In “Birdman,” Michael Keaton played a struggling actor looking to make his big comeback.
“Birdman” itself was a comeback vehicle for Keaton. It earned him his first ever Oscar nomination for best actor. While he was a frontrunner to win — Keaton had taken home the Golden Globe for best actor — he went home empty-handed.
Keaton thought he had a good shot at the award. Keaton went on the “Late Show with David Letterman” recently and described an encounter he had with a voter at an Academy Awards luncheon. This one voter complimented his performance.
“I want to tell you that’s maybe the best performance I’ve ever seen in a movie,” the man told Keaton.
After hearing that, Keaton thought he was a lock.
But just as Keaton was getting up to leave, the man grabbed him and told him one more thing.
“Just remember Michael: When it comes to winning an Academy Award, illness always wins,” he told Keaton.
“And then I thought, I am so f—-ed right now!” Keaton told Letterman.
Keaton ended up losing the award to Eddie Redmayne. Redmayne played Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” which portrays Hawking’s battle with ALS.
The “illness always wins” mantra refers to something that has become a bit of a joke amongst people who follow awards season, in that playing a character with a disability or disease can typically get you an Oscar.
According to the BBC, 16% of all Oscar winners have won for playing such a role. This was the subject of a now famous scene from “Tropic Thunder” (ironically, this performance earned Robert Downey Jr. an Oscar for best supporting actor).
However, that same BBC article also pointed out that a “total of 12% of best actor and actress wins have been for roles associated with showbiz.” In “Birdman,” Keaton played an action movie star who makes his Broadway debut.
While these trends are evident and very noticable, somebody’s “lock” over a category can change in an instant.
“I went from ‘this is a done deal’ to ‘I’m done,'” Keaton said.
Watch Keaton tell this story to David Letterman below:
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