Oscar Brits Leave Baddie Image Behind
John Harlow | The Sunday Times
IT WAS once said that British actors made good baddies in Hollywood, but new research suggests they are now seen as more “charming, intelligent and honest” than their American rivals. Ahead of tonight’s Academy film awards in Los Angeles, a study by academics at the University of Southern California has provided an explanation as to why the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, Felicity Jones and Rosamund Pike are so popular. Americans apparently find them up to seven times more likeable than the thespians from their own country. After asking 15,000 Americans more than 100 questions, researchers calculated that British nominees are perceived as 23% more talented than their largely American rivals.
Jeetendr Sehdev, professor of marketing at the University of Southern California, said: “We have cut through Hollywood’s smoke and mirrors . . . to find out what Americans really think — which is that they are twice as likely to recommend watching the Oscars to see a British star than an American nominee.
“When Americans thought of a British actress a decade ago it was Judi Dench: now it’s Rosamund Pike. Ideas of beauty have changed. Years ago Cumberbatch might have been a character actor; now he has ‘Cumberbitches’, or female followers.
“Our research suggests that Britons are seen as not just smart and sophisticated, but also increasingly sexy and confident, real global movie stars.”
British talent will be competing in almost every category tonight. Roger Deakins, the Devon-born cinematographer, has been nominated for his 12th Oscar for Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. Two British micro-budget movies, The Phone Call and Boogaloo and Graham, have been nominated for best short, while Mr Turner has been nominated for four technical Oscars.
Yet the headlines will be made by actors, including Redmayne and Cumberbatch who are battling it out for the best actor award, Jones and Pike for best actress and Keira Knightley for best supporting actress in The Imitation Game.
According to bookmakers in Las Vegas, Redmayne’s portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything has a narrow lead over Michael Keaton’s performance in Birdman.
Apart from his physically arduous role playing Hawking, a $15m (£10m) film which has earned $100m at the box office, Redmayne “leads the pack in being perceived as a classic British talent with a twist”, Sehdev said.
“He is seen as twice as charming as Michael Keaton, five times more cultured than Steve Carell [nominated for the wrestling drama Foxcatcher] and seven times more imaginative than Bradley Cooper [star of American Sniper]. Americans find him different in a non-alienating way.
“Hollywood had not embraced big lips and freckles on a leading man until Eddie arrived.”
By contrast, many of the best-known British actors in recent decades, such as Christopher Lee, Anthony Hopkins and Mark Strong, have played movie baddies.
None of the five British nominees for top acting Oscars attended a pre-awards reception on Friday night. Redmayne, who is filming in north Africa, flew into Los Angeles yesterday morning.
There were, however, a host of celebrities at Tom Ford’s fashion show in Hollywood, including best actress nominees Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon, along with Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Elton John and Naomi Campbell.
Ford said he would be creating “one specific design” for the red carpet. “Oscar dressing has become a little bit safe,” he said.
“The biggest success for an actress is not to make any mistakes and not to have anyone . . . talk about how horrible you look.”
In a tight race, Cumberbatch, who is nominated for his portrayal of Alan Turing, the codebreaker, in The Imitation Game, lost ground earlier this month after he referred to black actors as “coloured”.
Sehdev does not believe it will hamper him in the long term. “Women find him charming and trustworthy, while men see him as reliable and cool,” he said.
British women, Sehdev added, were this year perceived as desirable and tough.
They also score up to three times higher than Witherspoon, nominated for best actress for Wild, and Moore, the frontrunner for her portrayal of an Alzheimer’s victim in Still Alice, for their perceived “trustworthiness and stylishness”.
“Felicity, Rosamund and Keira are all seen as no-nonsense women who know their craft but also what they want,” said Sehdev.