Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Doubt stars play down Oscar hopes

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

With a cast headed by Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman and another Oscar winner in the director's chair, it is hardly surprising film drama Doubt has been showered with accolades.

Meryl Streep in Doubt
Streep plays a strict nun who suspects a priest of abusing a child
Even more so when you consider the 2004 stage play on which it is based won four Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Small wonder, then, that when Streep, her co-star Amy Adams and director John Patrick Shanley were in London last month, the words "Academy" and "Award" were never far from journalists' lips.

Their arrival in the capital coincided with the news that their picture had received three Bafta nominations to add to the five Golden Globe nods it received in December.

Since then Doubt has been shortlisted for five Oscars, with both Streep and Adams among those in contention.

Streep was also named best actress at the Screen Actors Guild awards on 25 January.

Ask either performer to speculate on their Academy Award chances, though, and one hears what sounds like a polished response.

"If you have to be in a horse race, it's a nice horse race to be in," says Streep, now in receipt of her 15th Oscar nomination.

"But it's not why we make the films we make," the 59-year-old adds.

"The experience of making this film was the real reward," agrees Adams, whose supporting actor Oscar nomination follows the one she received three years ago for Junebug.

Gratified

"Everything that comes on top of that is wonderful, but it's not something I really think about."

Having personally transferred his play from stage to screen, Bronx-born playwright Shanley is understandably gratified by the response so far.

Meryl Streep with Doubt director John Patrick Shanley
Doubt director Shanley (here with Streep) also wrote the film Moonstruck
"The actors put themselves in your hands and give you their trust," he says. "You don't want to violate that, and you hope you don't.

"When they're recognised, it makes me feel I protected them and did what needed to be done."

The Oscar he won in 1988 for writing Moonstruck, meanwhile, gives him a valuable perspective on what receiving Hollywood's highest honour actually means.

"When I won I was an obscure writer who got hugged by Gregory Peck, kissed by Audrey Hepburn and handed this golden statue.

"In that moment I realised that winning is easy - and really fun.

"Most of my life is not like that," continues the 58 year-old. "Most of my life is hard work and struggle.

"So when something like that happens, don't let the moment go by without enjoying it."

'Artificial'

Set in the Bronx area of New York in the 1960s, Doubt tells of a strict nun whose rigid control of a church school is challenged by the arrival of a charismatic, free-thinking priest.

When a young novice, played by Adams, shares unsettling suspicions that a questionable relationship may have developed between the priest and one of his pupils, Sister Aloysius resolves to have him exposed and dismissed.

Amy Adams in Doubt
Adams' other films include Enchanted and Charlie Wilson's War
As the title suggests, the audience is kept guessing whether Father Flynn, played by Hoffman, is genuinely at fault.

It is this atmosphere of lingering uncertainty, Shanley suggests, that makes his period piece relevant to contemporary times.

"The whole world is in doubt, both economically and politically," he explains. "Everything's in flux, in a whole new way."

Daringly perhaps, the film flouts narrative convention and denies audiences the comfort of an unambiguous resolution.

"It's artificial for me to tell a story where I pose a question and at the end give the answer," he says.

As played by Streep, Sister Aloysius evidently has a bee in her bonnet when it comes to Hoffman's character.

It is the bonnet itself, though - an integral part of the funereal garb she wears for the duration of the film - that makes her latest role so distinctive.

'Invisible'

"You couldn't do it without the habit," the two-time Oscar winner says. "It helped me jettison all the things you normally think about as a woman.

"All of it's gone - what you wear, how your hair looks, your jewellery. There is nothing but your face, your eyes and your hands.

Meryl Streep (centre) in Mamma Mia
Streep (centre) was seen last year in Abba musical Mamma Mia
"It's sort of a metaphor for where you are in the world - you are your acts, not how you present yourself."

"I found it very helpful," agrees Adams. "It confines you and keeps you from being able to see around you.

"My character is often trying to disappear inside herself, to be invisible in tense situations, and it really allows you to do that."

With more than one glitzy awards ceremony to come, the last thing Adams will be in the next few weeks is out of sight.

Indeed, her red carpet couture could hardly be more removed from the dowdy get-up that helped her get there.

As far as Streep is concerned, though, it is unfortunate prize-giving has become such a prominent fixture at this time of year.

"Sometimes it's more fun to promote films in the summer, when there isn't this surrounding hoopla," she sighs.

Doubt is out in the UK on 6 February.

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