There are 5 British actors in the race for the Oscars this year - and haven't we seen them somewhere before?
When Eddie Redmayne (1) shot out of the water on the flooded Donmar stage at the start of Hecuba it was clear that he was soaring towards stardom. Appropriately, his entrance was spectacular, but he followed this with exciting performances in both that play and soon afterwards in The Goat at the Almeida.
Screen work beckoned, but he returned to the Donmar to give an unforgettable, febrile performance as Mark Rothko's nervy assistant in Red. He emanated the sanctity of the divine right of kings in a benchmark interpretation of Richard ll, again at the Donmar. Now in The Theory of Everything (2) he seems to have become Stephen Hawking, and his is the performance that everyone is talking about.
Shortly after her triumph in The Chalk Garden at the Donmar, Penelope Wilton was interviewed at the Rose Theatre, Kingston, and someone in the audience referred to "the young actress - I can't remember her name.." and Penelope replied, "Her name is Felicity Jones (3). She's very talented, and she's going to go far." Now Felicity has been recognised for her powerful yet discreet work in The Theory of Everything (2) as a woman gradually being pushed to the end of her tether yet grimly holding on to her integrity. It was clear on the Donmar stage - even against powerhouse performances from Penelope Wilton and Margaret Tyzack - that she was an actress to watch.
Rosamund Pike (3) should have had an easy ascent to stardom. With her blonde, creamy, English rose beauty, she started as a Bond girl, and then demonstrated her stage presence in the almost impossible leading role in Summer and Smoke. She blossomed under Michael Grandage's direction in the exquisite Madame de Sade, commanding the stage with Judi Dench and Frances Barber in supporting roles. On screen, she has shown unexpected comic expertise in An Education and Made in Dagenham - no wonder her no-holds-barred performance in Gone Girl has taken people by surprise (but not if you'd seen her stage work!)
Everyone who saw Eve Best in Hedda Gabler at the Almeida was dazzled by her and her chemistry with Iain Glen as Judge Brack. How many remember a self-effacing performance further down the cast-list from a young actor with the eye-catching name of Benedict Cumberbatch (1)? He certainly wasn't a box-office draw in those days; back at the Almeida in Period of Adjustment he didn't set the box-office alight. We didn't sell many tickets to see him in After the Party at the National, though he went on to win the Olivier award for that play. Still, when he followed this with Frankenstein, we still couldn't sell all the tickets we'd booked, though this went on to become one of the National's biggest successes (I'm still smarting). Now his talent is properly lauded and his performance as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game (2) has caught the Academy's eye. His next stage appearance will be Hamlet but don't even ask for tickets, as they've all gone.
I can never understand people's reaction to Keira Knightley (4) - especially women, in whom she seems to inspire some sort of fury. I've seen her in any number of films, and I'm always impressed by the valid contribution she makes. Her film career has been especially prolific, and ranges from rom-coms to blockbusters to period dramas - yet she has taken time off to appear on stage twice in recent years, in The Misanthrope and The Children's Hour. She acquitted herself very well in both (and though some of our group picked on her performance and on her appearance, they still bought tickets to see her). This year she is Oscar-nominated for The Imitation Game (2), having failed to get the nod for even stronger performances in Atonement, Pride and Prejudice and Anna Karenina.
Who will win this year? Who knows? - it's unpredictable. But isn't it great to see actors who we saw starting out get the recognition they deserve? And who knows who might make their way from the bottom of the cast-list to stardom in years to come? Keep your eye open for emerging talent on stages big and small!
The Oscar ceremony is this coming Sunday night (22 February)
Nominees for - (1) Best Actor in a Leading Role; (2) Best Picture: (3) Best Actress in a Leading Role; (4) Best Actress in a Supporting Role .
Click HERE to see the full list of nominees and watch the trailers.