Paul Raci, 72, has already won several critics organization’s awards including from the National Society of Film Critics for his performance as Joe, a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War. Joe runs a house for recovering deaf addicts that Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a drug addict who lost his hearing playing drums, goes to live. Raci ranks in the top five contenders for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars according to our exclusive odds.
And there’s a good reason wh: the actor gives such a natural, forceful performance as the no-nonsense Joe-his parents were deaf. He’s also fluent in American Sign Language and has appeared in some dozen productions of the Los Angeles-based Deaf West Theater and is lead performer of the ASL Black Sabbath tribute band Hands of Doom. And just as Joe, Raci is also a Vietnam Vet.
Character actors have won Oscars from the time that the supporting categories were introduced in 1936. Walter Brennan was 41 when he prevailed that year for “Come and Get It.” He won twice more for 1938’s “Kentucky” and 1940’s “The Westerner.” Brennan became a staple in movies and today is best known as the rapscallion Grandpa on the 1957-63 sitcom “The Real McCoys” and for the 1967 Disney comedy “The Gnome-Mobile. He was 80 when he died in 1974.
Thomas Mitchell gave three masterful performances in 1939 as Scarlett’s father in “Gone with the Wind,” as a pilot in “Only Angel Have Wings” and as a drunken doctor in “Stagecoach.” He was 47 when he earned the Academy Award for “Stagecoach.” He continued to work, most notably in 1946’s beloved “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Before his death in 1962 at 70, he had toured on stage as the rain-coat attired sleuth Colombo in the mystery play “Prescription: Murder.”
Jane Darwell, who appeared in over 100 films during her 50 years career, was 61 when she won the supporting Oscar for her memorable performance as the strong-willed Ma Joad in John Ford’s 1940 masterpiece “The Grapes of Wrath.” Darwell is best known, though, as the Birdwoman in her final film 1964’s “Mary Poppins.” She was 87 when she died in 1967.
Irish actor Barry Fitzgerald made his film debut in 1930 and appeared in such classics as 1938’s “Bringing Up Baby” and 1941’s “How Green Was My Valley.” He was 57 when he won the supporting Oscar for his iconic turn as Father Fitzgibbon in 1944’s “Going My Way.” Fitzgerald was also nominated as Best Actor category but that honor went to his co-star Bing Crosby. The academy subsequently clarified that a performance could only be cited in one category. Paramount, the studio that made “Going My Way,” signed him to a contract. Fitzgerald starred in several films. He was loaned to Universal for one of his best, 1948’s “The Naked City.” He made his last film, “Broth of a Boy,” in Ireland in 1959. He died two years later at 72.
Just as Fitzgerald, British performer Edmund Gwenn was a popular character actor who did his first film in 1916 and appeared in such films as 1940’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 “Foreign Correspondent” in which he played an assassin. His career changed when George Seaton cast him as the adorable Kris Kringle in 1947’s “Miracle on 34th Street.” Gwenn was 70 when he won the Oscar for his indelible performance. Three years later, he received another nomination for the comedy “Mister 880” as a rather unique counterfeiter. He continued to work, most notably in 1954’s sci-fi thriller “Them!” and reuniting with Hitchcock for 1955’s dark comedy “The Trouble with Harry.” He died at 81 in 1959.
More recently, one of the busiest character actors around, J.K. Simmons, became not only the critic’s darling but everyone’s darling for his pulsating and frightening turn as a particularly demanding music teacher who pushes his student to the edge in 2014’s “Whiplash.” He was 60 when he won practically every critics’ honors as well as such major awards as the Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG, Film Independent and BAFTA. Since his Oscar, he’s even more in demand and still manages to find the time to do his funny commercials for insurance.
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