New 'Jackie' trailer: Why do Oscars highlight actors playing real people?

A new trailer has been released for the upcoming film 'Jackie,' which stars Natalie Portman as the former first lady. Why does the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences often select actors who play real-life figures as worthy of an Oscar nomination and often a statuette?

A new trailer has been released for the upcoming biopic “Jackie,” which stars Natalie Portman and could find the actress as the latest person to be nominated for an Academy Award for playing a real person. 

“Jackie” stars Ms. Portman as former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and depicts her life following the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy. The film co-stars Peter Sarsgaard as Robert Kennedy, John Carroll Lynch as Lyndon Johnson, and Greta Gerwig as Nancy Tuckerman as well as Billy Crudup and John Hurt.

The new trailer includes the title song from the musical “Camelot,” a show that was famously associated with the Kennedy administration. 

Portman won an Oscar for Best Actress previously for the 2010 movie “Black Swan.” 

So far the film has received very positive reviews (it will open in a limited release this December) and so some are positing that Portman could receive another nomination at the very least, if not another statuette. 

If she received a nomination, she would become the newest actor to receive Oscars acclaim for portraying a real person. 

Of the last five Best Actor winners, four won the award for portraying a real person in a film (Jean Dujardin breaks the streak for playing fictional actor George Valentin in “The Artist,” disrupting a pattern set by winners including Leonardo DiCaprio, who played real-life trapper Hugh Glass in “The Revenant,” and Eddie Redmayne, who played Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything,” among other winners). 

The recent Best Actress winners have many more fictional characters among them, but the nominations list for that prize are full of performances based on real-life figures, including Jennifer Lawrence for playing Joy Mangano in “Joy,” Reese Witherspoon for playing Cheryl Strayed in “Wild,” and Felicity Jones for portraying Jane Wilde-Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.” 

Why does the Academy look with favor on these actors who take on real-life figures?

It’s been the case for some time, as Associated Press writer Steven Zeitchik wrote in 2008 that “Oscar tends to favor actors playing real people ...  It's hard to pinpoint what makes Oscar voters tilt this way. But one likely factor is a frame of reference: Philip Seymour Hoffman acting and sounding like Capote probably will move the voter more than Terrence Howard's acting and sounding like Djay from ‘Hustle & Flow,’ a person the Academy member has never seen outside the movie.”

And CNN writer Todd Leopold wrote last year, “It's become an almost surefire way to win Oscar gold: Play a real person.” 

Tom O’Neil of the awards site told CNN, “I think the outsized portrayal of a real-life person is irresistible to them.”

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