honestly. It was my perception that somebody wasn’t so happy, but you never know what people have going on. Whatever. However, I’m a big one for effusive congratulations. That’s who I am. I’m just so happy for other people in their wins and their glories. For me, there’s plenty of room at the top. Sometimes you just accept that life rolls along and things come to you when they should.

[From Vulture]

So…it’s not that Judi Dench said or did anything particularly rude or shady, it’s that Dench wasn’t effusive or nice to Marcia that night? That’s interesting! I would have thought it was Julie Walters as well, but maybe Julie was relieved. And Kate came into that Oscars as the sure-thing, everybody’s favorite, etc. The fact that she didn’t win was a BIG deal. But it’s nice that Kate wasn’t shady to Marcia afterwards. Oh, the video!! And that incredible Randolph Duke gown which looked incredible on her. So sexy.

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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