Jennifer Lawrence is red-hot right now. “Catching Fire” — the second film in the “Hunger Games” franchise — topped the weekend’s box office. And she is said to steal David O. Russell‘s “American Hustle,” which finally screened for the press on Sunday.
Last year, she won the lead actress Oscar for “Silver Linings Playbook,” her first film with Russell. Pundits are already predicting she will be a strong contender this time around in the supporting race for her role as the brassy wife of a con artist (Christian Bale) who runs riot over his latest scam with his comely co-hort (Amy Adams).
For the past two months, Oprah Winfrey (“The Butler) and Lupita Nyongo (“12 Years a Slave“) have been locked in a battle for Best Supporting Actress, trading off first place in our charts. Lawrence is poised to play spoiler in this race.
After all, there is plenty of precedent for lead champs winning a subsequent Oscar for supporting roles. However, the likes of Oscar winners Ingrid Bergman (“Gaslight,” 1944; “Anastasia,” 1956) and Gene Hackman (“The French Connection,” 1971) had to wait decades before picking up prizes for their featured roles in “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974) and “Unforgiven (1992) respectively.
Only five performers have won back-to-back Oscars and four did so in the lead categories: Luise Rainer (“The Great Ziegfeld,” 1936; “The Good Earth,” 1937), Spencer Tracy (“Captains Courageous,” 1937, “Boys Town,” 1938); Katharine Hepburn (“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” 1967; “The Lion in Winter,” 1968) and Tom Hanks (“Philadelphia,” 1993; “Forrest Gump,” 1994). The fifth repeat champ was character actor Jason Robards who prevailed in supporting in both 1976 (“All the President’s Men”) and 1977 (“Julia”) and contended once more for a featured role with 1980’s “Melvin and Howard.”
Rainer retired soon after her bookend wins. Tracy contended in lead a record nine times (the first of which was for “San Francisco in 1936 and the last of which was opposite Hepburn in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”). And Hepburn remains the all-time Oscar champ, winning four of her dozen Best Actress bids; she also prevailed on her first — “Morning Glory,” 1932/1933 — and last — “On Golden Pond,” 1981– nominations. Neither of these screen legends ever deigned to drop down and compete in the supporting category.
Hanks has been nominated for Best Actor five times in all, the last of which was in 2000 for “Cast Away.” He could well contend in lead again this year for his performance in “Captain Phillips.” And, at age 57, he is likely to reap the first supporting bid of his career for the playing the character role of Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks.”
But Lawrence is only 23. Isn’t she too young to be demoted to the ranks of supporting? If she wins for this featured performance in “American Hustle,” will Oscar voters ever look at her as a leading lady again.
Consider the case of Maggie Smith, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 1969 for “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” at age 35. Three years later, she lost her lead bid for “Travels with My Aunt” but went on to win the supporting award in 1978 for “California Suite.” Since then, she has reaped three more Oscar nominations, all of them in the supporting race.
Or could Lawrence — who was just 20 when she reaped her first Oscar bid three years ago for “Winter’s Bone” — be more like Meryl Streep? This darling of the academy was 30 when she won the second of her two consecutive supporting nominations in 1979 for “Kramer vs. Kramer.” She then reaped 10 Best Actress bids over a span of 18 years — beginning in 1981 for “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and ending in 1999 for “Music of the Heart” — before dropping down to supporting, at age 53, for “Adaptation” in 2002. She lost all of those races, save Best Actress in 1983 for “Sophie’s Choice.” Her last four nominations have all been in lead, including her most recent in 2011 when she prevailed for “The Iron Lady.”
Who do you think will win Best Supporting Actress? After voting in the poll below, be sure to use our easy drag-and-drop menu to cast your ballot in that race.