the gold rush

A Brief History of Double-Nominated Actors at the Oscars

Scarlett Johansson, you are in very good company. Photo: Vulture, Netflix and Twentieth Century Fox

With her twin Academy Award nominations in 2020’s Best Actress (for Marriage Story) and Best Supporting Actress (for Jojo Rabbit) categories, Scarlett Johansson became the first performer in 12 years to be nominated for two performances at the same Oscars. It’s a fortunate double to hit since it means double the spotlight and double the chances at winning. (It also means one fewer place setting at the Academy’s nominees’ luncheon.)

In the 92-year history of the Oscars, double-nominees have happened 12 times in total. Three of those were pre-1945: at the 1938 Oscars, Fay Bainter was nominated in Lead for White Banners and supporting for the Best Picture–nominated Jezebel; four years later, Teresa Wright was recognized in the Best Actress category for playing Mrs. Lou Gherig in The Pride of the Yankees and for Supporting Actress in the Best Picture winner Mrs. Minniver. At the 1944 Oscars, Barry Fitzgerald was nominated in Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for Going My Way, as there were not yet rules preventing someone from getting nominated twice for the same performance.

All three of the above actors — Bainter, Wright, and Fitzgerald — would win the Oscar in the Supporting category in their respective double-nominee years. It would be almost 40 years until another performer was double-nominated, but since 1982, it’s happened nine times (including Johansson). Each instance offers a little window into what was going on that Oscar year and which performers were in the hunt:

1983: Jessica Lange

Best Actress: Frances
Best Supporting Actress: Tootsie

There was a lot of positioning and politicking when it came to Jessica Lange’s Oscar prospects in 1983. Tootsie was a Best Picture nominee and while Dustin Hoffman was unquestionably at the film’s center, Lange was the female lead and love interest. But Lange had an even bigger performance that same year, playing troubled 1930s actress Frances Farmer in Frances. The performance drew wild acclaim, and she’d have probably steamrolled to a Best Actress win if not for one person: Sophie Zawistowski, Meryl Streep’s character in Sophie’s Choice. Streep managed to lay down the one performance that was more of a slam-dunk than Lange’s, and so Columbia Pictures pushed Lange for the Supporting Actress win for Tootsie, angering co-star and co-nominee Teri Garr in the process. Lange went on to win the Supporting Actress Oscar (then won in Lead Actress a dozen years later for a film — Blue Sky — hardly anybody saw).

1989: Sigourney Weaver

Best Actress: Gorillas in the Mist
Best Supporting Actress: Working Girl

You really have to feel for Sigourney Weaver. Heading into the 1989 Oscars, there was every indication that she’d be walking out of the Shrine Auditorium with a trophy in her hand. She was nominated for playing animal-researcher Diann Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist and the dragon-lady boss to Melanie Griffith in the Best Picture nominee Working Girl. Prior to this year, each time a performer had been double-nominated, they’d won for one of them (all supporting). At the Golden Globes in 1989, Weaver won TWICE: once for Supporting Actress and again in an incredible three-way tie for Best Actress with Jodie Foster (for The Accused) and Shirley MacLaine (for Madame Sousatzka). Geena Davis (The Accidental Tourist) hadn’t even been nominated for a Globe! And yet, it’s Geena Davis who upset Weaver in Supporting, followed by Jodie Foster winning Lead Actress for The Accused, leaving Weaver Oscar-less, and proving that double nominees don’t always win.

1993: Al Pacino

Best Actor: Scent of a Woman
Best Supporting Actor: Glengarry Glen Ross

Pacino had famously never won an Oscar for his iconic ’70s roles in movies like The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, or Serpico. By the time the 1993 Oscars came around, Pacino was 0-for-6 with the Academy. Scent of a Woman was his best shot to win an Oscar in over a decade, but his competition in Best Actor was stiff, with Denzel Washington having given a powerhouse performance in Malcolm X. Oscar observers wondered whether voters might opt to have their cake and eat it too, by voting for Washington in lead and for Pacino’s brief but fiery turn in the David Mamet adaptation Glengarry Glen Ross. It would have been a risky gambit — Gene Hackman had been steamrolling the supporting awards all season for his performance as the villain in Best Picture frontrunner Unforgiven. Ultimately, Hackman prevailed in Supporting, but Pacino pulled out the win in Best Actor.

1994: Emma Thompson and Holly Hunter

Best Actress: The Remains of the Day
Best Supporting Actress: In the Name of the Father

Best Actress: The Piano
Best Supporting Actress: The Firm

Ahead of the 1994 Oscars, and for the first time ever, two performers received double-nominations — meaning that a full 40 percent of the available actress nominations went to this pair of women. Thompson had just won Best Actress the year before for Howards End, and as fantastic as she is in The Remains of the Day, the chances that the Academy were going to award her for two Merchant-Ivory films in a row were pretty slim, especially not when Holly Hunter was sweeping the critics awards for her role as a mute woman sold into marriage in The Piano. (Hunter went on to win the field.) But the Supporting Actress category was much more volatile. The initial favorites appeared to be Golden Globe–winner Winona Ryder for Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence and Rosie Perez for the Peter Weir film Fearless. Thompson, playing a crusading lawyer in In the Name of the Father, was considered a dark horse because there were still some lingering beliefs that a double nominee had to win somewhere (as Sigourney Weaver angrily drums her fingers somewhere). And then there was Holly Hunter, whose nomination for her role as a floozy secretary who gets mixed up on Tom Cruise’s legal thriller was one of the great impulse purchases in Oscar history. Ultimately, the Supporting winner wasn’t Thompson or Hunter but Hunter’s Piano co-star Anna Paquin.

2003: Julianne Moore

Best Actress: Far From Heaven
Best Supporting Actress: The Hours

The Hours giveth and The Hours taketh away. That was the story of Julianne Moore’s 2002–2003 awards campaign. From the moment Far From Heaven premiered at the fall festivals in Venice and Toronto, Moore was considered to be the frontrunner for Best Actress. The Hours, waiting down the road, hadn’t even figured out which of its trio of lead actresses — Moore, Meryl Streep, and Nicole Kidmanwould get the big awards push. The Hours goes over like gangbusters, becomes a Best Picture nominee, and with Moore and Streep (who was a Supporting Actress contender also for Adaptation) campaigning for other movies, Nicole Kidman emerged as the Best Actress contender for her work under, yes, a prosthetic nose, as Virginia Woolf. All the ingredients were there for a Kidman triumph: physical transformation, playing a real-life character, a great personal narrative with her recent split from Tom Cruise now finally in her past. Moore’s note-perfect recreation of a Douglas Sirk–esque heroine couldn’t compete. Nor could Moore’s Platonic ideal of a desperate 1950s housewife compete with Catherine Zeta-Jones’s hot honey rag in Chicago. So Moore lost twice and waited a dozen more years to win her Oscar for Still Alice.

2005: Jamie Foxx

Best Actor: Ray
Best Supporting Actor: Collateral

Here’s how hot Jamie Foxx’s star was in 2005: He was steamrolling his way so hard to an obvious Best Actor win for playing Ray Charles that the Academy happily nominated him in Best Supporting Actor for Collateral, a movie in which Jamie Foxx is 100 percent the lead character, even more so than top-billed Tom Cruise. He was never really in consideration to win Supporting, because Lead Actor was such a lock. But he did become the first performer since Jessica Lange to get double-nominated for his first two Oscar nominations. (They join Fay Bainter, Barry Fitzgerald, and now Scarlett Johansson as the only five actors to enjoy that distinction.)

2008: Cate Blanchett

Best Actress: Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Best Supporting Actress: I’m Not There

In between her first and second Oscar victories, Cate Blanchett picked up two more nominations in 2008. For her role as an androgynous version of a young Bob Dylan in Todd Haynes’s experimental biopic I’m Not There, Blanchett was among a crowd of frontrunners to win that year’s Supporting Actress trophy. She won the Golden Globe that year (in that weird strike year where the Golden Globes weren’t held and the winners were announced on the set of Access Hollywood), while Ruby Dee (American Gangster) won the SAG, Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) won the BAFTA, and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone) won the bulk of critics’ prizes. (The fifth nominee that year? Literal 13-year-old Saoirse Ronan, playing a girl who makes trouble for everyone in Atonement.) Swinton won the Oscar. Meanwhile, nobody really liked Elizabeth: The Golden Age all that much, but Blanchett blew the doors off the sets in her big moments, so the nomination was hers anyway. She became only the fourth performer to get Oscar-nominated twice for playing the same role in a movie and its sequel, after Bing Crosby (Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s), Paul Newman (The Hustler and The Color of Money), and Al Pacino (The Godfather Parts I and II). Sylvester Stallone would later become the fifth for Rocky. (Don’t come at me with Peter O’Toole — he played Henry II in Becket and The Lion in Winter, but the latter was not a sequel.) Blanchett lost Best Actress to Marion Cotillard for La Vie en rose, but at least she gave us clips like this:

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A Brief History of Double-Nominated Actors at the Oscars