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It's Easy: Nominate Every Actress With a Major Role

October 23, 1994|Richard Natale

If Jessica Lange garners a best actress nomination for "Blue Sky"--as many in Hollywood are speculating--it will give new meaning to the word "underdog," says her publicist, Pat Kingsley, with a laugh. It will also be somewhat of a comeback for the actress who has been off screen since "Night and the City" two years ago.

Yet the film for which she's getting all the hoopla was shot in 1990.

The reviews the Oscar-winning Lange has received for "Blue Sky" are among the best of her career and took everyone by surprise because of the film's somewhat tortured history.

"My little movie finally got released," says Lange. After attempting in vain to get it released, "I'd almost stopped thinking about it," she admits.

"Blue Sky" was originally scheduled to debut in 1991 but has been sitting on a shelf while its studio, Orion Pictures, went into and emerged from bankruptcy. Orion had tried to sell "Blue Sky" and other projects in order to help pay their debts. When there were no takers for the old-fashioned drama, the usual negative assumptions were made.

"Blue Sky" was then slotted for release in early 1994, but was again held back so that it could serve to launch a planned fall tribute to its director, the late Tony Richardson, who died shortly after editing on the film was completed.

To date, although "Blue Sky" has grossed just slightly more than $2 million in limited release, Orion is planning a full-fledged Academy Award promotion for Lange, according to studio spokeswoman Gail Block.

"I never know what to think about that," Lange says of the possibility of an Oscar nomination. "It would be like a gift, like something out of the blue."

If Lange is nominated for "Blue Sky" it will be her sixth nomination, her fifth as best actress. She was also nominated for "Frances," "Country," "Sweet Dreams" and "The Music Box." She won for her supporting role in "Tootsie."

Lange's nomination for a film made four years ago will also serve to highlight the paucity--again--of female roles. The piecing together of a list of even remotely eligible best actress candidates has become such an unpleasant ritual that even women in the industry have tired of it. "We all know the arguments too well," sighs Kingsley, who in addition to Lange represents such actresses and past Oscar winners as Sally Field and Jodie Foster.

"It's always a lousy year for women's roles," bemoans Liz Manne, marketing head of Fine Line Pictures.

In fact, Lange says she has been absent from the screen since 1992 mainly because none of the scripts she received were tempting. Her next hiatus won't be as prolonged. Lange recently completed work on back-to-back films, the drama "Losing Isaiah," scheduled for early 1995, and the period adventure "Rob Roy," in which she co-stars with Liam Neeson, also debuting next year.

Despite their lip service, the major studios don't seem to have any interest in creating good roles for women, observes Fine Line head Ira Deutchman. "So you find actresses having to turn to action movies to make any impact at the box office," he says.

He's referring to Meryl Streep's bravura turn in "The River Wild." Streep, a perennial Oscar nominee, could pull out another one this year for sheer chutzpah--and because the major studios have little else to offer in terms of viable candidates. Other possibilities include Meg Ryan for "When a Man Loves a Woman"--which debuted earlier in the year, but could be forgotten come Oscar time--and two upcoming roles of note: Jodie Foster as the young savage "Nell" and Geena Davis, who plays a quasi-Mary Matalin type in "Speechless." Both films open in December.

But, Deutchman points out, it is now the independent film companies, not the major studios, that are providing women with their best star turns. Among Fine Line's year-end releases are two films with potential best actress roles: Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker in "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle" and Sigourney Weaver in Roman Polanski's adaptation of the political drama "Death and the Maiden."

Other independent companies who are jumping into the breach include the Samuel Goldwyn Co., which is offering Marisa Tomei in Mira Nair's "The Perez Family" as a possible candidate, says the company's vice president of theatrical distribution, Eamonn Bowles. And according to a Miramax spokesperson, the company is touting a trio of actresses all of whom have previously been nominated for or won Oscars: Miranda Richardson in the drama "Tom and Viv," the late Jessica Tandy in the drama "Camilla" opposite Hume Cronyn, and Isabella Adjani in the title role of "Queen Margot."*

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