It’s Hollywood’s biggest popularity contest – tonight’s Golden Globe Awards, often derided as the Hollywood Foreign Press’ annual back-slapping praise-fest that has virtually nothing to do with acting talent.
But the same can’t be said this time around.
Four of the nominees for Best Actor – Johnny Depp, Bill Murray, Russell Crowe and Sean Penn – are critics’ darlings who have spent the bulk of their careers blasting Hollywood and awards shows.
But this time, all four bad boys seem to want to win.
Penn’s conversion might be the most surprising: The man who, in the ’80s, purposefully punched the paparazzi, shot at helicopters circling his outdoor wedding to Madonna and who served 32 days in jail for hitting an extra, might have a better chance of being lauded in Iraq these days than Hollywood. His son’s name is Hopper Jack, after two of Hollywood’s most famous rebels (Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson). He moved his family to Marin County because he – very publicly – stated that he couldn’t stand to raise his kids in Hollywood.
In fact, when Penn (who skipped the Oscars when he was nominated for “Dead Man Walking”) picked up the National Board of Review Best Acting award recently, for both “Mystic River” and “21 Grams,” he quipped, “Russell Crowe’s been a prick for a decade. I’ve been a prick for two decades.”
Crowe – nominated as Best Actor in a Drama for “Master and Commander” – is widely believed to have lost the Oscar in 2002 (for “A Beautiful Mind”) after bullying a British producer at the BAFTA awards. And it’s not like he’s done all that much sucking up to voters this year. “There’s no way I’ll go to the (Oscar) ceremony, even if I’m nominated,” he has said.
Throw in Bill Murray and Johnny Depp – two Hollywood iconoclasts if there ever were – and you’ve got a full-on dark-horse race at this year’s Globes. Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise they’re not. Hell, they’re not even Al Pacino. They don’t smile, they don’t kowtow, and they seem to aggressively court controversy.
Depp is an expat who lives in Paris, who became famous for playing freaks, and who, in his younger days, got engaged (to Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Grey and Winona Ryder) more frequently than J.Lo. Now he’s a father of two who says he’d rather “play Barbies” with his little girl than make movies.
And Depp, as did Penn, went so far as to make statements that were widely construed as anti-American. Penn caught major flak for visiting Iraq before the war and vocally opposing U.S. military action while there; Depp called the United States “a dumb puppy with big teeth,” when it comes to foreign policy.
And then there’s the “Lost in Translation” Bill Murray, who makes the other three look like die-hard publicity seekers. Sofia Coppola has said that even though she wrote the part of depressed movie star Bob Morris for Murray, it took her months to get the script to Murray, and even longer to get a response. “Bill has has an 800-number, and I left messages,” she has said. “This went on for five months. Stalking Bill became my life’s work.”
So why is Hollywood showing its most cranky, controversial peers so much love?
“These guys are rebels,” says movie producer Keri Selig, who runs Intuition Productions. “And people are attracted to rebels. [They’re] elusive and sexy.”
“Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper created that prototype on film,” says bad boy emeritus Peter Fonda. “The outsider is the true American hero. It’s about time the public began to appreciate that again.”
“These guys were always outsiders,” says “Sopranos” star Joe Pantoliano. “They didn’t mold to the system. The reason why they’re being honored – they’re so f –in’ good, and it has nothing to do with Hollywood. [People] that good cannot be ignored.”
Yet they ignore Hollywood. Think about it: How often do you see them on talk shows, at movie premieres, on “Access Hollywood,” or in the pages of Us magazine?
Murray, as laconic in real life as his “Lost in Translation” movie star Bob Morris, shows more excitement about the New York Mets and minor league baseball (he owns three teams) than he does the movie business. “I cry a lot,” Murray once admitted, “but I don’t cry much over work.” And the 54-year-old Murray is at the top of his game: he’s shooting Anderson’s new movie, “The Life Aquatic.” As for Penn, he’ll star for Sydney Pollack next year in “The Interpreter,” possibly with Nicole Kidman. He’s even being considered for a big Disney summer action movie called “Flight Plan.”
“Everyone’s always thought of Sean Penn and Russell Crowe as great actors,” notes one ICM agent (who didn’t want to be named) of Penn’s sudden popularity.
“Now, with all these nominations, Hollywood just can’t sit back anymore. They have to go to him.”
“Have you noticed Russell Crowe has become P.C. this year?” asks Variety editor in chief Peter Bart. “I’m sure he’s noticed that if Ben Kingsley, Jude Law and Tom Cruise say the right thing, they all get awards.”
“They’re just really great,” says John Lesher, a partner in the Endeavor Agency whose clients directors Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson and David O. Russell.
“Talent does ultimately rise to the top.” he adds. “[These actors] have the courage of their convictions. They all have careers not defined by box office. And since when do the Golden Globes mean anything, anyway?”
This year – maybe everything.
Smokes; drinks; once shoved a TV producer against a wall; said, “I’d move to Los Angeles if Australia and New Zealand were swallowed up by a huge tidal wave, if there was a bubonic plague in Europe and if the continent of Africa disappeared from some Martian attack.”
Smokes; drinks; slugs paparazzi. Arrested for trashing his room at the Mark Hotel in New York City in 1994; arrested in Vancouver in 1989 or fighting with hotel security; arrested in 1999 for fighting with paparazzi; has said, “I’d like [my kids] to see America as a broken toy.”
Has said, “Whenever I hear a star say, ‘My fans,’ I go right for the shotgun” and, “It’s a really unattractive sight to see an actor or actress who really wants an Oscar. You see their faces and the desperation is so ugly. Desperation is not a quality I long for.” Despite such loathing, he has already won New York Film Critics Circle and the Boston Society of Film Critics awards for “Lost in Translation. ”
Smokes; drinks; slugs paparazzi. Shot at a helicopter before outdoor wedding to Madonna; arrested for punching an extra on the set of “Colors”; served 32 days in jail for assaulting a photographer in 1987; called “Baghdad Sean” for visiting Iraq before the U.S.-led war; has said he hates acting and that Hollywood is “creatively corrupt.”