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Taking risks in Hollywood pays off for some Screen Actors Guild Award nominees

(L-R) Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore and Ellar Coltrane all made considerable investments of one sort or another in films that landed them Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.
(L-R) Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore and Ellar Coltrane all made considerable investments of one sort or another in films that landed them Screen Actors Guild Award nominations.

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Hollywood types love to gamble. Just ask Ben Affleck. But very rarely do they actually go all in with their own careers.

If you look at the nominations for the Screen Actors Guild awards that were announced Wednesday, it’s easy to see that several performers who made a big bet on themselves cashed in nicely. In several categories, actors who either produced their own films or slashed their normal salaries collected nominations.

Reese Witherspoon, for starters, was nominated as outstanding female actor — as SAG calls the category — for her starring role as a woman looking for meaning while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in “Wild.”

The actress personally paid for the rights to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of the same name, largely because she felt it offered a great female role that was absent from most studio films.

Witherspoon: I read it in 48 hours, I just thought it was riveting. I called my agent that night and said, "I don't know who this woman is, but I have to talk to her tomorrow." She got me her number and I called her. I think I surprised her on the phone, and I just said, "This is one of the most important books I've ever read." 

Witherspoon and her partner, Bruna Papandrea, produced “Wild,” and Witherspoon also produced “Gone Girl.” She says she is determined to keep looking for movies featuring strong parts for strong women — something the studios have almost completely abandoned.

Meanwhile, Jake Gyllenhaal was nominated by SAG for top actor for his performance as a creepy and amoral TV news videographer in “Nightcrawler.” It’s a big departure from the big-budget films he made like the $200 million “The Prince of Persia.” Gyllenhaal also produced “Nightcrawler.”

Gyllenhaal: We had to sort of beg, cheat and lie a little in order to get the movie made for $8.5 million over 26 days. I was involved immediately from the jump. I was involved in all of the questions and all of the issues that a producer would have and I was on all the phone calls. You know, it really helped because there were a couple of things that came up that would get in the middle of our schedule and I would — no matter what — say, "This is partly my movie and I'm producer on it and I'm not leaving it and it doesn't matter what offers I have as an actor."

Gyllenhaal continues to look for personal and professional challenges. He’ll make his Broadway debut next week in the new play “Constellations.”

With the “Hunger Games” blockbusters, Julianne Moore pulls down huge paychecks for playing rebellion leader Alma Coin. But she more typically gravitates to movies made on a much smaller scale — and those are the ones more likely to be noticed at awards time.

She’s landed a SAG nomination for outstanding female actor for her role as a  50-year-old academic diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in "Still Alice."  As you read Moore's comments, keep in mind that big studio films typically shoot over the course of three months.

Moore: This is a movie we made for $4 million in three-and-a-half weeks — not even a year ago. So the fact that we even got distribution is astonishing. We're really, really happy about that. And the fact that it's getting attention. Wow, how lucky are we?

“Boyhood” was nominated by SAG’s ensemble award, which is its equivalent of the best picture Oscar. Cast member Ellar Coltrane made quite an investment too, but it had nothing to do with money.

Coltrane was just a 7-year-old kid growing up in Texas when he signed on to be part of Richard Linklater’s 12-year endeavor. It was a tremendous leap of faith. Coltrane ended up pledging a lot of his childhood to making the movie, without knowing how it would unfold or if he’d gain anything from it career-wise.  

Coltrane: Early on I was a pretty out-there kid and I didn't really go to school, so they had to tone down my fashion sense and taste in movies a little bit. I was a little bit begrudging, I think, like, Oh, why do I have to act like such a dork? But, yeah, I definitely became more excited and just kind of grateful that I got to work on it and invested more of my self into it. 

“Boyhood” turned out to be more than worth the risk. The film not only was a breakout hit on the art house circuit, but it’s also considered one of the leading contenders for the Oscars.

In addition to “Boyhood,” SAG’s other best ensemble nominees are “The Imitation Game,” “The Theory of Everything,” “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” The awards will be presented on January 25th.

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