Ann Dowd's One-Woman Oscar-Nomination Campaign

By NPR Staff

January 12, 2013

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.


Interview Highlights

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."

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