Kate Winslet pulled off the expected on Sunday night, winning the Academy Award for best actress for her quietly powerful performance in The Reader, while Sean Penn won his second best-actor Oscar for playing slain gay-rights pioneer Harvey Milk in Milk.
“I’d be lying if I haven’t made a version of this speech before,” the 33-year-old British actress said. “I think I was probably 8 years old and staring into the bathroom mirror and this (Oscar) would be a shampoo bottle. But it’s not a shampoo bottle now.”
She thanked her husband, director Sam Mendes, and their two children. And also thanked her father, saying, “Dad, whistle or something ‘cause then I’ll know where you are.” He whistled back.
This is the first Oscar for Winslet, who’s been nominated earlier for her roles in Titanic, Sense and Sensibility, Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Little Children.
Winslet’s portrayal in The Reader of Hanna Schmitz — a woman having a passionate affair with a teenager who encounters her again years later while she is on trial for Holocaust crimes — was raw and restrained.
She gave credit to fellow best actress nominees — Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Angelina Jolie and Melissa Leo — calling them “goddesses”. “I think we all can’t believe we are in the category with Meryl Streep at all.”
Penn: The rebel with many causes
A darling of the anti-establishment who is famous for tackling powerful, challenging roles, Sean Penn is viewed as one of the finest actors and directors of his generation.
Penn, 48, has seen his stock rise since the mid-1990s, with his second Academy Award following the 2003 Mystic River.
Milk director Gus Van Sant, who describes Penn as “the Brando of our generation”, said the actor was his first choice for the role.
Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black said Penn’s performance was uncannily realistic. “I don’t know how he did it. Sean physically inhabited the body and soul of Harvey Milk.”
It was the latest milestone in a glittering career for Penn, a member of the 1980s “brat pack” who, despite great success and critical acclaim, remains a Hollywood outsider, something he acknowledged at Sunday’s ceremony.
“Thank you. You commie, homo-loving sons-of-a-gun. I did not expect this,” Penn said. “I wanted to be very clear that I do know how hard I make it to appreciate me often.”
As Penn’s career has flourished he has also become a vocal political activist, enraging conservative pundits in the US for his criticism of former president George W. Bush, who he said should be impeached.
He also urged those who have voted against gay marriage to rethink their position, urging them “to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support”.