‘Lady Bird’: Is Tracy Letts being underestimated for a nomination at 2018 Oscars?

With all the attention in the Best Supporting Actor race at the 2018 Oscars squarely focused on Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) and Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), no one seems to be considering the chance of left-field nominee when the nominees are announced on Tuesday, January 23. After looking through the history of the academy’s biggest surprises, it’s clear that if we get a shocker this year it will be none other than Tracy Letts (“Lady Bird”).

Letts is a well-revered actor and playwright who is also a Pulitzer and two-time Tony Award winner. On top of his performance in “Lady Bird” voters also had the chance to see him in another Best Picture contender, “The Post.” After every precursor group completely ignored him, the question needs to be asked of whether or not Letts can defy the odds and earn the first Oscar nomination of his career.

In “Lady Bird” Letts plays Larry McPherson, Lady Bird’s father, whose primary role throughout the film is to mediate the often tumultuous relationship between the mother/daughter duo, portrayed by Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan. His character is not as confrontational as the rest of his family and lacks any sort of showy emotive scene. Because of that Letts has had a difficult time standing out with various precursor groups but as voters rally behind “Lady Bird” they are bound to fall in love with his character.

Throughout “Lady Bird” Letts’ performance is often understated but he does have one scene that will resonate strongly within the actors branch. His character is struggling with unemployment and economic anxiety and that all comes to fruition in a scene with a disastrous job interview that ends with his character finding out he lost the job to his fresh out of college son. The heartbreaking scene might resonate strongly with actors who are constantly auditioning for their next job and especially older actors who are constantly being turned away for actors half their age.

With the expansion of the Best Picture race to up to 10 nominees, one of the side effects has been that with less time to screen movies the biggest supporting surprises often accompany Best Picture or lead acting frontrunners. Tom Hardy, Jonah Hill, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Laura Dern all earned unexpected Oscar nominations with zero precursors after starring in major Best Picture contenders or alongside eventual Best Actor/Actress winners. This year “Lady Bird” is a major contender in Best Picture and its stars Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf are in the running for their first Oscars. Tracy Letts might be able to ride the sweeping popularity of “Lady Bird” all the way to his first Oscar nomination.

The best argument for Letts’ chances of a nomination might be to compare him to the most surprising nominee in recent years, Jacki Weaver for “Silver Linings Playbook.” Weaver was completely ignored at every precursor award but was shockingly nominated for an Oscar after the family centered dramedy became a major contender in many categories especially within the actors branch. She may have lacked screen time and even a flashy scene but her character spent the majority of her arc trying to maintain peace among her more eccentric and hot-headed family members. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

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