All for Me, None for You - the Paul Mescal Story
Plus Oscar Predictions
January was a monumental month for Paul Mescal. At the beginning of the month, it was announced that he was cast in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2 (He is rumored have beat out the likes of Austin Butler, Timothée Chalamet, Miles Teller, and Richard Madden for the role). Just three weeks later he was awarded an Oscar nomination for his performance as Calum in the recent indie film sensation, Aftersun.
For those who don’t pay close attention to Hollywood, Mescal may seem like a new face, someone that recently burst onto the scene out of nowhere. Those who are familiar with the Irish actor, know that he has been waiting in the wings for quite some time. Intentionally charting his career by saying no to blockbuster roles and saying yes to great directors, smaller films, and emotionally complex roles.
Like many of the greats before him, Mescal got his start on the stage. His first role was in a 2017 production of the Great Gatsby in Dublin and the following year he made his London stage debut with a critically acclaimed performance in The Plough and the Stars, which won him multiple awards. While he would continue to return to the stage, what happened next would put thrust him into a spotlight brighter than he could have ever imagined.
The 27-year-old made his breakthrough in the summer of 2019 when he was cast as one of the leads in the critically acclaimed drama series Normal People. The series became a hit on Ireland’s RTÉ network and was then released on Hulu in the United States, becoming a streaming sensation right as the pandemic hit. The instant success of Normal People catapulted Mescal to overnight heartthrob status for millions across the globe. Paparazzi were constantly outside of his apartment and speculation about his relationships were constantly center to the culture.
Here is where Mescal’s career gets interesting though. Instead of embracing the idea of “celebrity” and soaking in the spotlight, Mescal did the complete opposite - deleted all of his social media and moved away from London. He started to only do interviews that were obligations and didn’t interact with the media outside of that. Turned off by the idea of celebrity, if it were up to Mescal, he would remain unknown.
Since remaining unknown wasn’t really an option, Mescal began to move to the silver screen in an uncommon, yet refreshing way. It started with a small role in Maggie Gyllenhaal’’s indie hit, The Lost Daughter, and was followed by a supporting role in God’s Creatures this year and rounded off with his lead role in Aftersun. Mescal thinks carefully about the projects he chooses, avoiding the blockbuster films that actors often land after a high profile breakout role. Instead, he has sought out broken or emotionally complex characters, and prioritized working with directors he admires over the size of the part. In fact, “Aftersun” is his first lead role since “Normal People.”
He has read scripts for films of large box office smash hits, but is thinking strategically about the future. In a world where more movies are getting made than ever before, it takes a special kind of restraint to say no to big money time and time again. I have to imagine that Netflix has approached him about being in a big budget romance movie or Marvel has approached him for a superhero role, but he said no to all of them. That take guts and confidence for someone still trying to become firmly planted in the movie world. There is a reason that once most actors break through they start selling out a bit. No one blames them for wanting to lock in some serious money for once in their life after struggling for years before their “big break”. This mentality has led to the phrase “one for me, one for you” to become commonplace in Hollywood referring to actors alternating back and forth between doing one film that creatively fills them and then one film that they get a big paycheck for. It is refreshing to see Mescal adopt the mindsight of “all for me, none for you”.
The phenomenon of young successful actors doing cash grab projects for Netflix or Marvel has created a world where sometimes we never get to see the true potential of young actors. They get sucked into an IP franchise and have to commit years of their career to these types of projects. Sometimes on the other side of those projects, the actor doesn’t even have much of a career because no one can see them outside of those things. Alternatively, they sign onto a large blockbuster film that goes so poorly that it ruins their reputation. This exact thing happened to Mescal’s Normal People co-lead, Daisy Edgar Jones, after Where the Crawdads Sing was critically mocked this past summer. While I still believe she is one of the best actresses under 25, Where the Crawdads Sing has given people at least consideration that she may not be. Threading the needle of being in franchise films and getting your money and exposure to a wider audience but still maintaining your credibility as an actor is incredibly tricky and a delicate balance. It can be done (see Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya in Dune or Florence Pugh in Marvel films), but there is no denying that it is risky to pull off.
Mescal’s recent project commitments have shown that he is willing to dip is toe into the water of high budget films, but only when they creatively drive him. In addition to being cast in Gladiator 2, he will star in the upcoming modern film adaption of the renowned opera, “Carmen” & also was recently cast in Richard Linklaters “Merrily We Roll Along” that will film over the course of multiple decades. While many would think he is on the verge of selling out given these upcoming projects, Mescal says the opposite. He recently told the New York Times,
“I just feel protective of how the space for smaller films is shrinking and shrinking. That depresses me.”
In a separate interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Mescal went on to explain that he wants his career to look similar to Emily Watson and Saoirse Ronan,
“These people essentially earn their living on independent film, and that’s what I want to keep doing,” he says. “If I can just make independent films, I’ll be a very, very happy man.”
The good news for Mescal is that if he truly wants that, the opportunities are going to be there for a long time.
If Mescal’s love for indie films and commitment to continuing to tell these unique and small budget stories isn’t enough for him to win you over, just wait until you watch his presence on screen. He brings an authenticity and vulnerability to each role that is heart stopping at times and heartbreaking at others. He isn’t afraid to emotionally give of himself to the projects and characters on screen, a real rarity these days. The main challenge that casting directors are going to have with him is making sure that everyone he acts opposite of on screen is solid or he will run circles around them, he is that good.
Everything that has happened up to this point in his career will dwindle in comparison to the moment tonight when he attends the Oscars and has the spotlight fully on him. While most pundits don’t think he has a shot of winning the Oscar, we should all celebrate how he is navigating his career. He is working with the people he wants to, in the projects that he finds interesting and challenging, and refusing to create a career for himself that isn’t reflective of his ideals. By putting his own career and artistic values first, Mescal has already become a role model for other actors trying to break into the Hollywood world. His recent success has been hard earned, and his promise to stick to the indie world with his choice of projects will only serve to benefit the future of indie cinema.
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Twenty Three awards will be given out tonight on the three and a half hour telecast, but the big eight are the awards that everyone has their eyes on. The last thing anyone needs is some more predictions on what will happen, but it is too fun of an exercise to pass up! Below I dive into who I think will win each award and I think should win each award.
Best Original Screenplay
Who will win - “Everything, Everywhere All At Once”
Who should win - “Banshees of Inisherin”
Thoughts on the category - I would give this award to Banshees, TAR, or The Fabelmans over Everything, Everywhere All At Once, but it seems like the Everything, Everywhere wave is going to be too strong.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Who will win - “Women Talking”
Who should win - “Women Talking”
Thoughts on the category - Women Talking has been undeserving of all the flak it has received this awards season. While it was too dark to ever gain any momentum in the best picture race, I think that the academy rightfully recognizes Sarah Polley’s incredible work in this category.
Best Supporting Actress
Who will win - Jamie Lee Curtis, Everything, Everywhere All At Once
Who should win - Kerry Condon, Banshees of Inisherin
Thoughts on the category - This category has been absolute chaos all awards season. In fact, this one could honestly go either way tonight. However, Curtis has all the momentum here and this seems like a great way for the academy to reward her for all of her work through the years. This is one of those categories that will tell us very early in the night what kind of night it is going to be. If Curtis or her co-star, Stephanie Hsu wins here, we could be headed for a night where Everything, Everywhere All At Once wins almost all of the big awards. If this goes to Condon or Bassett, this could be a night of some fun surprises.
Best Supporting Actor
Who will win - Key Huy Quan, Everything, Everywhere All At Once
Who should win - Key Huy Quan, Everything, Everywhere All At Once
Thoughts on the category - This category is about as locked in as categories get heading into the show. All campaign season this has been Quan’s to lose and there seems to be no way that he will. Even if there will be no surprise in this category, it is still going to be one of the most exciting speeches of the night. Every speech that Quan his given this awards season has been spectacular as his journey to this moment. A child actor in Indiana Jones and the Goonies, he hasn’t had a role in over 40 years. A Hollywood ending to one of Hollywood’s best stories in years on Hollywood’s biggest night, just too perfect for the voters to pass up.
Who will win - Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, “Everything Everywhere All at Once”
Who should win - Todd Fields, TAR
Thoughts on the category - To me, the direction by Fields in TAR is one of the best I have seen in quite some time, so it is a shame that it seems he stands no chance in this category. If there is an upset here, it looks like Spielberg will be the one to do it for the The Fabelmans, but all signs are pointing to the Daniels taking this award home.
Who will win - Cate Blanchett, TAR
Who should win - Cate Blanchett, TAR
Thoughts on the category - Nearly 80% of Oscar experts are picking Michelle Yeoh to win here, but I just don’t see it. Blanchett has one most of the bellwether awards and her performance is out of this world. Most people are frustrated by the fact that Blanchett could win a third Oscar and would prefer to see the academy award someone new. I am all for spreading the love, but it would be silly to not recognize Blanchett’s performance and I think enough Oscar voters will think the same thing.
Who will win - Austin Butler
Who should win - Collin Farrell
Thoughts on the category - I am on the record for very much disliking Baz Lehrman’s Elvis, but there is no denying that Butler’s performance is the best thing about the film. Vegas has Brendan Fraser listed as the favorite here and he seems to be gaining momentum after his win at the SAG awards. However, the academy LOVES to nominate people in the acting categories that portray real people on screen and I think they will continue that trend and eat up Butlers’ performance as Elvis.
Who will win - “Everything, Everywhere All At Once”
Who should win - “The Fabelmans”
Thoughts on the category - Not to take anything away from Everything, Everywhere All At Once, but it saddens me that we are potentially heading towards a night where TAR or the Fabelmans don’t take home an award in any of the major categories. That won’t age well in my opinion, specifically with TAR. For many, Everything, Everywhere is already becoming a cult classic, but in a decade everyone will be on the same page that TAR is a masterpiece.
Only time will tell what actually happens tonight! I have a feeling that given all the silliness that has ensued at the Academy awards over the past couple of years that we are heading towards a very by the book telecast tonight, which should be lots of fun. There are movies nominated that people actually went to the movies in masses to see, which is something we haven’t been able to say for quite some time. Best of luck to all in contention and here is to a great show! I will be back next week to give some thoughts on the winners and to recap some missed movies in January and February. Until next time!
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