When the Oscar nominations for best actress were announced last month, it was no surprise to see Annette Bening, Hilary Swank and Kate Winslet on the list. But art-house moviegoers were thrilled to see two lesser-known worthies — Vera Drake's Imelda Staunton and Maria Full of Grace's Catalina Sandino Moreno — instantly catapulted, if only temporarily, onto Hollywood's A-list.
Unlike Moreno, a fresh-faced newcomer in her early twenties, the 49-year-old Staunton has spent years paying her dues across the pond and awaiting this level of individual recognition for her work. "Well, [Drake
director] Mike Leigh
and I were having Chinese takeaway in the publicist's office and I was quite surprised, I have to say, that I did get nominated," she says. "I thought I was going to get squeezed out. So I was very surprised, and then absolutely over the moon Mike got his two nominations [for best director and best original screenplay], which I think is quite right."
As the title character in Vera Drake
, Staunton plays a cleaning lady in impoverished post-WWII Britain who secretly moonlights as an abortionist to "help out young girls" with unwanted pregnancies. Funny how such an unglamorous role should propel Staunton — who just won a BAFTA (the British equivalent of an Oscar) — into the glitzy world of awards-show season. How has the sudden fame (and the possibility of collecting a trophy at Sunday's Academy Awards) affected her?
"I've changed," the movie maid deadpans. "Totally changed. I won't do any domestic duties at all now. It's helped me enormously to realize what I really should be doing, which is just, you know, having slaves."
All jokes aside, the Oscar nod could well do wonders for her career prospects. "Well, I bloody hope it does!" she laughs. "I hope it does something. Otherwise, I've spent a lot of money [on awards-show clothes] and it's not going to get me anywhere.
"It's very hard for me to project what will happen," Staunton adds. "You hope you'll get a couple more scripts. I hope... it'll give me a little step up. I'm so proud to be part of this film, and then, I have all this [celebration] on top of it, so it ain't bad."