Actress Ann Dowd won huge praise from critics for her role in the indie movie Compliance. But when it came time to start campaigning for nominations ahead of awards season, Magnolia Pictures — the studio that produced the film — told her they didn't have the budget to lobby the Academy for a best supporting actress award for her.
So Dowd did something exceedingly rare in Hollywood: She started her own campaign.
Dowd scraped together about $13,000 from friends and her own bank account to press DVDs to send to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which does the Oscars nominating.
The move caused a lot of buzz. It's not exactly verboten, and there is some precedent. In 2011, actress Melissa Leo did the same thing and she caused a big stir among the Hollywood glitterati.
In the end, Dowd didn't get the best supporting actress nomination she was hoping for. She did win that same superlative from the National Board of Review, and was nominated for awards from both the Independent Spirit Awards and Critics Choice.
Compliance has been called shocking, disturbing and hard to watch. Dowd plays Sandra, a manager of a fast-food chain who is convinced by a prank caller to interrogate and abuse an innocent employee by a sadistic prank caller posing as a police officer. The film is based on true events.
Dowd joined weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden to talk about why she chose the role, and her decision to court controversy by campaigning for her own Oscar nomination.
On choosing the role
"I understood it on a gut level immediately — made me very sad. Because at the core of that person, Sandra, is shame. ... Here she is, late 40s, 50s, managing a fast food restaurant, out of her league in terms of being able to relate to everyone there; they're all young people. I think her self-esteem is very low, I think she lives externally to please, and that's how she knows whether it's been a good day or not a good day."
On starting her own Oscar campaign
"I think women are used to stepping up and getting the job done when you need to. That's all — because that's the world we're in. If you don't get the material out there, if people don't see it ... it's not going to happen. [It's a] very simple decision."
On the disappointment of not getting nominated for an Oscar
"The initial response was disappointment. Not unfamiliar to an actor. That's the great thing. Actors get a lot of disappointments — roles, attention, etc. So I sat with the disappointment, and then I got to the point where I could say good for those who are on the list."
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "COMPLIANCE")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as Character) Sandra, you got a phone call in the back. A policeman.
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
This is how the story begins in the indie film "Compliance." Ann Dowd plays the manager of a fast food restaurant who receives what turns out to be a sadistic prank call that changes her life.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "COMPLIANCE")
ANN DOWD: (as Sandra) Hello, South End.
PAT HEALY: (as Officer Daniels) Yeah, this is Officer Daniels with the police department. Are you the supervisor?
DOWD: (as Sandra) Yes, I am. I'm the manager.
HEALY: (as Officer Daniels) What's your name again, ma'am?
LYDEN: But in real life, Dowd did not receive a call that she did she really want from the Academy Awards. That's just by doing something rare. She spent $13,000 of her own money on a campaign to nominate herself for an Oscar. It's not exactly verboten to campaign on your own behalf. Actress Melissa Leo did the same thing two years ago, causing quite a stir among the Hollywood glitterati. It's just not really done.
Ann Dowd joins us now to talk about her campaign for an Oscar. But first, I asked her why she took on the role of Sandra in the film "Compliance," which has been called shocking, disturbing and hard to watch.
DOWD: I understood it on a gut level immediately, made me very sad, because I think at the core of that person, Sandra, is shame. Meaning, you know, here she is, late 40s, 50s, managing a fast food restaurant, out of her league in terms of being able to relate to anybody there. They're all young people. I think her self-esteem is very low. I think she lives externally to please, and that's how she knows whether it's been a good day or not a good day.
LYDEN: Well, it's so interesting, Ann Dowd, because as you got buzz for that, what you're getting buzz for now is the fact that you've kind of taken on the Academy. You've been campaigning on your own behalf to get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. This is because Magnolia, the studio that released "Compliance," didn't spend any money to campaign for you, so you've done it yourself.
DOWD: Well, it's funny. I - that surprised me too - buzz about that - because to me, it was a very simple decision. Magnolia is a, they're a small film company. They don't have that budget. I said: OK, well then, I need to go to the next step, which is how do I do that myself? But it didn't occur to me to spend a lot of time, saying: Hey, you know, they should, because what is that? You know what I mean? It's a waste of time.
LYDEN: Ann, what do you make of that fact that really, this is a very rare thing to have done and the - one of the few other times it's been done was by Melissa Leo who campaigned for the Best Supporting Actress role...
DOWD: Yes, for "The Fighter."
LYDEN: And so what do you make of the fact that it is two females who've done this?
DOWD: I think women are used to stepping up and getting the job done when you need to. That's all. Because that's the world we're in. If you don't get the material out there, if people don't see it, and if - you're going to - it's not going to happen. Very simple decision.
LYDEN: Absolutely. So as we know, the Oscar nominations were announced this past week. And I don't think I'll surprise you, and I'm sad to say that you didn't receive a nomination.
LYDEN: So I'm wondering what it means - if you were disappointed and if in any sense you think you might suffer a backlash?
DOWD: Hey, it's a dream, you know? You want your name to be called, and you want to be in that group. So the initial response is disappointment. Not unfamiliar to an actor. That's the great thing. Actors get a lot of disappointments: roles, attention, et cetera. That's our terrain. So I sat with the disappointment and then got to a place where I could say, "Good for those who are on the list. Congratulations. That's terrific."
LYDEN: That's actress Ann Dowd. She won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film "Compliance," which you can see on DVD. Ann Dowd, it really has been a pleasure. Thank you for being with us.
DOWD: Thank you so very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
LYDEN: It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.