Two weeks into shooting "The Danish Girl," star Eddie Redmayne needed a long weekend off. And with good reason: He wanted to attend the Academy Awards, where he'd been nominated for his role as Stephen Hawking in "The Theory of Everything." Director Tom Hooper let him go and when he returned to the set one major change had occurred — Redmayne was now the winner of a lead actor Oscar.
"We probably chatted about the Oscar for five minutes and then I glanced at my watch and said, 'Let's get back to work,'" recalls Hooper, an Oscar winner himself for 2010's "The King's Speech." "The extraordinary thing was he was literally unchanged after the weekend — some people would want to do a victory lap. All he wanted to do was get back to work."
No surprise: It's now the end of 2015 and Redmayne is yet again part of the awards season conversation. He's in good company — this year many of the biggest winners from last year's awards (Julianne Moore, Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu for a start) have landed right in the current season. In addition, virtually guaranteed-an-award names such as Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks ("Bridge of Spies") and Meryl Streep ("Suffragette") are possibly also in the running.
In a crowded awards season, names like those are practically guaranteed berths in the upcoming nominations. It remains a point of debate just how much power an Oscar or Golden Globe win actually helps filmmakers and performers in the long run — but there's little doubt that in the short term, they're worth their weight in gold.
"You definitely get another go," quips "Steve Jobs" director Danny Boyle, who recalls winning a director Oscar for "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2009. "We used our free [pass] to make a film that was pretty difficult to imagine people financing ['127 Hours']. You can get a huge film made more easily, but it only lasts one go."
Having a heavy hitter in your lineup is a tried-and-true marketing technique for a film, and being able to say you've landed the "best" actor, actress or director in all the land provides a talking point for any awards campaign. "You look at the landscape and it's part of the distribution and a marketing plan," says Brad Weston, president and chief executive of New Regency Productions, whose studio walked away with back-to-back picture wins ("12 Years a Slave" and "Birdman"). This year, he's backing "The Revenant," directed by 2015's Oscar winner Iñárritu.
"Alejandro is a world-class filmmaker, and he's coming off winning multiple Oscars, and this film has a lot of pedigree, so with that comes a lot of expectations," says Weston, who says that awards help voters make decisions. "When you think of a certain group of filmmakers, you assume whatever they're doing will be quality — and if you put that film out in the fall you're immediately in the award discussion."
If you can't get one of the most recent winners, sometimes five minutes from a multi-award winner like Streep is all your film may need; her brief but key role in "Suffragette" helped the film's profile, says screenwriter Abi Morgan.
"We needed an iconic actress, and Meryl is shorthand for that," she says. "Undoubtedly, she's part of the machine that helped the movie get funded, but more than that is the depth of the experience she brings. She's a huge asset for the movie."
"Freeheld," meanwhile, was financed before star Julianne Moore (2015's lead actress winner for "Still Alice") came on board but producer Stacey Sher agrees: "I'm sure [her inclusion] had a great impact on selling the film. That kind of thing gives you more attention — puts you in a bigger spotlight."
Yet, not everyone thinks there's guaranteed value in a newly minted Oscar or Globe winner. "I'm a big believer that you can release an awards-caliber film at any time of year," says Tom Ortenberg, chief executive of Open Road Films and executive producer of "Spotlight," which stars Golden Globe winner Keaton ("Birdman"). "Basing an academy vote on whoever won last year makes for a sucker's conversation and doesn't have any effect on the reality of the situation."
Nevertheless, so many big names already in the running can make it a challenging field to break into for those who didn't recently win statues. But Boyle says that while he knows there's studio pressure to hire award-winning actors, he makes his own final decisions. "I try to always cast the people I'm excited about, whether they have any prizes attached to them or not," he says. "Otherwise, you're second-guessing all that stuff."