As always, there were some big surprises and snubs at this year’s Academy Awards. But one thing remained the same: It was a memorable night. From Eminem’s performance of “Lose Yourself” to the impressive musical mashup number by Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig, the event was live TV at its finest. It wasn’t just a time for entertainment and celebration, though. The speeches given shared wise insights from those at the top of their game, providing an opportunity for viewers to learn from them. Actors should take an especially close look at the words from the awarded thespians of the night. Keep reading for some big takeaways from this year’s Oscar-winning actors and their speeches.


Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role 

Winner: Renée Zellweger for Judy

Takeaway: Our heroes unite us, and the actors who portray them help share their legacies. 


In her acceptance speech, Zellweger acknowledged the importance of the real-life character she portrayed. “This past year of conversations celebrating Judy Garland across generations and across cultures has been a really cool reminder that our heroes unites us,” the actor shared.  Zellweger listed some examples that included Fred Rogers and Harriet Tubman, both of whom were portrayed in films by actors also nominated this year. “And though Judy Garland did not receive this honor in her time, I am certain that this moment is an extension of the celebration of her legacy that began on our film set,” the actor stated. “Ms. Garland, you are certainly among the heroes who unite and define us, and this is certainly for you.” Zellweger’s example of the real-life character she played, as well as those from A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Harriet, remind actors that portraying heroes onscreen is one way of ensuring that the impact of their stories lives on. 


Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role 

Winner: Joaquin Phoenix for Joker

Takeaway: Actors can give a voice to the voiceless. 

“I think the greatest gift that it’s given me and many of us in this room is the opportunity to use our voice for the voiceless,” Phoenix stated, referring to the form of expression that’s found in film. “I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the distressing issues that we are facing collectively, and I think at times we feel or we’re made to feel that we champion different causes. But for me, I see commonality.” Phoenix asserted. He went on to list a variety of different causes, such as gender equality and animal rights, putting them all in the same category of fighting injustice. Joker has been called by some a cautionary tale on how we treat people, especially those ostracized by society. With this in mind, the actor’s performance as Arthur Fleck could be seen as representing those who sometimes feel pushed aside and silenced by the world we live in. Phoenix’s acceptance speech reminds us that actors can give a voice to the voiceless via the characters they portray or via the platform that a successful career can bring. 


Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Winner: Laura Dern for Marriage Story

Takeaway: Family is an important key to the actor’s life.

Recognizing family members can be a common theme of acceptance speeches. But Dern’s address stood out in that a large portion of it was dedicated to her family. As she accepted the award for her role in Marriage Story, she expressed gratitude for “the gifts of the love stories in my life.” She referenced her stepchildren and her children, calling them her “heart and inspiration.” The thespian also recognized her parents, whom she labeled as her acting heroes and legends. But for those actors who perhaps don’t have the support of their family for one reason or another, the end of Dern’s speech reminds us of the importance of friendship. “I love my friends you lift me up every day,” she concluded. So whether an actor defines “family” by blood relations or by a chosen group of close friends, Dern’s address emphasizes the vital role a family plays in inspiring and supporting its more artistic members.  


Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role 

Winner: Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 

Takeaway: Recognize how far you’ve come.

Pitt’s speech included reflections on his early exposure to cinema and his introduction to Hollywood.  In his address, Pitt referenced his parents taking him to the drive-in theater to watch Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and loading up his car to move out to Los Angeles. He expressed gratitude for both those who gave him his first shot, as well as “all the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.” The actor wrapped his speech with a reference to the film for which he won, stating, “Once upon a time in Hollywood … Ain’t that the truth?” Pitt’s speech reminds actors that no matter what point they’ve reached in their careers, it’s necessary to appreciate how much further they are today than they were yesterday. 


Actors would be wise to take these Oscar winners’ words to heart. They can be inspired by Zellweger’s insight about the role actors play in helping our heroes’ legacies live on. Phoenix’s point of how on-camera artists give a voice to the voiceless can also be remembered. Actors struggling with the challenges of pursuing their craft should especially consider Dern’s words on the importance of family. And Pitt’s speech reminds his fellow thespians to recognize how far they’ve come. Because no matter where your own Hollywood journey takes you, it’s important to find joy in it along the way. 


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