Local Native Misses Oscar by a Mile

Out of the race: Green Mile actor Doug Hutchison (left) with David Morse and Tom Hanks

EVERY YEAR COME March, Hollywood rolls out the red carpet to inaugurate its latest parade of self-indulgent self-promotion otherwise known as the Oscars. And, as always, once the 72nd Annual Academy Awards event has finally passed (the show is telecast Sunday at 7:00 p.m. on ABC), we'll delight in calling it a sham, likening Academy members to Tammany Hall charlatans and lamenting those robbed of their rightful praise. Indeed, the grievance list stretches all the way back to the Oscars' inception in 1928, when the Academy snubbed both Charlie Chaplin and The Jazz Singer, giving them honorary awards as consolation prizes. Yet every year since, millions of movie lovers have gladly returned to revel in the glitzy fandango.

"I'm not going to dance anymore," vows non-nominated actor Doug Hutchison, who co-starred with Tom Hanks and company in The Green Mile, and began his stage career in Minneapolis in the Eighties. "I've become real weary of the circus aspect of the Oscars. From here on in, it's all about the work for me."

Following bit parts in Fresh Horses, The Lawnmower Man, and Batman & Robin, the L.A.-based Hutchison landed his biggest role to date in Mile, which is now up for four Oscars, including Best Picture. In it, he plays Percy Wetmore, a sadistic, weasel-like prison guard who incessantly provokes both the prisoners and his co-workers. Obviously, the role represented a huge leap from Hutchison's days onstage at Apple Valley High School, and it gave him his first real exposure to Oscar mania.

To hear Hutchison tell it, rumors began to abound late last year that he'd be nominated in the category of Best Actor in a Supporting Role. But it didn't happen. Instead, the nomination went to Mile's Michael Clarke Duncan, who plays death-row inmate/mystical healer John Coffey. Hutchison admits that both he and his co-star had dutifully played the PR game.

"It's all about pounding the pavement--hounding the media, appearing on talk shows, attending the foreign press events for the Golden Globes," says Hutchison of the Oscar campaign process. "It becomes more about who's popular than who's talented." Hutchison fully realized how deep a campaigning actor could sink in Oscar quicksand when, in the name of publicity, he appeared on the vile Donny and Marie Show and partook in a tug-of-war match against Duncan and Suzanne Somers. "I had to ask myself: Is this really why I went into acting?"

On the plus side, Hutchison hopes the blockbuster karma he gained simply by appearing in The Green Mile will allow him to continue being selective about his work: Having recently finished a role in Antoine Fuqua's upcoming action-comedy Bait (co-starring Jamie Foxx), he has moved on to doing what he calls "the Billy Bob Thornton thing" by writing a screenplay for a film he'd like to direct and star in. And although he doesn't want come off as "the anti-award guy," the actor also hopes his recent autonomy will extend to a lifetime immunity from Oscar hoopla.

"If the work I do happens to be Oscar-worthy, then great," he says. "But beyond that, fuck it."

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