Receiving that little golden statue is seen as the pinnacle of any actor’s career. Post-Oscar, the likes of Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis and Audrey Hepburn all continue(d) to achieve great success but for some, this dizzying high marked the end of an upward trajectory. For these thespians, an Academy Award was no more than a golden ornament, failing to open up Hollywood’s illustrious embrace – or even leading to a rapid descent to the bottom of the figurative pile.
Louis Gossett, Jr. (Best Supporting Actor, An Officer and a Gentleman, 1982)
At the close of the 1970s, Gossett’s star was never brighter. Having received an Emmy for his phenomenal turn as Fiddler in Roots, Gossett had caught Hollywood’s attention. However the lack of black actors within Hollywood left the actor struggling to break through into the mainstream and big money.
Five years later, Gossett made it and achieved his greatest moment in the 1982 romantic comedy An Officer and a Gentleman as drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley. Beating out the likes of John Lithgow and James Mason, Gossett took home the Best Supporting Actor gong and became the first African-American male to do so.
Immediately after his Oscar triumph, the offers failed to arrive. This disappointment drove Gossett to alcoholism having had his “heart broke” by the lack of interest in his talents. In 2013, he explained that he took up drinking because “What else is there to do? I got the Oscar, but they’re not beating my door down.”
In the next three decades, Gossett appeared in a litany of poor projects, with voice work in the likes of Batman: The Animated Series and Half-Life 2. Most recently, in 2010, Gossett was diagnosed with prostate cancer and has seemingly battled it ever since with no announcement of a cure at the point of writing.
Louise Fletcher (Best Actress, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, 1975)
In the history of the Academy Awards, only three films have achieved the ‘Big Five’: those for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay (either Best Adapted Screenplay or Best Original Screenplay). First, it was It Happened One Night in 1934, the latest was The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 and in the middle was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Out of the Big Five winners for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the name of Louise Fletcher is least likely to ring any bells. Fletcher’s turn as Nurse Ratched is an ice-cold masterclass in calm control/evil acting, as the perfect counterbalance to Jack Nicholson’s wild Mac. The saying goes that history only remembers the winners and in the context of the 48th Academy Awards, this much is true. Not to undermine Fletcher’s deserved win but the line-up of Isabelle Adjani (The Story of Adele H.), Ann-Margret (Tommy), Glenda Jackson (Hedda) and Carol Kane (Hester Street) is hardly formidable.
Unluckily for Fletcher, this ‘lack’ of competition has not been present throughout the rest of her career; The Magician of Lublin, Invaders from Mars and Grizzly II: The Predator all act as negative signposts in a downward spiral of popularity. That being said, a recent four-episode stint in Showtime’s Shameless could mark the beginning of a welcome comeback.
Mo’Nique (Best Supporting Actress, Precious, 2009)
At 2010’s Academy Awards, attentions were drawn to the shoot-out between The Hurt Locker and Avatar for the Best Director and Picture gongs. Understandably so, with the rest of the Awards seemingly set in stone from a month previous – Christoph Waltz for Inglourious Basterds, Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart and Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side. The ‘lowest’ star amongst them was Mo’Nique, who was widely recognised thanks to her role in the TV series The Parkers and her previous work as a standup comedian. In 2010, she entered the A-list with many eagerly anticipating what the actress did next.
In short, nothing. Having picked up the accolade for Best Supporting Actress, she turned to her husband and said “Daddy, I’m tired.” A few months later, Mo’Nique began her five-year exodus from Hollywood fuelled by a mix of disillusion and a desire to spend time with her family.
Similar to the experience of Gossett, many of the scripts she received left her wanting. In a recent phone interview, she admitted how “a lot of the scripts didn’t make sense… some of the feelings were as if I had just got into Hollywood off of the Greyhound bus.”
In 2014, the actress returned to the screen through the limited release Patrik-Ian Polk film, Blackbird. Rumoured to be in the pipeline for 2015 is the long-mooted biopic of Hattie Jacques to be directed by Precious’ Lee Daniels. With no official announcement as of yet, Mo’Nique’s next move is yet to be known.
Joe Pesci (Best Supporting Actor, GoodFellas, 1990)
Joe Pesci will never be regarded as a failure or fallen talent in the annals of cinematic history. His inclusion here even courts controversy – after his well-deserved Oscar win for Goodfellas, he starred in commercial hit My Cousin Vinny, as well as Martin Scorsese’s Casino in 1995.
Yet when one looks back at his run of films post-1992, Pesci’s glittering, sweary light appears dimmer. Throughout this period, there is an overwhelming sense of producers unsure how to manipulate the actor’s talent into something outside of a gangster role. The varied attempts led to disastrous turns in lamentable comedies such as Eight Holes in a Duffel Bag, Gone Fishin’ and, especially, Lethal Weapon 4. These films were seemingly so bad that Joe Pesci – whether through his own choice or not is unclear – has appeared in just two roles (The Good Shepherd, 2006 and Love Ranch, 2010) in the last 16 years.
Pesci’s post-1998 career involved releasing a rap album titled Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, playing on his My Cousin Vinny character. Surprisingly failing to go platinum, the music video for “lead single” ‘Wise Guy’ can be partially witnessed here. Aside from the two aforementioned roles, Pesci’s remained out of the limelight enjoying his time off.
However, rumours abound that the fiery actor may return alongside Robert de Niro for Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, set for release in 2015. Fingers and toes remain crossed.
Cuba Gooding, Jr. (Best Supporting Actor, Jerry Maguire, 1996)
Before 2012 the embodiment of the post-Oscar career lull was F. Murray Abraham. The star that shone twice as bright but lasted half as long, Abraham disappeared following his Best Actor victory for Amadeus in 1985, with film critic Leonard Maitlin coining the phrase ‘F. Murray Abraham syndrome’ about the actor. In 2011, like Claire Danes, he received his career revival in the form of Homeland, leading to notable cameos in Inside Llewyn Davis and The Grand Budapest Hotel.
His unwanted crown has found its new home in the form of Cuba Gooding, Jr. Alongside James Cameron’s celebratory “I’m the King of the World!”, Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s relentless joy at scooping the Best Supporting Actor trophy in February 1997 ranks among the best acceptance moments. Following his breakout role, he struck gold with As Good as It Gets but in the following years, the actor’s career was thoroughly unsuccessful.
Despite being the strongest part of Pearl Harbor, the roll call of anonymous and dreadful roles is overwhelming with Snow Dogs (2002), The Fighting Temptations (2003), Shadowboxer (2005), Norbit (2007) and Home on the Range (2007) to name but a few.
At the age of 46, Gooding is far from over the hill and appearances in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and American Gangster highlight his potential. With an upcoming role in the hotly tipped Selma, there remains a budding future for the actor. If someone can funnel his youth’s energy and his newfound maturity, the Oscars may come calling again.