Scarlett Johansson is at the center of a Hollywood awards season debate. She portrays Samantha, Joaquin Phoenix’s operating system in the upcoming film “Her.” The Golden Globes have ruled her performance not eligible for a supporting actress nod because it is only a voice over.
Warner Bros is mounting a campaign to get Johansson noticed. This is usually not a problem for her, but it’s a little easier to do when she’s in front of the camera. Like so many sex symbols before Johansson, it’s unfair to begin the discussion by talking about her sex appeal. But it’s often impossible to separate them from the performance. As “Her” looks poised to prove, she doesn’t even need to be on camera to become a man’s fantasy.
No actor has ever received an Oscar nomination for a voice over or performance capture. The film’s story deals with Phoenix’s character falling in love with a voice, so her role is a pivotal one. It may prove to be the best test case yet for whether the industry is ready to honor a strictly vocal performance.
Personally, I don’t think you need to see the actor to connect with them. How creepy is HAL 9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey“? Marlon Brando’s few seconds on camera as Jor-El, Superman’s father, still influences the movies and the mythos. When I imagine Jor-El’s voice, I still think of Brando. Yes, you see him on camera just enough to acknowledge who he is, but it is essentially a voice over gig. This barrier may not get broken this year, but at least the debate is happening.