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Affleck's staying in the supporting race

September 11, 2006 |  1:25 pm

Even though Ben Affleck just won best actor at the Venice Film Festival for "Hollywoodland," he'll continue to campaign in the supporting slot at the Oscars.

"We've talked it over with Ben and he agrees that's best," says a Focus Features rep. "We're thrilled that the Venice jury recognized his performance in a big way, but, considering his amount of screen time and other issues, everybody thinks he should remain in supporting."


Technically, it doesn't matter what an actor or his studio wants: Oscar voters can put him in either race, but when a role straddles both lead and supporting, it's best to guide academy members in "For Your Consideration" ads. The Golden Globes decide the issue themselves, too. Their qualifying committee makes that determination, but they appreciate input from contenders.

Lots of this year's notable roles straddle the line and some contenders have come to a different conclusion than Affleck in terms of what to do about it. Meryl Streep's decided to shoot for lead even though she has less screen time in "The Devil Wears Prada" than Anne Hathaway. (Streep's the title character, after all, and who's got the guts to top the devil?) Forest Whitakerportrays another real devil, Idi Amin, in "Last King of Scotland," but he's upstaged on screen by James McAvoy as his Scottish doctor. However, as things currently stand, Whitaker is shooting for lead, but naysayers within the film's Oscar ranks worry that there are already two African-Americans up for best actor (Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness," Derek Luke in "Catch a Fire"), so Whitaker's best chance to win might be in supporting. No one admits publicly that the issue's been discussed, of course, because they don't want to admit to sizing up the contest in racial terms.

"Hollywoodland" is really all about Affleck's role as TV Superman George Reeves, even though already Oscar'd Adrien Brody gets the most attention from the camera while trying to solve the mystery of how Reeves died.

No one was more stunned by Affleck's Venice victory than the winner, who heard the news one day early while at home in California . Last year director Ang Lee was at the Toronto film festival when he got tipped off that "Brokeback Mountain" would win the Golden Lion the next day. Scrambling to the airport immediately, Lee managed to get to Venice in time to accept it in person. But in Affleck's case, things were different.

"With Ben being out in California, he didn't have time to get to Venice," the Focus Features rep says. "We tried to make it happen, but we couldn't."

When I asked the rep if execs at Focus were surprised by their best actor win, too, she gasped, "Are you kidding? Oh, my God! Oh, yeah!"

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Photo: Ben Affleck (shown here with "Hollywoodland" costar Diane Lane) regrets not being able to be in the audience when his best-actor triumph was announced.
(Focus Features)