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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 08:27 GMT
Staunton and Leigh size up Oscar
By Helen Bushby
BBC News entertainment reporter

Sunday's Oscars are looming large for Imelda Staunton and Mike Leigh, who are up for three awards for abortion drama Vera Drake. They revealed just what it feels like to be nominated for an Oscar.

"Well I'm going to start putting on my make-up later today and then make sure it stays there until the ceremony," joked Staunton, who seemed to be more concerned with staving off hunger during the ceremony than winning.

Imelda Staunton and Mike Leigh
The UK's Staunton and Leigh: up for three Oscars between them
"I'll make sure I've got enough biscuits and food for a small picnic - some snacks in my bag," she added.

Staunton, who starred as backstreet abortionist Vera Drake, has been on a whirlwind of publicity since her best actress nomination, along with Leigh who is up for best director and original screenplay.

When the nominations were announced in January, they did no fewer than 65 interviews that day.

Since then they have jetted across the Atlantic a few times, winning awards including two Baftas plus a third for costume design, as well as Venice film festival's Golden Lion and best actress prize.

But the pair are realistic about the competition at the Oscars.

Vera Drake
Vera Drake focuses on post-war working-class family life
"The odds for the Oscars are not in our favour," said Leigh, who is up against the likes of Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood for best director.

"It's pretty unlikely I'll win best director, although Imelda is a possibility for best actress," he said.

He was slightly more hopeful about winning best screenplay, however.

Winning this prize would be "wonderful" he said, because "lots of people made Vera Drake with all of us together collaborating".

Leigh's legendary methods of working involve getting all the actors together for months of preparation, so they can develop the characters while he evolves his plot around them.

Staunton's enthusiasm for this way of working is palpable - she described it as "so empowering, so rewarding".

Vera Drake
The film won the top prize at Venice film festival
"I was not given a script or plot, and so we spent six months creating Vera - I knew I was playing an abortionist but that was it," she said.

Her character, Vera Drake, is a working-class cleaner whose selfless mission seems to be to help those less fortunate.

Leigh said he first had the idea for the film back in 1963.

"I'm old enough to remember what it was like pre-Abortion Act," he said, referring to the 1967 act of Parliament which legalised abortions in England and Wales.

"There are all sorts of related issues that are still relevant today - my film Secrets and Lies [set in the present day] was about an unwanted pregnancy."

Leigh is now up for his fifth Oscar, having been nominated for Secrets and Lies and Topsy Turvy, and is well aware of how much publicity a nod from the Academy can generate.

Mike Leigh and Imelda Staunton
Leigh's movie took months of preparation before filming began
Staunton, who is up for her first Oscar, added: "It's fantastic that our film, as well as Hotel Rwanda, The Sea Inside and Maria Full of Grace have been recognised by the Oscars - they all tackle difficult issues.

"Vera Drake is a little, independent film compared with the big business of Hollywood - we're very grateful for the publicity."

Both were delighted to be part of the awards, and Leigh said he was not remotely bothered if they favoured US films, adding "that's their prerogative".

He was also upbeat about the British film industry, something he has criticised in the past for trying to "ape something commercial".

He said its improved fortunes were largely down to new technology, which made the whole process much cheaper and easier for young film-makers.

"Better technology is the future of cinema - it looks really positive," he said.

Promotional poster for Topsy-Turvy
Leigh was nominated for an Oscar for his Topsy-Turvy in 2000
"I was at London film festival and saw a film called The Plague by Greg Hall. It was made for 3,500 and was out there on the streets with young rappers - it was very alive and very much a movie," he said.

And so with all their pre-Oscars interviews nearly done, all that is left for Staunton and Leigh is to enjoy all the attention while being wined and dined with the film world's elite.

Or, as Staunton put it, no doubt with some good party snacks in mind: "We're going to go out there and have a bloody good time."

Watch a clip from Vera Drake


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