Orion Lee is already earning awards recognition for his breakthrough role in “First Cow.” In November he earned a Gotham Award nomination for Breakthrough Actor for his performance as King-Lu, a Chinese immigrant on the run in 1800s America, in the acclaimed Kelly Reichardt film. While Reichardt’s previous films have not yet resonated with Oscars, there’s a chance “First Cow” could be the one. For Lee, the Breakthrough Actor mention could be a hint of a potential Oscar bid, to which previous nominees can attest.
Since 2010, seven actors have been nominated by the Gotham Awards in this race and later earned Oscar nominations for their performances: Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”), Quvenzhané Wallis (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”), Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”), Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”), Timothée Chalamet (“Call Me by Your Name”), Mary J. Blige (“Mudbound”) and Yalitza Aparicio (“Roma”). Even if Lee does not win the Breakthrough Actor award, it is not the end of the road; Chalamet is the only actor from that group to win this Gotham category before earning his Oscar nomination.
Lee is being campaigned in the Best Supporting Actor category at the 2021 Oscars, and that field is pretty open this year, so there is a possibility that Lee could become part of the Oscar conversation, especially given the film’s acclaim. Lee and his co-star John Magaro‘s performances have been described as “wonderful,” “relaxed and natural,” and they “carry the weight of their lead roles with lived-in confidence.”
If Lee continues to earn these kinds of breakout notices from critics groups and awards organizations, it will only help build his narrative to becoming one of the rare actors of Asian descent (and the first of Chinese descent) to be nominated at the Academy Awards.
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