Shapely Travolta, 'Atonement,' HBO Nab Nominations For Golden Globes

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 14, 2007

It's that rare time of year when comedies and musicals are guaranteed to get the love with their very own awards categories -- thank you very much, Hollywood Foreign Press Association -- as "Hairspray," "Sweeney Todd" and the Beatles music-driven "Across the Universe" were nominated as the Golden Globes' best motion picture -- musical or comedy. Claiming the remaining two spots were the offbeat comedy "Juno" and the satirical "Charlie Wilson's War" (nominated for five awards).

Call it the affirmative action category, perhaps a hopeful reminder to the Academy Awards folks not to restrict their Best Picture awards only to prestige productions, such as "Atonement" (which received the most Globe nominations -- seven -- yesterday).

John Travolta and Nikki Blonsky got the Golden Nod for "Hairspray," and Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter for their co-starring roles in "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

Travolta told The Washington Post yesterday he had to wrestle with his "male ego" before deciding to take a female role as the very full-sized Edna Turnblad. He apparently had a little talk with himself that went like this: "So I said to myself, 'After 32 years of macho leading man roles, what's more important to you, your ego as a male or your acting chops?' And I said, 'Come on, John. Characters are more important, and your ability to play them, than your male illusion of yourself. Let it go. And when you let it go well, enjoy yourself and become the part.' "

He didn't give his final consent to the producers for a year and a half. "It took every bit of that time to be convinced, because I didn't want to spoil my record of making the most successful movie musical ['Grease'] ever made."

He also had another nagging question: "How to pull off a musical when most of them don't work. Musicals are not as forgiving as comedies or drama. Everything has to be on par for it to work."

Travolta modeled himself on voluptuous movie stars, including Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg and Kirstie Alley, and then imagined them 200 pounds heavier.

"I wanted to keep their shape and still have a sexuality, as opposed to becoming a refrigerator. It was a matter of, let's keep the weight but keep the shape, so it still has a bit of eye candy, if you know what I mean."

The Golden Globe awards will be telecast live Jan. 13 on NBC, though the prospect of a continued writers' strike threatens to overshadow both the Globes ceremony and the Oscar fest that comes a month later. The Globes, sponsored and hosted by the HFPA, are considered something of an Iowa straw poll for Hollywood's politically equivalent awards campaign, which this season culminates with the Oscars on Feb. 24. The HFPA's voting body consists of about 80 journalists who cover the industry for foreign media outlets.

Joining "Atonement" in the nominations for best picture were "Eastern Promises," "Michael Clayton," "American Gangster," "The Great Debaters" and two movies set in Texas -- the Coen brothers' crime thriller "No Country for Old Men" and Paul Thomas Anderson's oil saga "There Will Be Blood."

"Atonement," based on the Ian McEwan novel about love torn apart by deceit and war, was directed by Joe Wright, 35, who said he got the good news when "I woke up and looked to my phone and there were lots of messages on it." The Englishman was already in Hollywood preparing for his next film, "The Soloist," which will star Jamie Foxx, Robert Downey Jr. and Catherine Keener.

As a first step in the campaign to win the Oscar, Wright acknowledged, "it's a great beginning. It was a film made with a lot of passion. . . . It's something we believed in, not only as its own story, but one about storytelling and its power to destroy and heal."

In the television category, HBO and ABC were big winners with 18 and 11 nods, respectively, although the HFPA judges didn't wax nostalgic for HBO's final season of "The Sopranos." Edie Falco was the only "Soprano" nominee, for best actress. "Big Love," "Damages," "Grey's Anatomy," "House," Mad Men" and "The Tudors" were named in the best drama series category.

The shows "30 Rock," "Californication," "Entourage," "Extras" and "Pushing Daisies" received nominations for best comedy or musical series.

But back to those movie-musicals: "It's a great morning," said "Hairspray" producer Craig Zadan, whose 2002 "Chicago" took three Golden Globes before sweeping up at the Oscars, where it won six awards, including Best Picture. "Chicago's" success, he said, has "turned the tide."

"We have been able to bring back dignity to the movie musical," said his producing partner, Neil Meron, who confirmed he and Zadan spent 14 months persuading Travolta to take the part. They reminded Travolta that he had said no to the part of Billy Flynn in "Chicago," Meron said. "We said, 'Look what happened last time. Don't turn us down again.' "

"Sweeney" producer Walter Parkes said the musical/comedy nomination helps reminds Hollywood to "appreciate a genre that blurs the line between low art and high art."

Screenwriter Diablo Cody said she screamed three times, for each nomination her movie "Juno" received -- for her script, for Ellen Page's performance and for best musical or comedy picture.

"It's an amazing feeling," Cody said. "You can't be objective about something like that. You love it like a child. And when you put it into the world and get this kind of response, the validation is incredible. . . . It's enough to bring a tear to my cynic's eye."

While this was Cody's first Golden Globe nod, nominee Ernest Borgnine has been through this before, winning the award in 1956 for "Marty." Now 90, Borgnine would be the oldest winner ever if he picks up a Globe this time. He's nominated for best actor in a miniseries or movie for "A Grandpa for Christmas." "I never expected anything like this at my age," he told the Associated Press. "But I'll accept it."

Saoirse Ronan, the Irish teen star of "Atonement" who received a best supporting actress nomination, said she was in bed in a rented apartment with her parents near Norristown, Pa., where she is shooting "The Lovely Bones," when she heard the telephone ring.

"My dad answered and he shouted 'Yes!' I ran out to him and he gave me a hug."

It was, she says, "a family moment."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company