In our new Oscar Spotlight series we take a look at four rising stars who have this year become Oscar nominees for the first time. In a year filled with incredible performances, only one of our chosen actors was a shoo-in. The other three were all (welcome) surprise nominees. Taken from each of the four acting categories, we present …
But “The Artist” very nearly wasn’t made, and Dujardin’s journey to potential Oscar glory was not an easy one.
Nicknamed “France’s George Clooney”, Dujardin was, and let’s face it still is, very much an unknown in Hollywood. He began his career on French TV as a a comic actor before transitioning into film with the 2005 spoof surfer movie, “Brice de Nice” in which he played a dead-beat surfer obsessed with Patrick Swayze’s character Bodhi in “Point Break.” Director and frequent Dujardin collaborator Michel Hazanavicius had wanted to create a silent film for years but, according to Hazanavicius, no one would take the film seriously and help finance it. When the director and star began to gain commercial success in France with a series of Bond spoofs “OSS 117”, producers started to pay attention – and soon Hazanavicius, Dujardin and Berenice Bejo were filming in Los Angeles.
Premiering at Cannes Film Festival in May 2011, “The Artist” and Dujardin were instant hits. The Guardian described how the film “had me on my feet cheering throughout the final credits” whilst The Independent called the film “both a surefire crowdpleaser and a magnificent piece of film-making”. More importantly, Hollywood/Oscar heavyweight Harvey Weinstein got behind the project. Dujardin went on to win the Best Actor award, and from then on he appeared unstoppable, winning accolades from the Screen Actors Guild, the British Academy of Film and Television and the Golden Globes.
As the awards season got underway though, Dujardin began to run into problems – mainly, ironically, of the verbal variety. Dujardin’s charisma jumps off the screen, but the Frenchman didn’t speak one word of English prior his foray into the thick of Oscar season, those months that are all about conversing with and schmoozing Hollywood. A language barrier has killed more than one Oscar dream, and even Dujardin isn’t afraid to acknowledge it, telling THR “It helps doing all this promotion work in English” and that it was his fellow nominee George Clooney who recommended he learn English. What, you didn’t think the Oscars were actually about who gave the best performance, did you?
Dujardin’s journey is far from over, even as he’s expected to take home Oscar gold tomorrow. Marion Cotillard is the only French actor in recent memory to successfully cross over to Hollywood, and unless there was a film casting a heavily accented character, where could Dujardin fit in? Harvey Weinstein doesn’t seem to see that as an issue though – “I don’t think I’ve seen someone with such international star appeal … The drama, the comedy, the song and dance — he is the consummate cinema buff who brings great ideas and energy to every project he’s involved in.”
For Dujardin, no matter what happens on Sunday, it will be straight back to France to begin promoting his next film, “The Players”. And as he points out with delightful self awareness, he could always just play villians for the rest of his career!