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Xaque Gruber

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25 Years After Anna, Sally Kirkland Reflects on the Oscar Race for Best Actress

Posted: 02/22/2012 3:25 pm

This year's Academy Awards reunites Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) with Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) for the third time in the Best Performance By An Actress in a Leading Role category. The first time they faced off for Oscar was 1988. The prize went to Cher in Moonstruck, but the Golden Globes earlier that year bypassed the superstars (Streep, Close, Barbra Streisand, Faye Dunaway) to honor a lesser known independent film veteran, Sally Kirkland, with Best Drama Actress for Anna. In Kirkland, a star was born -- in her forties. Kirkland's Anna, a faded Czech star stumbling into Manhattan striving for a new beginning, is just as stunning 25 years later.

Appropriately, she also collected one of the first Lead Actress Independent Spirit Awards for the role the L.A. Times called "one of the five best performances by an actress in the 1980s."

Without the machinery of big studio dollars, expensive publicists, or even tapes being sent out to voters (not allowed by the Academy at that time), Kirkland's award show glory was the result of her own tireless campaign launch. With very little capital, Kirkland and friends spread the word, grassroots-style, to garner attention for the little seen indie.

Sally Kirkland Career Film Clips:

Sally Kirkland Sizzle Video from Jill Jucarone on Vimeo.

XG: How did the Anna campaign begin?

SK: When I first read the script by Agnieszka Holland, I thought whoever plays this role has a shot at the Oscar. It was just intuition. In the earlier days when we didn't have any publicity, I called friends including Andy Warhol (Kirkland's first director in 1964's 13 Most Beautiful Women) who put me on his TV show. Joan Rivers did too. At Cannes, I ran into Rex Reed in an elevator and begged him to see it. e did, and he lent me this quote "Sally Kirkland devours Anna like a raw steak and emerges a major star." Then Norman Mailer gave me a quote. We had pooled enough money for a black and white ad trade campaign. Dale Olson, Shirley MacLaine's publicist, encouraged me to go for the L.A. Film Critics Awards. So I wrote them all letters, and said this is a tiny little film but I hope you'll see it, and I ended up tying with Holly Hunter (Broadcast News) for that. Then we screened it for the Hollywood Foreign Press and their response was extraordinary. At the Oscars, there were all these movie stars emerging from their limos, and then there was me. I felt like Cinderella. The greatest part was the feeling to be in the same Oscar category of these women that I was a huge fan of -- Meryl, Glenn, Holly Hunter and Cher, who I used to rollerskate with in the '70s.

ABC Commercial for the 1988 Oscars Best Actress race:

XG: How did actors' respond to your homemade Oscar campaign?

SK: Gena Rowlands said, "I voted for you, Sally, but I have to confess something, I never saw the film, but I wanted you to win so much because of that campaign."

XG: As an Academy voter, give me your thoughts on this year's Best Actress category. Let's start with Rooney Mara in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

SK: Her physical strength, scene after scene, getting beaten up, the nudity -- very courageous. Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady in a word -- magnificent. In the first five minutes, you see this old woman shopping for groceries. I whispered to the person next to me, "Who is that?" I'm pretty good at knowing actors, and I quite literally had no idea it was Meryl.

XG: Michelle Williams in My Week With Marilyn.

SK: It's not easy to take that on much less capture the essence of this icon. I couldn't believe it was Michelle Williams, this little tiny flower of a woman -- she was wonderful -- vulnerable. And Glenn Close was outstanding. She did Albert Nobbs so well on Broadway and it was a real tribute to her abilities becoming that gentle but strong, androgynous being. Very touching.

XG: Viola Davis in The Help.

SK: She moved me to tears. I had a black nurse growing up, Louise, who taught me about God, and everything. I was closer to her than anyone. To see Viola play this character that, to me, was Louise, was heart breaking. This is one of the strongest years ever for the Best Actress category.

XG: Do you think your 1987 grassroots Oscar campaign could happen in today's world?

SK: Yes, my friend Melissa Leo from Frozen River is a testament to that. If you're in independent films, and worked hard for years, and you don't happen to be part of the mega-billion dollar system, and you've got the chutzpah to stand up and say this is who I am, it takes all the humanity out of Hollywood not to appreciate that.

Sally Kirkland & Polina Porizkova in Anna: