Oscar nominations: Best Actors’ best late night performances

Last Night On looks back at how the 2020 Oscar nominees for Best Actors did on late night.

The nominees for the 2020 Academy Awards have been announced. Fans have about a month to debate who deserves the Oscar and who got snubbed. But late night audiences know that the campaign for the Oscar started a long time ago.

Late night television has always played a major role in award season. Studios and agents will send out actors and directors to make another round of interviews. No film big or small has been released without someone from the project sitting down on The Tonight ShowJimmy Kimmel Live! or one of the dozen other late night shows.

That means that late night fans have had even more insight to the biggest names in Hollywood this year. Watching late night has meant seeing interviews with Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Martin Scorsese and other Oscar nominees.

So with that in mind, let’s look back at how the names from the Best Actor category did on late night in 2019. We will relive some memorable moments that helped these actors take one step closer to the ultimate prize.

Antonio Banderas

Pain and Glory star Antonio Banderas showed up to the Halloween episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live! in costume as Zorro. The actor’s chat with Jimmy Kimmel covered a strange and wide array of topics that was quite interesting.

The actor talked about his first impression of Halloween, how he landed the coveted role as Zorro, his recent health scare, his lifestyle changes, his entrepreneurial spirit back home in Spain, buying monkeys for co-star Salma Hayek, and finally his role in Pain and Glory.

Typically fans one one of two things in a late night interview: to get to know a celebrity better or to be entertained. Despite the costumes, Kimmel and Banderas covered some heavy topics that gave fans more insight into who Banderas is as a person.

Jonathan Pryce

Fans are familiar with Jonathan Pryce’s work from titles like Pirates of the Carribbean, Game of Thrones, and countless others. But it was his 2019 film The Two Popes that earned the Welsh actor his first Oscar nomination.

On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last month, Pryce discussed the striking similarity between he and Pope Francis. And that is about where there similarities end as Pryce admitted to Stephen Colbert that being pope isn’t a job he would want.

There isn’t much religious discussions in late night television. Just about all of it occurs on The Late Show where Colbert has referenced his Catholic background both for profound discussions on life and for comedic purposes. So it is appropriate that a movie about the Catholic Church sent its star to The Late Show where, like Banderas and Kimmel, Pryce and Colbert proved that there can be more to late night interviews than one-liners and games.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some laughs in the interview. Especially entertaining was Pryce recalling his relationship with co-star and fellow big screen pope Anthony Hopkins. Anyone unsure of checking out The Two Popes definitely gave it a second thought after Pryce’s interview.

Adam Driver

Adam Driver had a lot to talk about in 2019. He starred in perhaps the year’s most highly anticipated film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. He also starred in the Amazon film The Report. But it was his role in the Netflix film Marriage Story that earned the actor his second Oscar nomination.

Despite being the most praised performer in the latest Star Wars trilogy, it is clear that Driver wants to establish a career that goes well beyond the iconic franchise. He was on his way to doing that even before taking the role of Kylo Ren. But Star Wars: The Force Awakens raised Driver’s profile and the actor has responded by turning in some of the best work in Hollywood.

On Late Night with Seth Meyers, Driver makes it clear that Marriage Story was something he was invested in from the start. The film also brought an Oscar nomination for Driver’s co-star Scarlett Johansson. Driver and Johansson are blueprints for actors and actresses that can move from big, blockbuster franchises to smaller projects while earning critical and audience praise.

Driver certainly helped build buzz around Marriage Story but in way that isn’t always common in late night. Driver comes off as sincere in his appreciation for Noah Baumbach’s script rather than just trying to “sell tickets” for the Netflix production. Viewers looking for authenticity from the favorite stars certainly got that from Driver in this Late Night appearance.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Unlike most actors, Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t do late night television interviews every time he releases a new movie. As one of, if not the biggest, stars in the world DiCaprio’s name alone is enough to build buzz around a film and get audiences’ attention.

Now take DiCaprio and team him up with Quentin Tarantino again and you have even less need for a full-blow promotional tour. Add in co-stars like Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie and it’s overkill.

Still, DiCaprio did make one late night appearance to support his Oscar-nominated role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie strolled through the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live!  on the way to the premiere, sending Jimmy Kimmel’s audience in to an all-out frenzy.

This is DiCaprio’s sixth Academy Award nomination. He took home Best Actor in 2016 for The Revenant. His work in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood further proved he’s one of the best actors in the world regardless of awards. And the reaction from the Kimmel audience showed that DiCaprio is also one of the most popular stars around.

Joaquin Phoenix

It is fitting that the frontrunner for Best Actor delivered the best late night performance. Joker star Joaquin Phoenix is expected to take home the Oscar, months after delivering a must-see performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Phoenix has a long, intriguing relationship with interview and late night television especially. Who can forget his memorable appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman during filming for his mockumentary I’m Still Here? And his Golden Globes acceptance speech further showed that Phoenix isn’t exactly comfortable in front of a microphone talking about himself.

So if Phoenix wants his work to do the talking, then he certainly succeed with Joker. It is Phoenix’s fourth Oscar nomination and many believe it will be his first career win.

Phoenix made headlines for this interview with Jimmy Kimmel back in October. Phoenix was visibly upset that Kimmel teased him about breakdancing and then things really got awkward when Kimmel showed a behind-the-scenes clip of Phoenix appearing difficult on set.

But what wasn’t obvious to some viewers was that Phoenix and Kimmel were in on the bit. It especially became clear once Joker was revealed and similarities were drawn to a pivotal scene that takes place on a late night comedy show that was also a little uncomfortable.

The fact that so many people thought that Phoenix was truly angry with Kimmel is a testament to his skills as an actor. The entire joke was meant for director Todd Phillips. But cinematographer Larry Sher said that it didn’t quite land on set due to Phoenix being so believable. The same thing clearly happened on Jimmy Kimmel Live!.  It only drew more attention to Joker albeit at the expense of Kimmel’s reputation for a while.

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Who is your pick to bring home the Oscar for Best Actor? Which actor do you think had the best late night performance? Let us know in the comment section and be sure to catch all of FanSided’s Oscar coverage!