Behind the scenes with the best actress Oscar nominees ahead of the 2024 Academy Awards ceremony

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Watch scenes from the performances nominated in the category of best actress at the 96th annual Academy Awards, as well as interviews with the Oscar nominees below. The 2024 Oscars will be presented on Sunday, March 10.

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Oscar nominees for best actress, from left; Annette Bening, “Nyad”; Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”; Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”; Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”; and Emma Stone, “Poor Things.” 

Netflix; Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures; Neon; Searchlight Pictures



Annette Bening, “Nyad”

In 1978 endurance swimmer Diana Nyad failed in her first attempt to swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, a distance of 110 miles. She would return more than three decades later, in what would be another five attempts to finish the course, challenged by heavy seas, bad weather, jellyfish and sharks.

Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, directors of the Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo,” co-directed this inspiring sports drama featuring strong performances from Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as her former girlfriend and swimming coach, Bonnie. The two actresses have a comfortable rapport that speaks to their characters’ decades-long friendship, as well as a willingness to confront each other.

In this scene, Nyad springs on her old friend her plan to attempt, at age 60, a Cuba-to-Florida swim. Bonnie is the more reasonable one, but when someone has an unshakable dream, reason doesn’t stand much of a chance:


“Nyad” clip: Annette Bening and Jodie Foster by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

Bening realized perhaps a little too late the demands of the role: “I was a bit naïve — more than a bit, a lot naïve,” Bening told The Wrap. She ended up training for more than a year, hiring former Olympian Rada Owen. “She immediately made me feel I could do it. I swam for her.”

Jodie Foster attested to the Los Angeles Times Bening’s own endurance during her swimming scenes: “She’s super stoic, never complains. She’s a real San Diego girl. She’d get in the water and then just not get out. After three, four, five hours, it gets cold and her way of warming up was doing more laps, which is crazy, I was continually flagging down [assistant directors] and going, ‘What’s wrong with you? Enough already. Get her out of there.'”

Bening also spent time with the real Diana Nyad. She told The Guardian, “What I’ve come to understand about Diana, what I admire, is not only the fact that she swam 54 hours; it was that she found the ability to think enough of herself to say, ‘I have the right to say I’m going to do this thing.’ I think that is what a lot of us struggle with.”

She wasn’t afraid to make her Diana prickly — a pain in the neck to everyone whose lives were turned upside down in order to facilitate Diana’s obsession. Bening welcomed the opportunity to play someone not entirely likable. “When women have complexity, when women are difficult, our metric for being able to accept them is so different,” she said. “It’s like politicians: there’s always this sense that they have to be likable. There’s a quality that a woman has to have that’s non-threatening and pleasing.”

In an interview with The Associated Press (video below), Bening talked about playing someone with a big ego: “I think that a big ego is a weak ego. People who have a lot of bluster, it’s because of something inherently fragile that’s going on inside. And I think that what’s so interesting about Diana is that she does have a lot of bluster, and she is very obviously charismatic and intelligent and energetic and willing to say, ‘I’m going to do that,’ when everyone else is saying, ‘No, you can’t do that, so just stop.’ But I think with Diana it is true that she has a kind of inner softness, and a vulnerability to her. And it’s because of everything that happened to her (just like all of us, I guess) when she was a kid, that she had to find that thing within her, not only the will and the power to do it, but the desire.

“Because really, I mean how many of us regard ourselves well enough to say, ‘My life is important enough that I’m going to go and do this thing’?”


Full interview: “Nyad” stars Annette Bening and Jodie Foster on ego, cooking and risk-taking by
Associated Press on
YouTube

Bening appreciated the sensation of acting while in the water. She told the L.A. Times, “If I’m swimming, there’s a sort of vibrancy. You can listen. You can receive. It was such a gift to be in the water and have that zero-gravity lusciousness around me. Especially in those scenes where I’m struggling. Your physical body is so absorbed in being in the water. In fact, from now on, every movie I’m in, I want to be in the water while I’m acting.”

“Nyad” is streaming on Netflix.


Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Martin Scorsese’s crime epic tells the story of a murder spree that was little-known for decades until the publication in 2017 of David Grann’s bestseller, “Killers of the Flower Moon.” 

In the late 19th century, tribe members of the Osage Nation were herded onto a region of the Oklahoma Territory, rocky and infertile land deemed to be of little value — until it was discovered to contain some of the largest oil deposits in the United States. By the early 20th century the Osage were the richest people per capita in the world. Such wealth couldn’t fail to attract the attention of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Lily Gladstone plays Mollie, an Osage woman who catches the eye of Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a World War I veteran returning to Oklahoma. Encouraged by his uncle to marry an Osage, Ernest sets his cap for Mollie, for whom he works as a chauffeur. 

In this scene, Mollie discusses her suitor, Ernest, just one of many white men who have sought marriages with the wealthy Osage:


“Killers of the Flower Moon” clip: Lily Gladstone by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

In this scene, Mollie impresses upon Ernest her desire to submit to the natural forces brewing outside her home. His inclination to rationalize it, to make the rainstorm somehow commercially beneficial, runs counter to her wish to be at peace with Nature:


“Killers of the Flower Moon” clip: Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

In a performance of great stillness, Gladstone portrays a woman whose eyes beseech others to live up to her expectations, or dare them to reveal their inner devil. 

Gladstone, who grew up in Montana on the reservation of the Blackfeet Nation, had previously appeared in Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 anthology film “Certain Women,” as a woman who becomes obsessed with a law instructor (Kristen Stewart). For “Killers of the Flower Moon,” her character is the emotional center of the film — and filling that role, for a Native American actress, was both a tremendous opportunity, and a responsibility that she told “Sunday Morning” was “terrifying.”

“It’s hard being a Native actor having this sort of this much that you can audition for; Marty showed me what’s possible,” she said.

Gladstone said her portrayal of Mollie was deeply influenced by DiCaprio’s performance as Ernest. “He gave me a character that was so easy to believe, so easy to fall in love with, so easy to not see what the sinister side of him was doing,” she told “CBS Mornings.”

Gladstone, who won the Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe Awards for her performance, is the first Native American to be nominated for an Academy Award for best actress. She learned the news while on a FaceTime call with her family in Osage County. She told “CBS Mornings” she chose to experience the moment there because she felt like the moment belonged to the Osage Nation. “This is their story. So, it felt really special to be able to be there when the announcement came in,” she said.


Lily Gladstone on how “Killers of the Flower Moon” changed her as a person

06:23

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is streaming on Apple TV+, and is available on VOD.     

More on “Killers of the Flower Moon”:


Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of Fall,” which won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, is an exceptional examination of a marriage, wrapped in the twisting logic of a courtroom drama.

German actress Sandra Hüller (who starred in the 2016 Oscar-nominated “Toni Erdmann”) plays Sandra, a German writer whose French husband, Samuel, has resettled their family in Grenoble, France. We learn that there have been tensions between the two — jealousies, disputes over money, anger over an accident that impaired the vision of their son, Daniel.

So, when Samuel is discovered dead from a fall from the top floor of their chalet, it looks at first to be accidental, or possibly a suicide. But then the police investigate it as a possible homicide — and Sandra is the sole suspect.

In this scene, during the trial in which she stands accused of her husband’s murder, Sandra responds to testimony from the doctor who had been treating her husband’s depression before his death:


“Anatomy of a Fall” clip: Sandra Hüller by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

In this scene — a flashback to an argument between Sandra and her husband from the day before his death — she accuses him of misrepresenting the sacrifices he has made for the family in lieu of his faltering writing career:


“Anatomy of a Fall” clip: Sandra Hüller by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

We won’t tell you how the court case is resolved, but the film is powerful precisely because of its ambiguity.

In an interview with Variety, Hüller said she prefers the audience to be left questioning. “I think I wanted to create somebody who would be capable of doing it. I wanted certain people to be a little bit afraid of her,” she said. “Because why do we always have to be sweet, and good victims and all these things? I had a little fun in leaving it in a dark.”

In fact, she explained to W Magazine, she purposely avoided deciding on Sandra’s innocence or guilt for her own sake. “There was a moment in preparation where I had to find out if Sandra killed her husband or not,” Hüller said. “But I realized that this is not really what the film is about. So I let the question go. And I just played the question. … I like when everything stays in the imagination.”

Hüller also stars in the acclaimed drama “The Zone of Interest,” which is nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, best director, and best international film. She plays Hedwig, wife of the commandment of Auschwitz, who goes about her life seemingly undisturbed by the hellish scenes taking place just beyond the wall of her garden, unseen but not unheard.

The success of “Zone” and “Anatomy” are an indication of the increasing internationalization of the motion picture academy. “I appreciate it very much,” Hüller told Vanity Fair. “I also think it’s very modern — that’s the world we live in. We cannot make films just for a specific country, it doesn’t make sense. The things that happen in the world have to do with everybody. That’s what globalization is about. So I think that’s a good thing, and it’s about time that this happens.”

“Anatomy of a Fall” is available via VOD, and will begin streaming on Hulu March 22.


Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”

In “Maestro,” Academy Award-nominee Bradley Cooper (who also co-wrote, produced and directed) plays conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein, who from the age of 25 until his death in 1990 at age 72 was a powerhouse in American concert halls, on the Broadway stage and on television. 

But top billing in Cooper’s film goes to Carey Mulligan, who plays Felicia Montealegre, an actress who married Bernstein, with whom she had three children. The film is both rhapsodic and ice cold in examining their marriage and the affection they share, their love story complicated by the fact that Bernstein also had affairs with men. 

In this scene, in a topiary maze at Tanglewood, Felicia and Leonard take their relationship to the next level:


“Maestro” clip: Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

But while their relationship was stricken with infidelity, they would keep the façade up for the public’s sake, and for the children’s. Felicia also accepted being second to Bernstein’s muse as he wrote timeless shows such as “West Side Story,” conducted orchestras, and taught at Tanglewood. 

In this scene, after she has separated from her husband, Felicia admits to Leonard’s sister, Shirley (Sarah Silverman), that Leonard’s indiscretions were not a surprise: “I’ve always known who he is,” she says. And as to why she stayed with him as long as she did? “It’s my own arrogance… to think I could survive on what he could give.”


“Maestro” clip: Carey Mulligan and Sarah Silverman by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

In an interview with “CBS Mornings,” Mulligan said of Montealegre, “There was something so iconic about her and so magnetic and wry and deeply intelligent. But also this devotion that she had for him from the moment she met him, I think, it’s just so beautiful. But there’s a real … struggle within her.”

Mulligan said facing up to the challenge of roles like Montealegre and Bernstein is “the fun stuff.”

“I think that’s what we’re looking for,” she said. “If it’s not terrifying, it’s kind of not worth doing. Like, you want to do something that is terrifying and daunting.”

Mulligan, who is also married to a musician (Marcus Mumford), talked with Vanity Fair about a familiar aspect in playing Felicia: “She had this proximity to someone who could command a huge amount of people. I’ve stood at the side of stage at Glastonbury and watched Marcus play to a hundred thousand people — it’s something to see that. … So there was that standing in the wings that I could relate to, and all the feelings that go through your heart and your head when you’re watching the person you love doing that.”

This is Mulligan’s third Academy Award nomination. She was previously nominated for “An Education” and “Promising Young Woman.”

“Maestro” is currently streaming on Netflix.     

More on “Maestro”:


Emma Stone, “Poor Things”

Five years ago Yorgos Lanthimos directed Emma Stone in “The Favourite,” a biting and brutal comedy about politics, ambition, betrayal and lust in the court of 18th century English monarch Queen Anne. Stone earned an Academy Award nomination, along with her co-star Rachel Weisz, while Olivia Colman won an Oscar.

In Lanthimos’ darkly comic new film, “Poor Things,” Stone plays Bella Baxter, a woman who is revived from the dead by a mad scientist (Willem Dafoe). Possessing a new brain, Bella must learn from scratch such things as walking, talking, and having wanton sex. But this “Frankenstein”-like creation is also learning about empowerment, the cruelty of mankind, the boundaries of social behavior, and the vices of men.

This featurette from Searchlight Pictures offers extended glimpses of Bella, a character for whom there were, basically, no guardrails for Stone’s performance:


POOR THINGS | “Who Is Bella Baxter” Featurette | Searchlight Pictures by
SearchlightPictures on
YouTube

Stone is brazenly uninhibited as a child in a woman’s body taking on the world. It’s a wonderfully kinetic showcase for her gifts of bearing wide-eyed wonder to an audience. The audience can’t help but reflect wide-eyed wonder back.

In this scene, Bella excites in the discovery of dance, while a jealous cad, Duncan (Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo), tries to match her, beat by beat:


POOR THINGS | “Dancing Scene” Clip | Searchlight Pictures by
SearchlightPictures on
YouTube

Stone told “Sunday Morning” that her character was a challenge to play. Asked if there was ever moment where she thought, I don’t know if I’m gonna get this, Stone replied, “Yes, the entire time.”

Why? “I don’t think there’s been a day on set, of any film of anything I’ve ever done, where I’ve been like, I really got it today. That was exactly what it’s supposed to be! I mean, I think that’s for any creative person. You see something in your head or you feel like it should be a particular way, and then it has to come out of your mouth and your body and all of that. And it never matches up to what exactly you have in your head.”

And she doesn’t discount the role of anxiety in her performance. “I feel so lucky to be anxious,” Stone said. “Because I think it can be sort of like a superpower, sometimes. Anxiety is very activating. It gets you out of bed. You kind of can’t just stay in one place. It sort of forces you to keep moving. I don’t know, I find a lot of positives from it.”


Emma Stone, director Yorgos Lanthimos on “Poor Things”

07:54

Stone won the Golden Globe (musical or comedy) for “Poor Things.” This marks her fifth Academy Award nomination. She previously won for “La La Land.”

“Poor Things” is streaming on Hulu, and is available via VOD.   

More on “Poor Things”:


More on the 2024 Oscars: 

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