Rudin’s reasoning for Steinfeld in supporting

Posted by · 10:13 am · January 7th, 2011

During last night’s DVD release party for “The Social Network” I ended up in a spirited debate with producer Scott Rudin about the category placement of Hailee Steinfeld in “True Grit.” Thankfully it went beyond ideas of the Hollywood star system and strategy and into the philosophy of the narrative itself.

Since it’s been such a point of discussion as of late (most recently in a heated debate between yours truly and Anne Thompson in this week’s Oscar Talk), I thought I’d pass along his reasoning for thinking the performance a supporting one.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, so here goes…

In a nutshell, Rudin’s argument (and it’s the smartest one I’ve heard in favor of supporting placement yet), is the idea that the Mattie Ross character is really the impetus for change in Rooster Cogburn’s character.  And, most importantly, she doesn’t have an arc, Rudin says, while Cogburn does.  He changes, she doesn’t.  So Mattie is the instigator.  It’s an interesting point, but I’m still not buying it.


For starters, we begin the movie and end it with Mattie.  Rudin noted that that doesn’t necessarily matter, and I would agree if not for the fact that “True Grit” is her story.  Think of those words: “true grit.”  They’re meant to describe Rooster Cogburn’s ruthless Marshaling ways, but in reality, they define Mattie’s stalwartness, perhaps more definitively.  To say nothing of the fact that without her and her situation, you wouldn’t have a narrative.

To that, Rudin was quick to note examples like “Paper Moon” and “The Last Detail,” that the protagonists of those films are the Ryan O’Neal and Jack Nicholson characters respectively.  No argument there, but Cogburn doesn’t dovetail with those examples, in my opinion.  We get no closure for the character.  And, I’d argue, the arc isn’t that substantial, either.  After all, from the moment Mattie crosses that river, he’s endeared to her.  We see it in his eye when he pulls that sidearm on La Boeuf.  Sure he wavers in the midst of an alcoholic haze here and there, but I don’t think he ever truly switches gears back.  So it’s less of a journey of change for Rooster, I think.  The movie itself is very much about the natural course of things rather than dramatic change and growth.  It’s about the elusiveness of the former, really.

I still think it’s a lead performance through and through, but it was great to spar with Rudin on the matter.  He’s a charming, brilliant guy and he clearly loves movies and what he does.  That’s what I took away from the conversation most of all.

Anyone care to argue with the gentleman?  Have at it.

[Photo: Paramount Pictures]

→ 85 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

85 responses so far

  • 1 1-07-2011 at 11:43 am

    billybil said...

    Bravo! Really good, smart conversation going on here! One of the better exchanges in a while. Thanks to Rudin and Kris and all your folk. Fascinating.

  • 2 1-07-2011 at 11:44 am

    JJ1 said...

    I think a Swank/Moore/Williams could eradicate a Steinfeld in Lead.

    And I think a Manville is serious threat to Steinfeld (or Kunis or HBC) in Supporting.

    Nothing is set in stone for those categories.

  • 3 1-07-2011 at 11:47 am

    Adam K. said...

    Yeah I’m pretty sure people would vote for her in both if they REALLY loved her and were genuinely worried she’d split her vote, especially if there weren’t 5 other perfs in each category they felt particularly strongly about.

    I bet lots of people did that with Kate Winslet’s Reader performance in 2008, for example. But you’d have to be pretty bonkers over a performance to devote so much of your ballot to it.

  • 4 1-07-2011 at 11:50 am

    Mr. Gittes said...

    Off Topic (Sorry!): Kris, do you know the extent of Rudin’s involvement in The Way Back? Is he happy with it? Pushing it for Oscars? Thanks.

  • 5 1-07-2011 at 11:50 am

    Adam K. said...

    Yeah I don’t think Kunis or Steinfeld are safe at all. Kunis has internal competition to worry about, and Steinfeld will certainly be splitting her vote with lead at least a little bit. And there’s at least one uber-raved performance with huge fans and #1 votes (Jacki Weaver) waiting in the wings.

  • 6 1-07-2011 at 11:50 am

    JJ1 said...

    I know I’m going off on a tangent here, but …

    for someone who was stellar in 2 movies in one year (a la DiCaprio), or Winslet in 2008 …

    If DiCaprio gets enough #1 votes for Shutter Island and/or Inception – would he be nominated in Best Actor for whichever movie had more votes IF he had 5th highest votes (of anyone) to be nominated?

  • 7 1-07-2011 at 11:52 am

    JJ1 said...

    Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting the Weaver, too.

  • 8 1-07-2011 at 11:54 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Gittes: Rudin isn’t as involved on TWB as he is TG and TSN. It’s much more Joni Levin and Nigel Sinclair, etc., on that film. But there are ads out there now, I’m noticing. They don’t have a lot of money but they’re advertising.

  • 9 1-07-2011 at 11:54 am

    JJ1 said...

    I see it as:

    Adams, Leo are safest.
    HBC seems ok with the Brits.

    The last 2 spots are up for grabs for a plethera of reasons (category confusion, late-breaking movies, little-seen movies, etc.).

    The last 2 spots, to me, are between Mila Kunis, Lesley Manville, Halee Steinfeld, Jacki Weaver, and maybe a surprise like Barbara Hershey.

  • 10 1-07-2011 at 11:54 am

    qwiggles said...

    Fair, Adam, and I agree. But arguably the supporting categories have never been so pure as to rule out co-leads, and Rudin is just playing the cards he’s been dealt with Steinfeld. Take last year: Gylenhaal was as much a lead in Crazy Heart as Bridges is in True Grit; Damon was a co-lead in Invictus; Harrelson too; Plummer an integral part of an ensemble much like True Grit; ditto Waltz. A leading campaign for any of these actors would’ve been tough, but does that mean they weren’t leads as much as Anthony Hopkins was a lead?

    The supporting categories have in fact always served as a haven for handicapped leads — the biggest handicaps either being that 1) the cast is too big for them to call themselves a decisive lead, even if they’re at the center of it (Del Toro), or 2) a bigger star is co-lead with them (both Gylenhaals, Connelly). It’s gotten to the point where seeing truly supporting performances like Michael Shannon’s or Taraji P. Henson’s get nominated is a surprise.

  • 11 1-07-2011 at 12:07 pm

    Adam K. said...

    Agreed on all points, qwiggles. Doesn’t mean I have to like it : p

    Just because everyone does it doesn’t make it right. The buck has to stop somewhere. With wishy-washy co-lead either/or types, I really don’t care. That’s just the way the game is played. But with clear cut situations like this, it rankles me, and I call it where I see it.

  • 12 1-07-2011 at 12:09 pm

    Fitz said...

    I would have appreciated Rudin being candid instead of saying that Steinfeld doesn’t have a story arc.

    If you didn’t want to put her up against Bening, Kidman, Portman, etc. just say so.

  • 13 1-07-2011 at 12:14 pm

    Andrej said...

    Fine and good, but what still upset me after watching True Grit was realizing that there are posters where Hailee’s name is nowhere to be found! (save for the fine print, obviously). Instead, it’s Josh Brolin who gets a ‘protagonist’ title there.

    Argue all you want about story arc, catalyst characters and what not, but when you don’t announce what is obviously your main and only female lead in an adequate manner from the get-go, all that doesn’t matter. This was a studio decision to capitalize as much as possible with this film, and once the acclaim started to show up, they kept going with that perception for her because why else would they make Best Actress FYC ads for someone who wasn’t originally stated as such.

    If she gets the Oscar, good. Very worthy, but very inaccurate too.

  • 14 1-07-2011 at 12:20 pm

    Bernard said...

    Respectfully, andrej, the purpose of a poster or a trailer or a commercial is to put butts in the seats – not to emphasize what actors have the most screen time or most critical narrative arc. There are a lot of people in America who recognize Brolin from his work (and his family name) and might be more curious to see the movie because of him, but I don’t think there is a single person outside of Steinfeld’s hometown that would make the trip to the theater because of her name on the marquee. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being realistic about that fact (and the marketing has obviously paid off in spades as True Grit is going to be the #3 box office earner of the best picture nominees).

  • 15 1-07-2011 at 12:29 pm

    Adam K. said...

    Agreed, Bernard. Marketing and category placement are two entirely different things.

  • 16 1-07-2011 at 12:34 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Fitz: As I said above, I believe he was being honest about the narrative. Don’t read things into it that aren’t there.

  • 17 1-07-2011 at 12:35 pm

    Simon Warrasch said...

    I think – like many others – that Hailee Steinfeld is the leading lady in True Grit! BUT i think that is a great decission from the producers to place her in the Supporting field! Because if she would go lead she has absolutely no chance! The comeption is too hard for her in the Leading Category! She would fight for a nomination against Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence (if Nicole and Jennifer are no locks, i don’t know), Michelle Williams, and propably Hilary Swank, Lasley Manville, Tilda Swinton and Julianne Moore! So as a new comer she has now chance! I guess! But if she goes supporting she has – i think – a fantastic chance for a nomination and also for a WIN! So… of course there is also hard contenders for her like Amy Adams, Jackie Weaver, Helena Bonham Carter or Mellisa Leo but she has a chance! So, we will see if she goes Lead or Supporting!

  • 18 1-07-2011 at 12:40 pm

    Robert said...

    I think part of the problem with arguing character arc is that Mattie’s is the opposite of what you would expect in a Western. She starts out a strong, young, stalwart woman who gets what she wants at any cost. When she enters the Choctaw territory, she still thinks she can act that way. Through being forced to take a backseat in these action sequences, she realizes that she can’t control everything. It’s only after the incident at the cabin in the mountain that she starts asking “What do we do now, Mr. Cogburn?” That’s how a child would respond to seeing a murder for the first (and second) time–shock, uncertainty, fear. It was partly caused by her, too, as she encouraged the younger criminal to tell the truth with her “I have a good lawyer” talk. From there, she spends the rest of the film rebuilding her confidence so that she has the strength and resolve to confront her father’s murderer not once, but twice, succeeding where her two guides failed in forcing Chaney to face justice. When she falls in the pit, she knows that she cannot survive by her voice alone; she takes action to reach for the knife and free herself, only to fall prey to the rattlesnake hidden in the corpse. She may not shoot a gun while riding, but she sure does have her fair share of action removed from her two adult companions.

    The problem? It’s a subtle change. People see a young girl in a Western and automatically assume she has to fit the type of other children in other Westerns (passive observers who idolize the cowboy). I don’t think she does at all.

  • 19 1-07-2011 at 12:44 pm

    Glenn said...

    But see Bernard it DOES matter. It matters greatly because if people just vote for a performance that is clearly a lead one in the supporting category it flat-out robs someone who is an ACTUAL supporting performance but perhaps has more trouble in securing a nomination. I obviously speak of Jacki Weaver who has more problems to worry about in regards to getting a nomination and now has to content with a 20-year-old in a big box office hit who’s been shoved in the supporting category because they see easier dividends that way and they know they can get away with it because the critics follow them like sheep.

  • 20 1-07-2011 at 1:20 pm

    Andrej said...

    Bernard and Adam K:

    True, but then why wouldn’t they just simply campaign her for lead then, if marketing and the Oscar race are diferent things? Those motives the guy gave sound like he’s just grasping at straws.

    It’s all happening just for the sake of convinience. Brolin makes more money than Steinfeld, and supporting is more open than lead.

  • 21 1-07-2011 at 3:04 pm

    Never argue with Scott said...

    Players’ contracts control listing of names on posters and ads. A new actor is not likely to be able to demand a paid advertising credit.

  • 22 1-07-2011 at 4:33 pm

    James D. said...

    Brolin and Damon are supporting. So is Barry Pepper and the various other small characters. Mattie is the lead, even if Cogburn is a lead as well. After all, why can’t there be two leads?

  • 23 1-07-2011 at 10:10 pm

    devon said...

    u could say the same about jennifer hudson in dreamgirls

  • 24 1-08-2011 at 1:51 am

    Ariel said...

    Say that to Keisha Castle-Hughes in The Whale Rider. She’s got the courage to go lead at a young age.

    The Hollywood system is driven by greed to be quite honest.

  • 25 1-08-2011 at 10:33 am

    DylanS said...

    Ariel, that comment about “courage” blatantly ignores the fact that both Castle-Hughes and Steinfeld were selected out of hundreds of other child actresses for those parts. As talented as they both proved to be, their situation has more to do with luck then courage.

  • 26 1-08-2011 at 12:04 pm

    Bernard said...

    Exactly, DylanS – Barry Pepper recently said in an interview that the Coens started with 15000 candidates for the role and eventually winnowed it down to 5 finalist who tried out with Pepper and Bridges. I’m sorry but there’s nothing ‘courageous’ about trying to get a leading role.

    Andrej – Whether you buy Rudin’s explanation or not, it doesn’t change the fact that the way a film is marketed has very little to do with its Academy Award campaign.

    Glenn – A few comments here. (1) Hailee Steinfeld just turned 14 last month which is who I assume you’re talking about. (2) I love film and I, perhaps masochistically, like following the Academy Awards. And every year I have movies and performances I’d love to see recognized that go ignored. But on this issue I just don’t see why it’s worth getting that worked up about (that said, I agree with Kris that the debate has helped drive fun and intelligent discussion of the themes of the film). I believe she’s lead BUT I think there is an intelligent argument to the contrary. There isn’t any bright-line rule about what constitutes lead or supporting roles so I don’t see any actual harm in pushing a debatable case in the direction it’s more likely to win.

  • 27 1-08-2011 at 8:53 pm

    Adam K. said...

    It’s worth getting worked up about because it’s wrong. Because it’s not truthful. Because it’s disrespectful to actual supporting players. Because it diminishes the integrity, relevance, and purpose of the awards process. And because in this case, it’s really not “debatable”. You can make a theoretical argument to the contrary, but it holds no weight upon actual scrutiny of the film.

    Mattie Ross is the central character, she DOES have an arc, she begins and ends the film, and she participates in nearly every scene. For the film to have any thematic or emotional weight, she is the necessary entry point and anchor. To claim she has no arc totally diminishes the most compelling elements in the film. Just saying these things are untrue doesn’t make them so. Even if Rudin is honest in his reasoning, he’s still wrong.

    I just can’t get behind this “can’t we all just get along” approach when it runs counter to the basic facts staring me in the face. This is certainly not the only example of category fraud that’s ever happened, but one has to choose one’s battles, and this is a particularly galling example (certainly the most blatant one this year).

  • 28 1-11-2011 at 10:33 pm

    kel said...


    Couldn’t you say the same for William H. Macy/Frances McDormand in FARGO? Macy was very much the lead of the movie as was McDormand (though she could arguably be considered supporting), though she won in lead and he was merely nominated in supporting.

  • 29 1-14-2011 at 9:10 am

    Clara said...

    The integrity of the awards show? The same awards show which handed Sandra Bullock an Oscar just last year (I love Sandra Bullock, but over Streep and Mulligan, nevermind ignoring Sally Hawkins completely?)

    Look, the awards show process is ageist against young people. Samantha Morton shouldn’t have been nominated for In America; it should have been Sarah Bolger.

    You can make an argument for Steinfeld: look what happened with Training Day. Ethan Hawkes was the protagonist, but Denzel had the Oscar winning role.

    I think the main problem here is that no one anticipated Steinfeld being so good. If she had been just competent, Jeff Bridges would have stolen the show. But Bridges was good, Damon was good and Steinfeld was outstanding.

    That’s how I see it. There are a few comments putting the blame on Steinfeld herself, which is ridiculous. Fingers crossed the BAFTAs nominate her in lead. If that happens, she might, as others have said, pull a Keisha.

  • 30 1-14-2011 at 10:23 am

    Kevin said...

    My argument against all this? SHE. IS. IN. EVERY. SCENE.

    There is literally no explaining how someone can be a supporting actress when they are in every single scene of their film. If she had missed one scene, there would be a little room for argument, but no. Not one damn scene. She’s the lead.

  • 31 1-14-2011 at 10:42 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    kel: I think Fargo is a co-lead situation, personally. The rare example of the film being smartly ABOUT both characters. Though more so for Marge.

  • 32 1-16-2011 at 10:36 am

    Joe said...

    mattie is obviously the lead, the reason rudin is arguing for the contrary is so that stenfield has a better shot at getting the oscar.