Marcia Gay Harden discusses her 2001 Oscar win & which nominee was displeased


Twenty years ago, the Academy Awards were still pretty fun. They were a glamorous event and a hot ticket. People saved their best looks for the Oscars and it didn’t feel like you had already seen the nominees at a million awards shows beforehand. At the 2001 Oscars, there was even a big surprise winner: Marcia Gay Harden! MGH won the Best Supporting Actress for her role as Lee Krasner in Pollock, directed by her friend Ed Harris (who also played Jackson Pollock). The film itself is very good, and very much a labor of love and a tour-de-force performance by Harris. But Harden is excellent, and she deserved the Oscar. She was up against Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (most people though Kate would win), Judi Dench (Chocolat), Frances McDormand (Almost Famous) and Julie Walters (Billy Elliott). The reaction to Harden’s name being called is still pretty iconic! So, anyway, I enjoyed this retrospective interview with Harden in Vulture, twenty years after her surprise win. She even spills some tea about one of her fellow nominees being less than pleased with her. Some highlights:

She didn’t really understand the Oscar campaign thing: “Well, please understand, at that moment, I was a complete Oscar ignoramus. Positioning, campaigning — all of those things were completely new to me. I didn’t know that they had people at five in the morning that announced the Oscar nominations. I knew you’d take out ads, but I thought, Doesn’t everybody? I didn’t know how deeply [Sony Pictures Classics co-president] Michael Barker was behind the film. I knew he liked my performance, and I knew he and Ed had worked together in editing to allow Lee Krasner to have a little more resonance.”

She was traveling everywhere: “But then it started being in the running, and I had a wonderful publicist at the time, Carri McClure, who understood all of this. I was busy traveling around the country doing the media thing — going to Texas and Cincinnati, wherever. My mindset was, “Oh great, I’ll go to Texas and get to see my mom! How much fun! Oh my God, they’re flying me everywhere!” Even though I was an established actress at that point, I don’t think I’d ever been on the kind of media tours that Pollock was putting me on.

She hadn’t even been nominated for a SAG Award or Golden Globe: “That’s right. It was only the New York Critics Award. I didn’t know how that would balance the scale. I knew the odds in Vegas were really great against me by the time they came up.

She thought it was unlikely she would win: “Oh, it was unlikely in my brain. It was a dream that Ed would win, and I was thrilled to be there. They all say, “It’s easy to say that when you’ve won an Oscar.” But for me, that night was the win. And then winning was the win!

Who did she think would win? “Kate [Hudson]. Yeah, and by the way, everybody deserves to win. In that moment, everybody has presented such worthy performances that it’s really hard to tell. I would have felt really happy for anyone because each has a moment in their performance that you’re like, “Yep, yep, yep.” When they called my name, it was a blur. When you go through the footage, you can still see my dad standing up well into the thank-you speech going, “Bravo!” Somebody behind him said, “Sir, you must sit down!” I was like, “Please don’t let it be Scorsese.”

Her speech began with “what a thrill”: “That was the one unscripted line. I will tell you that I did kind of mess up because I had my little crumpled sheet in my hand. I’d rehearsed it in the car, but I thanked my husband after my lawyer and everybody laughed and I didn’t understand why. Maybe because it made him seem like he was second.

Her fellow nominees were happy, with one exception: “It’s new blood. It just felt great. And by the way, I felt the girls were really happy for me as well. There was one I will not mention — but it wasn’t Kate — who seemingly wasn’t so happy.

Whether the one person was Julie Walters: “It’s not her….Mm-hmm. But I would never say anything negative because what a night, right?

So it’s either Frances McDormand and Judi Dench: “And I’m friends with Frances McDormand. There you go…Frances doesn’t give a sh-t. But I don’t want to say anything negative about anybody, honestly. It was my perception that somebody wasn’t so happy, but you never know what people have going on. Whatever. However, I’m a big one for effusive congratulations. That’s who I am. I’m just so happy for other people in their wins and their glories. For me, there’s plenty of room at the top. Sometimes you just accept that life rolls along and things come to you when they should.

[From Vulture]

So…it’s not that Judi Dench said or did anything particularly rude or shady, it’s that Dench wasn’t effusive or nice to Marcia that night? That’s interesting! I would have thought it was Julie Walters as well, but maybe Julie was relieved. And Kate came into that Oscars as the sure-thing, everybody’s favorite, etc. The fact that she didn’t win was a BIG deal. But it’s nice that Kate wasn’t shady to Marcia afterwards. Oh, the video!! And that incredible Randolph Duke gown which looked incredible on her. So sexy.


Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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53 Responses to “Marcia Gay Harden discusses her 2001 Oscar win & which nominee was displeased”

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  1. Well Wisher says:

    She totally deserved the Oscar. The entire production was spot on. I remember thinking that she was probably a Broadway actress. It is surprising that Annette Bening and Laura Linney are not also Oscar winners not to mention Glenn Close. So much unrecognized talent.

    • Kyla says:

      I totally agree! And I’d add Joan Allen to that list. She is an incredible actress and delivered some amazing performances in the 1990s – early 2000s.

      I’ll be catty and say there’s some performances that won the Oscar that I’ll never really understand what was so great about them? Like Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets, Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side, and Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. They just seemed to me like every other role they’d done. But, I’m not an actor so I’m probably missing something that make them stand out to other actors as Oscar deserving performances.

      • emmy says:

        I think there’s often a big disconnect between what grabs audiences and what Hollywood considers award-worthy. There’s also so much politics involved, all the campaigns and behind the scenes bs we don’t know about. I personally often don’t like performances where you can see the acting. I love Sandra Bullock but yeah, she was really hamming it up in The Blind Side. Not my cup of tea. Whereas I think Leo should have won for Titanic rather than The Revenant. He was excellent in Titanic but people seemed to think he was just playing himself essentially. Well, I think we can now all agree he wasn’t. LOL

      • tcbc says:

        Like every other award, the Oscars are often more about popularity than excellence. I bet actors who are more introverted, or who consistently leave Los Angeles to do theatre, like many of the actors mentioned, lose out on the networking opportunities that determine the winners.

      • Mrs.Krabapple says:

        Sometimes Hollywood will rally around the chosen “it” girl for that year, who is usually one of the younger or more attractive actresses. One of the biggest travesties was Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith losing out to Jennifer Connelly. Connelly should not even have been nominated, since every actress in Gosford Park gave a superior performance. But, she was the “it” choice that year (plus, the Academy may prefer Americans anyway). Another example might be Gwenneth Paltrow (she also had Harvey Weinstein’s campaign backing her). But yeah, some wins are totally baffling.

      • Grant says:

        Oh my gosh, I just adore Joan Allen. She is so, so, so good. Someone needs to give her a juicy role in prestige television because I’m ready for that screen goddess to be back on my TV.

    • Humbugged says:

      Sandra Bullock but yeah, she was really hamming it up in The Blind Side.

      She was playing an actual person and thats how Leigh Anne is

    • Anna says:

      Pollock was amazing. I still remember seeing it. Really beautifully done.

  2. LaraK says:

    Ah, i love a good look back. Marcia was always one of my favorites. Even on SVU.

    Also, Ed Harris was hot – he was totally my age inappropriate college crush. Good times.

    • BeanieBean says:

      I had forgotten about Ed Harris until I watched this clip. He’s definitely one of my favs. Those blue eyes!

    • Betsy says:

      I quit watching SVU shortly after she appeared on that show so I don’t remember her arc (though I feel like she had one?), but I was all set to hate her the way she was portrayed at first. So good.

  3. Basi says:

    Well that was a delightful read!

  4. Plums says:

    I read this interview after the fuggirls tweeted about it. It’s absolutely delightful.

  5. Jellybean says:

    Opps! double post, sorry.

  6. Jellybean says:

    I read that Judi’s husband of 30 years had died just a couple of months earlier, but sure Marcia, lets say that her being unhappy was all about you winning an award and had nothing to do with the stress of trying to keep things together whilst under the media’s spotlight.

    • Jellybean says:

      Yes, I just checked, Michael died in January and the Oscar ceremony was in March.

    • Léna says:

      Common, maybe she doesn’t know?

    • FilmTurtle says:

      Let’s not be too hard on Marcia. She literally says this: “It was my perception that somebody wasn’t so happy, but you never know what people have going on.”

      MGH is one of those actors who never gives a bad performance. There’s always something interesting going on.

      • Carol says:

        I will have to say MGH gown and makeup stand the test of time. Usually when you look back at the these award shows, the women and sometimes men, look awful or at least their outfits looks awful.

      • Golly Gee says:

        I agree. She is good at everything Including comedic acting. She totally killed it in the (unfortunately) short-lived television series Trophy Wife.

    • Lucy says:

      Marcia literally said “It was my perception that somebody wasn’t so happy, but you never know what people have going on.”

  7. Boxy Lady says:

    Kurt Russell told Kate Hudson something like, Thank goodness you didn’t win, now you can have a career. Kate was SO young then. Luckily she had someone in her life, especially a person who had started out as a child actor and had had a long and successful career already, to give her that kind of perspective.

    • manda says:

      Kate Hudson has not come close to that level of performance since then, though. Like that gold hunters movie and the how to get a guy to break up with you movie–they were BAD.
      Does she even act anymore?

      • lucy2 says:

        I was going to say the same. Her first big role remains her best, and everything that has followed has been very mediocre.

  8. Lightpurple says:

    Dench didn’t look like she was into being there at all when her name was called so maybe she just didn’t feel well or something.

    Marcia’s dress and styling were absolutely gorgeous, just stunning. And it was a deserving performance

    • GA says:

      Jellybean said above that Judi’s husband had recently passed when the Oscars took place. I’m surprised she even turned up. I guess she had contractual obligations but she must have been in a very bad place – she herself was in her late 60s then.

      I’ve always loved Marcia and still do, but kinda wish she had at least double checked the context before putting out a quote like that to a publication. I know she says Judi wasn’t outright horrible but it’s still drawing spotlight on her at a time where she wouldn’t be effusive about anything nevermind something like the Oscars.

  9. FHMom says:

    I’ve always liked her. She was in my favorite episode of Homocide: Life on the Streets. It was called A Dolls Eyes, and she played a mom whose young, only child was randomly shot. As she and her husband decide whether to take him off life support, their marriage crumbles.It was a real tear jerker, and she was so good in it.

    • antipodean says:

      Funny you should mention that episode of HLOTS, FHMom. I loved that series, and all the actors in it were excellent, but I particularly recall that episode and how good Marcia Gay Harden was. I think it is a testament to an actor’s skill and versatility when they can perform in any medium and give a shining rendition of the part. Excellent performances stay in the memory, whether they receive awards or not.

    • manda says:

      Her character was heart-breaking in Mona Lisa Smile

  10. Lola says:

    Also, please let’s not force women to be “effusive” all the time or be accused 20 years later of being a horrible person. Nobody ever, EVER would expect that of a man, that merely not be “effusive” for someone else’s win would have someone talking about what an asshole he was 20 years later.

    I remember during a recent Olympics, there was all this very similar bullshit about Gabby Douglas not being “effusive” enough for her teammates or very similar to that. It was an exceptional example of misogynoir, where the misogyny and the racism are so intertwined there’s not a place where one ends and the other one begins.

    So she was being dragged for not being “effusive,” meanwhile, MICHAEL PHELPS was literally giving the ugliest stink-eye glare to EVERY other competitor, friend, teammate, rival, whatever. You can look up pics of this. And nobody was mad about it. Oh he’s just a serious competitor, oh he’s just in the zone, oh he just has a champion’s mindset, oh he’s just such a winner.

    • tcbc says:

      Stop it, Judi Dench is not black. Do you honestly think there’s a comparison between the unfair treatment of a black woman to one comment made ten years later about a celebrated award-winning white British dame?

      If you find yourself using the definition of misogynoir to defend rich white people it might be time to log off and re-read Dr Crenshaw.

      • Lola says:

        Insane comment. The point is that what’s weaponized against white women is weaponized 100x more against black women. Not sure how you think that means Judi Dench is black.

      • Lola says:

        Insane comment. The point is that what’s weaponized against white women is weaponized 100x more against black women. Not sure how you think that means Judi Dench is black.

    • FancyHat says:

      Unfortunately Gabby Douglas is a giant asshole and she was rightfully criticized for being an asshole. I love her as a gymnast but when all of your teammates call you out after you blame a sexual abuse victim for what happened to them, you are a problem. When Simone Biles drags you, you are a jerk.

      • Lola says:

        Gabby Douglas was ALSO sexually abused by the same man, I’m sorry that child didn’t cope with being sexually battered by a middle-aged white man in a way that makes you happy. If she said victim-blaming things that’s probably because she RECEIVED victim-blaming messages from other adults, towards her. And those adult comments impacted how she coped. Sorry she didn’t say whatever you think a perfect victim of child sexual abuse should say.

        Also, before any of that came out, she was being dragged for not being effusive enough. The molestation and everything that went with it wasn’t revealed until years later.

        And maybe being a child going through HELL was the reason why she didn’t have a happy face on all the time.

    • Veronica S. says:

      It also seems dumb in competitions, sports or arts-wise, because…well, somebody has to lose in order for somebody else to win, and let’s not pretend losing feels good. Doing everything right and falling short at the finish line is one of the toughest things to come to terms with as an adult, much less expecting teenagers to always be able to hide their feelings on the matter.

  11. Gabriella says:

    “Frances doesn’t give a sh-t” made me LOL

    • Mabs A'Mabbin says:

      Right? Awesome.

    • olliesmom says:

      That was a drink spitter outter line.

      I just came here to say that. LOL. We all knew it wasn’t her because we all know that Frances doesn’t give a sh**!

  12. Jayna says:

    I remember thinking how amazing Marcia looked, very glamorous, and the color of that gown on her is perfection. She’s a fantastic actress.

    I adore Judi Dench’s acting. I believe I’ve seen Notes on a Scandal four times and will probably watch it again one day.

  13. tcbc says:

    Judi was defending her BFF Harvey Weinstein way later than most, and has also defended Kevin Spacey. Attributing her sourness to her then husband’s recent death is more charitable than she deserves. More likely she was annoyed that an actor who didn’t do the expected a**-kissing won.

    It’s funny how resistant even gossip readers are to believe that British actors are just as thirsty as their American counterparts. Is it the accent? IMO, they are usually worse. Because they pretend not to care, to say snide things about Hollywood in foreign press, but they are the quickest to lick whatever boots necessary to score the paycheck or the award. Maybe it’s all the practice they get bending and scraping to royal inbreds in order to get a couple of letters behind their names.

    • Jellybean says:

      Just getting out of bed, getting dressed and facing the public is an achievement after that kind of bereavement. It took my sister 5 years before a smile reached her eyes. I genuinely feel quite sick at the suggestion that I am being overly charitable to think that a woman who has recently buried a husband of 30 years is mourning rather than being sour-faced and resentful.

    • Jules says:

      The fake world of acting just sounds so so catty overall. I think it is the Brits themselves who put out the vibe that they are so above it, would never stoop to the thirst level of Hollywood. But it’s all the same world to me.

  14. Kacy says:

    I really doubt Dame Judi Dench gave a shit either. I guess Marcia knew she wouldn’t get any headlines without inventing any tea.

  15. Carabella says:

    I’m not convinced that Judi really gives a s**t about the Oscars. She won Best Supporting Actress for Shakespeare in Love and was absolutely horrified she’d won and pretty much said so in her acceptance speech. She’d been on screen in that film for less than five minutes or something. Don’t dump on Judi for not hugging you, Marcia. Also J’s husband had recently died. All these fragile egos …

    • Kate says:

      Yeah, I really don’t think Judi gave a shit about the award. She was mourning her husband, and she’s spoken many times about just how horrendous that period was for her. Plus its been said a lot that people always expect her to be, like, the gentle warm grandmotherly type, because she has that look, but she’s not that. Marcia might have simply been caught off guard by the fact that Judi’s a slightly crotchety and sweary type of person and not a sweetheart.

  16. It’sJustBlanche says:

    Kate Hudson was so overrated in that role and she’s really never done anything but play herself. She seems like a nice, down to earth person, like her mom, but let’s be honest, she’s not that much of an actress. What a life to skate by on so little talent.

  17. FancyHat says:

    I was one of the few people who was disappointed that Kate lost. She gave a truly extraordinary performance in that movie. She may not be a good actress overall but in that movie she was perfect. Her performance still sticks in my mind all these years later.

  18. Lory says:

    Judi Dench is also British. She is not going to fall over anyone in Hollywood, especially at an awards ceremony where everyone is performing extra hard.

  19. Elo says:

    Marcia Gay Harden was incredible as Lee Krasner. What a performance she gave. I love Lee Krasner as an artist, she never gets enough recognition. Harden was brilliant.

  20. Renewal says:

    She’s a good actress but why bring this up now? Maybe Judi Dench wasn’t very social and didn’t see the need to go out of her way to congratulate her during the evening. I prefer people who aren’t fakey-fakey anyway. Randomly, Marcia’s ex husband was a guy named Thaddeus and her brother is also named Thaddeus. How many Thaddeuses do YOU know?

  21. Grant says:

    I love her. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin back in 2010 and MGH (a fellow UT alumna) was actually our commencement speaker. She was just excellent and so very inspiring. Before her speech they showed a montage of all of her film roles. I didn’t realize how many iconic performances she has under her belt. It was really funny because the moment they showed a clip from her iconic, scene-stealing role as the naughty therapist in First Wives Club, every girl and gay in the audience (including yours truly) lost their sh!t.