Believe it or not, Christian McKay ("Me and Orson Welles") has a real, albeit long-shot, chance of winning best supporting actor at the Oscars — that is, if he can get nominated. And that's a big "if."
Currently, Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") is odds-on-fave to prevail on March 7, of course, and he'll probably win both the Critics' Choice Award (for which McKay is nominated) and Golden Globe (for which he is not) this weekend, but Waltz must be leery of McKay after that. The supporting races are the hotbeds of Oscar upsets. Those categories are where voters love to veer from mainstream expectations and jump off cliffs. Think of the jaw-droppers pulled off in past years by, say, Jim Broadbent ("Iris") and Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock").
Those are two good examples to cite because Broadbent and Harden have much in common with McKay: They portrayed real-life people — voters are suckers for that — (Broadbent as hubby of novelist Iris Murdoch, Harden as wife of painter Jackson Pollock) and they had lead roles hiding in the supporting category, where size often matters.
McKay portrays that holy terror of showbiz, Orson Welles, who dared to battle the power dragons of the Hollywood film and New York theater worlds. In "Me & Orson Welles," he portrays the notorious rascal at age 22 while staging a shocking adaptation of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in Manhattan. Variety joined a loud media chorus of cheers for the film: "An extraordinary impersonation of the American theatrical boy wonder by the young English actor Christian McKay is the indisputable highlight of 'Me and Orson Welles.'"
McKay is nominated by the Indie Spirits in addition to the Critics' Choice, so that means he's a player in the awards game. Frankly, it's surprising that he wasn't nominated by Screen Actors Guild, because he stars as one of the sainted giants of the acting biz, but it's possible that the small, obscure indie didn't get proper exposure to the 2,100 members of the nominating committee.
McKay is back in the game at the Oscars because nominations are determined by peer group, but again the actors may experience trouble seeing the film. I think McKay would have a better chance to break in if Freestyle Releasing had sent his DVD earlier to academy members. However, it arrived in voters' mailboxes around mid-December within a day or two of them receiving "Up in the Air," "Invictus," "Star Trek," "The Road," "The Young Victoria," "A Single Man," "Nine," "It's Complicated" and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Also the DVDs of movies starring McKay's two toughest rivals for the Oscar: "Inglourious Basterds" (Waltz) and "The Lovely Bones" (Stanley Tucci). Two weeks later, voters received their Oscar nomination ballots.
Have voters had enough time to catch up with "Me & Orson Welles"? Accountants say that most voters fill out ballots a week or two after receiving them. The absolute final deadline for ballots to be returned to the academy is Jan. 23. Nominations will be announced on Feb. 2. Below, check out my webcam chat with McKay.
Photo: Christian McKay as Orson Welles. Credit: Freestyle Releasing