This year’s Oscar nominations have set the Hollywood press all a-twitter with not one, but two seperate Cinderella stories. Captain Phillips star Barkhad Abdi and Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave are both in the running for Oscars, making them part of a small group of actors to be nominated for their very first screen role.
While Nyong’o enjoyed a traditional theatrical education at the Yale School of Drama (notable alumni include Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver), Abdi had no previous acting experience. Prior to being cast opposite Tom Hanks, he had been working as a limo driver in Minnesota. With his recent BAFTA win in the Best Supporting Actor category, he has become a real front-runner for the Oscars, going up against stiff competition from the likes of Jared Leto, Jonah Hill and Bradley Cooper.
Here are a few of their fellow members in ‘The First-Time Oscars Club’:
Tatum O’Neal (winner)
O’Neal was only 9 years old when she was cast in Paper Moon opposite her father Ryan. Playing an orphan who connects with a con-man that may be her father, she charmed Academy voters, who awarded her Best Supporting Actress in 1974. Her career as a grown-up actress never hit the same heights, though her personal relationships with Michael Jackson and John McEnroe ensured she remained a tabloid fixture for decades.
Haing S Ngor (winner)
As Dith Pran in Roland Joffe’s film of The Killing Fields, Ngor played a Cambodian journalist forced into hard labour and ‘propagandist re-education’ under Pol Pot’s regime. His harrowing performance -though deserving of all its acclaim- was brutally informed by his own personal experience. A practicing surgeon from Phnom Penh, he was expelled into these very same labour camps, where he watched his own wife die in childbirth. In time, he managed to flee to the United States (where he could not practice medicine). Despite having no prior experience, he won the Academy Award in 1985, leading to a reasonably successful acting career. Sadly, Ngor’s Cinderella story doesn’t come with a happy ending: he was shot and killed outside his LA home in 1996.
Anna Paquin (winner)
One of the rare cases of a seemingly well-adjusted child actor. At the age of 9, the young Kiwi was cast opposite Holly Hunter and Harvey Keitel in The Piano, giving a performance that made her the second-youngest Oscar winner ever (after Tatum O’Neal). Despite the looming spectre of ‘The Oscar Curse’, she’s subsequently built a solid acting career, first in films like Fly Away Home and X-Men and now as the lead in HBO’s hit vampire show True Blood.
Marlee Matlin (winner)
Discovered by Happy Days star Henry Winkler while performing with a children’s theatre group, Matlin was cast as the lead in the romantic drama Children of a Lesser God. It was her very first professional acting job; a performance for which she won the Best Actress Oscar in 1987. Overcoming her disability -she is completely deaf in one ear and only has 20% hearing in the other- she’s since forged a successful TV career with prominent roles on legal drama Reasonable Doubt (in which she played the lead opposite NCIS’ Mark Harmon) and The West Wing. Most recently, she was contestant on Celebrity Apprentice in the States, but don’t hold that against her.
Gabourey Sidibe (nominee)
After being nominated for her heartrending lead performance in 2010′s Precious, many people were wondering if this newcomer would have trouble finding work in Hollywood. After all, the movie business is not known for accommodating women over a certain weight. And despite these doubts, she has managed to parlay Oscar success into an sustainable career: she played an important supporting role in The Big C opposite Laura Linney and can now be seen in the third season of American Horror Story.
Quvenzhané Wallis (nominee)
The youngest ever nominee for Best Actress, Wallis was just 5 years old when she cast in the indie hit Beasts of the Southern Wild. Though she lost out to eventual winner Jennifer Lawrence at the 2013 awards, she’s since scored the title role in an updated version of Annie, opposite Jamie Foxx.
The 86th Academy Awards will take place in Hollywood, CA on Sunday 2 March