The 2023 Oscar nominees for Best Actor are Austin Butler (“Elvis”), Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”), Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”), Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”), and Bill Nighy (“Living”). Butler (69/20) is favored to win by our odds, followed in order by Fraser (71/20), Farrell (4/1), Nighy (9/2), and Mescal (9/2).
Last year’s lead male lineup was the first since 1981 to include no first-time acting nominees, but this is the first since 1935 to consist of nothing but newcomers. The last time a group of Best Actor contenders were all strictly new to the category itself was 2006, when the only general veteran in the bunch was past supporting nominee (for “Gladiator”) Joaquin Phoenix (“Walk the Line”). Any of the current hopefuls would be the first total Oscars newcomer to take this prize since Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” 2019).
Since Nighy is English and both Farrell and Mescal are Irish, this is the third Best Actor roster in six years to include three or more European-born nominees. The 2021 majority of this kind involved Welshman Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) and Englanders Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) and Gary Oldman (“Mank”), while the 2018 one was comprised of London natives Oldman (“Darkest Hour”), Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”), and Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”).
Either Farrell or Mescal could make history as the first Irish-born actor to ever win this award. Until this year, the last Irish lead male nominee was Liam Neeson (“Schindler’s List,” 1994), with the last from outside Northern Ireland (like the present two) having been Richard Harris (“The Field,” 1991). At this point, the only native Irish performers who have won acting Oscars at all are supporting champs and fellow Dubliners Barry Fitzgerald (“Going My Way,” 1945) and Brenda Fricker (“My Left Foot,” 1990).
At 27, Mescal is the 11th youngest Best Actor contender ever and has a shot at surpassing Adrien Brody (29, “The Pianist,” 2003) as the category’s youngest winner. The only nominees who have been added to the top 10 since the turn of the century are Heath Ledger (26, “Brokeback Mountain,” 2006), Ryan Gosling (26, “Half Nelson,” 2007), and Timothée Chalamet (22, “Call Me By Your Name,” 2018). Either Mescal or Butler (31) would be the first Best Actor winner to have been born in the 1990s and the second lead champ to represent the decade in general, after Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook,” 2013).
Conversely, Nighy (73) is the seventh oldest nominee in this category’s history and lands within the oldest 3% of all acting Oscar contenders. He would be the third oldest man to triumph here, after Anthony Hopkins (83, “The Father,” 2021) and Henry Fonda (76, “On Golden Pond,” 1982).
The most recent victors in this category are Will Smith (“King Richard,” 2022), Hopkins, Phoenix (“Joker,” 2020), and Malek. This year’s winner will be revealed during the 95th Academy Awards ceremony, airing March 12 on ABC.
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