The Golden Globes will not be speaking up on behalf of Scarlett Johansson’s voice.
The vocal performance by the actress in Spike Jonze’s new romantic drama Her has been ruled ineligible by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for a supporting actress bid, according to sources close to the submission process. The final decision came today after an appeal from distributor Warner Bros.
Just last week, the Rome Film Festival gave Johansson its Best Actress award for the film.
In the Her, which opens in limited release Dec. 18, Joaquin Phoenix plays a meek man in the near future who falls in love with the artificial intelligence program who helps run his computer operating system — and thus his life. “She” is named “Samantha,” and is voiced by Johansson as a kind of advanced, self-aware, and soulful version of Siri.
The actress never appears onscreen but that’s the point of the story. Johansson has earned praise from critics for crafting a playful, fully rounded, down-to-earth character whose core dilemma is the lack of a physical body. She sees what Phoenix’s character sees, via the camera safety-pinned to his jacket pocket, and speaks to him through the tiny speaker in his ear. She’s always there, but not there there.
The Academy Awards and Screen Actors Guild have already deemed her work in the film as eligible for their supporting actress prize, but the Golden Globes group will not be voting on her for its Dec. 12 nominations.
Coincidentally, the Globes gave a “special award” to Robin Williams in 1993 for his voice work in Disney’s animated Aladdin.
Johansson and Warner Bros. declined to speak about the Globe decision. Reps for the HFPA would not respond on the record.
Since her performance is acceptable for the Oscar and SAG Awards, the Globes’ refusal to consider her work in Her is likely to provoke more argument about whether awards-season groups are too rigid about what they choose to recognize.
For years, groundbreaking motion-capture work by Andy Serkis as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies and hyper-intelligent Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes went overlooked by awards organizations. Part of the argument against honoring that kind of role is that a motion-capture performance, however innovative, is a team effort — relying not just on the actor, but visual effects artists and animators. For much the same reason, actors who voice cartoon characters also have never gotten Oscar nominations.
Proponents of the awards worthiness of motion capture argue that the digital component is akin to pixelated makeup, but so far the acting branch of the Academy hasn’t been won over. Neither has the SAG nominating committee or the Hollywood Foreign Press.
The case of Her is an offshoot of that larger conversation, although the objections don’t have quite the same grounding. Johansson is not represented in the film by a digital body — her character is solely a voice, but she is the heart of the film, meant to persuade Phoenix’s character (as well as the audience) that she is as human as a mind that inhabits a brain instead of a microprocessor.
Naysayers dismiss it as only a partial performance, but proponents argue that not appearing in the movie actually shows the strength of her performance — which has to accomplish more with less.
In the case of the Golden Globes, this happens to disqualify her. But that’s probably only a new starting point for the debate, not the end of it.
By Anthony Breznican