One winter day in 1987, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio woke up, turned on her answering machine, and there waiting for her was a message that was just one word long: “Yea!” And that’s how she found out she was nominated for an Oscar that year, for The Color of Money, the Chicago Tribune reported at the time.
The next year, a publicist spoke to the Associated Press on behalf of Albert Brooks and Holly Hunter, both nominated for Broadcast News, because the two “still were asleep an hour after their nominations were announced.”
Then, in ’89, according to the Associated Press, Edward James Olmos found out he was nominated for best actor in Stand and Deliver via the age’s most cutting-edge technology: cellular telephone.
That was then. If the “I didn’t even know nominations were today, I slept right through them” act were ever believable, it would have been in the more casual ’80s—after all, consider what people used to wear to the ceremony. As “cellular telephones” and answering machines have evolved into smartphones and traditional media has begotten social media and live streams, it’s become increasingly less plausible for stars not to find out about these things the moment they happen. Plus, over the same timeline, awards campaigning has become a more serious affair. As Vulture put it in 2012, “virtually everyone with a stake in the awards race spends the winter relentlessly flogging their movies to pundits and voters, touting them on talk shows and at intimate Hollywood parties, and patiently attending every related Q&A they can.” There’s reason, in short, to view the old chestnut about not paying attention to the nominations with suspicion.
So. Not that we would ever dream of questioning the good word of Lady Gaga, but: She told the New York Times on Tuesday that she slept through this year’s nominations, which are announced during the 5 a.m. hour on the West Coast, and only heard the good news when she called her manager around 8:30. Her handler told her she was up for Best Actress and Best Song, and she “just burst into tears,” she said. Not even the buzzing of her phone could interrupt her slumber. Coming from anyone else, this would be a bald-faced lie. As it is, it’s only believable in the sense that one can picture Lady Gaga sleeping upside down in a protective cocoon and bursting into tears whenever the spirit moves her.
Other nominees who pull the sleeping-beauty routine have less of an excuse. For example, Glenn Close told the Los Angeles Times that, not thinking about the nominations at all, she shut her phone off on Monday night because she thought she might be getting a cold. (Why she can’t just continue using her germy phone like a normal person is unclear.) It wasn’t until her brother woke her up that she found out. Hmm. Also, earlier this year, Close claimed she thought the news of her Golden Globe nomination was a butt dial. Hmm again. If that sounds overly skeptical, it’s because Close is a master of this particular subterfuge. In 2012, when Close received a nomination for Albert Nobbs, “[s]he had come back to her home from a green tea latte with her husband in New York’s East Village with the Oscars not even on her mind when her publicist rang with the news,” per the Hollywood Reporter.
Why do stars insist on perpetuating the lie that they’re paying no attention whatsoever to the Oscar announcements? Who do they think they’re fooling? It’s a huge event in the career of an entertainer; of course they know when it’s happening. Then again, it’s part of their jobs to inhabit the role of movie stars, and one thing movie stars never want is to be seen as trying too hard: That way lies Hathahater-ville. Hence the open secret that all statue-grubbing must be accomplished stealthily.
The press, of course, isn’t a completely innocent party here either. After nominations come out, it’s awards writers who are hungry to insta-aggregate star reactions, while fully knowing it’s unlikely they’ll get anything that hasn’t been approved in advance by publicists. Why do we bother asking if we know they’re just going to tell us some made-up anecdote?! Maybe because every once in a while, this silly ritual gives us that rare thing, a genuine moment of despair or triumph: Have you seen the video going around of Miyu Sasaki, the little girl from Shoplifters, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film?
That giggle makes it all worth it. Well, almost. And so the cycle lives on for another year.