Supporting Roles Often Offer Glimpse Of True Acting Ability

FRIDAY, MAY 30, 1997

At this point, it’s hardly necessary to quote Cuba Gooding Jr.’s signature tagline from “Jerry Maguire.” The actor’s big moment on screen was lampooned about a million times on Oscar night alone.

And for good reason, considering it was a line that quite likely earned Gooding his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Year after year, the actors who vie for the supporting awards generally represent the very best that screen acting has to offer. Gooding, for example, won out over the likes of William H. Macy (“Fargo”), Armin Mueller-Stahl (“Shine”), Edward Norton (“Primal Fear”) and James Woods (“Ghosts of Mississippi”) - capable performers all.

The same was true for the supporting women nominees - winner Juliette Binoche (“The English Patient”), Joan Allen (“The Crucible”), Barbara Hershey (“The Portrait of a Lady”) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (“Secrets & Lies”). Note: I don’t include Lauren Bacall (“The Mirror Has Two Faces”) because her performance was less acting than merely playing herself.

Supporting stars often lack Hollywood flash, and their performances owe less to show-biz politics than to authentic talent. Sure, veteran performers typically are given Oscars as a lifetime reward (see Jack Palance, Peggy Ashcroft, Melvin Douglas, Don Ameche, John Gielgud, Ingrid Bergman and Bacall’s very nomination).

And sometimes, supporting Oscars are awarded for performances that - even charitably - could hardly be described as much more than fluff (see Goldie Hawn, Marisa Tomei, Don Ameche, George Burns, etc.).

But these are exceptions to the rule. Overall, nominated supporting performances personify movie acting at its finest. Following are 10 great Oscar-winning examples:

Walter Huston (“The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” 1948): For his cackle alone, if not for virtually stealing the movie from star Humphrey Bogart, the father of writer-director John Huston deserved an Oscar.

Patty Duke (“The Miracle Worker,” 1962): Anne Bancroft won as Best Actress, but it is the 15-year-old who captures our attention.

Joel Grey (“Cabaret,” 1972): As the creepy nightclub emcee, singer/dancer Grey provides the appropriate Nazi subtext to Bob Fosse’s atmospheric musical.

Tatum O’Neal (“Paper Moon,” 1973): Coached by director Peter Bogdanovich, the 10-year-old daughter of co-star Ryan O’Neal adds just the right blend of cuteness and belligerence.

Timothy Hutton (“Ordinary People,” 1980): Hutton, who boasted the most screen time of anyone in the picture, portrays teenage angst (and survivor’s guilt) to perfection.

Linda Hunt (“The Year of Living Dangerously,” 1983): Significant of her performance, when Hunt’s character (a male dwarf), disappears, the movie loses most of its steam.

Anjelica Huston (“Prizzi’s Honor,” 1985): Walter Huston’s granddaughter pulls off the film’s most memorable performance as a sexy mob princess.

Diane Wiest (“Hannah and Her Sisters,” 1986): Wiest’s first Oscar boasts her as the troubled sister of Mia Farrow whose struggle for happiness provides the film with its touching center.

Denzel Washington (“Glory, 1989): He’s a glamor guy, but Washington’s performance as a proud soldier is as genuine as you can find.

Mira Sorvino (“Mighty Aphrodite,” 1995): As the earthy but loving hooker of Woody Allen’s film, Sorvino is comedic without falling over into outright parody. The amazing thing is that she invented that weird voice.

Imagine her squeaking out, “Show me the money!”

The week’s releases:

Jerry Maguire


In one of his more entertaining performances, Tom Cruise portrays the title character - a sports agent who, in a crisis of conscience, decides to stress humanity over finances in dealing with his clients. This gets him fired, and he struggles to blend his “shark in a suit” self with the new-found conscience that just won’t go away. Definitely a fantasy, the movie co-stars Cuba Gooding Jr. as the only client who stands by him and Renee Zellweger (“The Whole Wide World”) as the woman whose love he has to work to deserve. Gooding, in the role of a lifetime, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Rated R

The Mirror Has Two Faces


Since Barbra Streisand directed this film, and since she stars in it - and especially since she plays an ugly-ducking type character who, in the end, discovers that she, indeed, IS beautiful - you might be tempted to dismiss this as just another vanity project. Well, clearly it is a vanity project. But it’s also an enjoyable, funny and occasionally moving romantic comedy about the complex nature of love in the ‘90s.

Streisand plays so many ends against the middle in trying to make a statement about appearance vs. inner beauty that she muddles the message. But with the help of Jeff Bridges, who is genuinely funny in a supremely dorky kind of way, she manages to entertain us even if we are a bit confused about just exactly what it is that she’s trying to say. Rated PG-13

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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