For the first time in 6 years, the acting Oscar winners all played fictional characters

True story: All four acting Oscars went to performers who played fictional characters, marking the first time in six years that’s happened. This was helped by “Everything Everywhere All at Once” producing three winners: Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, Best Supporting Actor for Ke Huy Quan and Best Supporting Actress for Jamie Lee Curtis. And another A24 film, “The Whale” won Best Actor for Brendan Fraser.

The last quartet of Oscar winners who played fake people were Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Emma Stone (“La La Land”), Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”) and Viola Davis (“Fences”). Prior to that, you have to go back to the class of 1997, which featured “As Good as It Gets” leads Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt triumphing alongside Kim Basinger (“L.A. Confidential”) and Robin Williams (“Good Will Hunting”).

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Playing a real person, especially a very famous real person, has been a great ticket to an Oscar since the very beginning — George Arliss was the first to so, winning Best Actor for playing British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1929’s “Disraeli” — but there’s been a boom since the turn of the century. Including this year, since 2000, there have been 37 winners whose characters existed IRL, which is one more than the previous five decades combined. Unsurprisingly, Best Actor has had the most real-life portrayals with 13 since 2000. Affleck’s victory ended a streak of four in a row. Best Actress has had 11 in the same timeframe, while Best Supporting has six and Best Supporting Actress has seven. Of the four categories, Best Supporting Actress is on the longest dry spell. Allison Janney (2017’s “I, Tonya”) was the last to win the category for play a real person. Daniel Kaluuya was the most recent in Best Supporting Actor, having won two years ago for “Judas and the Black Messiah.” The lead categories had biopic champs last year in Will Smith (“King Richard”) and Jessica Chastain (“The Eyes of Tammy Faye”).

But maybe we should’ve seen the all-fictional character winners circle coming this year. In a rarity, only two of the 20 acting nominees were shortlisted for playing real people. And they were playing pretty famous people at that. Austin Butler was up for Best Actor for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in “Elvis” and Best Actress nominee Ana de Armas played Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.” It was the first time there were two or fewer real-life portrayals in contention since Charlize Theron was the sole representative for her Best Actress-winning performance as Aileen Wuornos in “Monster” (2003).

Unlike Theron, neither Butler nor de Armas could cross the finish line. The latter was always a long shot, but Butler was the odds-on favorite heading into the Oscars. He certainly checked a lot of boxes: playing an icon in a transformative turn in which he did his own singing and was in a Best Picture nominee that had seven other bids. Alas, the Oscars had no burning love for “Elvis,” which went 0-8, and voters opted for another type of transformative performance that’s up their alley in Fraser.

Since we’ve had two sets of fictional characters win in a much shorter timespan, are entering a new phase with fewer real-life portrayals prevailing? Probably not, but it’s nice to have some variety.

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