A strange selection this year, with a whopping 12/20 nominees having been professionally acting since they were teens or younger, plus our lowest number of drama degrees yet and the introduction of a whole new education category: home schooling.
Which is the acting path that has won Oscars 2011? Read below to find out.
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Colin Firth (Previous nominee)
Studied at the National Youth Theater and the Drama Centre London under Yat Malmgren.
Jeff Bridges (Previous winner)
No formal training. Took a few acting classes in New York after high school, but always found his best training at home in his father and older bother Beau. Didn't take long -- was nominated for an Oscar at age 21.
Was part of a musical theater youth group, Broadway Kids, while attending high school in New Jersey. Transferred to a performing arts school in midtown Manhattan by lying about his address, where he received formal training. This school was the catalyst that got him cast in Rodger Dodger at age 18. Applied and was accepted into NYU, but declined admission to finish a film role. Took adult ed anthropology courses at the New School for years, which he credits more with helping his craft than any acting classes.
Javier Bardem (Previous winner)
Began acting at age 6, as it was the family profession. Attended art school with the intention of becoming a painter, continued acting on the side, but, inspired by his actress mother, quickly realized he was more passionate about the latter and attended acting classes instead. Has worked with acting teacher Juan Carlos Corazza nonstop since then, privately and in workshops, saying he tries to return every year to study for at least three months.
After a year of going after an English degree, dropped out of UCLA to pursue acting. Trained for 15 months with Robert Carnegie at Playhouse West before landing Freaks and Geeks. Eventually returned to UCLA and received a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. Then attended Columbia for an MFA in writing, NYU Tisch for the filmmaking grad program, Brooklyn college for fiction writing, and North Carolina's Warren Wilson College for poetry. Received his MFA from Columbia last year and is now going after a PhD in English from Yale and plans on attending the Rhode Island School of Design. Whoa.
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Natalie Portman (Previous nominee)
Attended both the Usdan Theater Art Camp and Stagedoor Manor Performing Arts Camp. Began training in dance at age 4. Feature-film debut at age 13. Graduated high school with honors and later graduated from Harvard with a degree in psychology; also took graduate classes at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Describes herself as an "anti-Method" actor.
Annette Bening (Previous nominee)
Very active in the theater program at her high school, then studied theater for two years at San Diego Mesa College before heading north where she received her BA in theater arts from San Francisco State. Fine-tuned her theater chops by subsequently performing with the American Conservatory Theater (company member, studied acting as part of the Advanced Theatre Training Program), the Old Globe in San Diego, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and the Denver Center Theatre Company (company member for a year). Was nominated for a Tony before pursuing film.
Persuaded her parents to move to NYC at age 14 so she could pursue acting. Graduated high school two years early via GED to begin acting professionally as soon as she could. No formal training, has said she relies entirely on her instincts.
Michelle Williams (Previous nominee)
Dropped out of high school in 10th grade to pursue acting and opted for a home-school program. Got her high school diploma at age 15. Moved to Los Angeles at 16, emancipated from her parents. Spent a summer in the mid-aughts performing with Williamstown in Massachusetts as part of their company.
Nicole Kidman (Previous winner)
Acted any way she could from a young age, taking classes in dance, drama, and mime at the St. Martin's Youth Theatre, the Australian Theatre for Young People, and the Philip Street Theatre in Australia. Dropped out of high school at age 16 to help her mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer, and rather than return later decided to pursue acting full-time. In the mid-'90s, took up training again at the Actor's Studio in New York, where she learned the Method technique.
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Acting professionally since age 8, didn't spend much time in school. No formal training. At age 20, was accepted into RADA, LAMDA, and The Central School, but attended none and continued working. Reportedly regrets not accepting ... but I think he's doing just fine.
After graduating high school, briefly studied acting at St. Cloud University before dropping out to move to Texas. Soon formed his own theater troupe, fell back in love with acting, and moved to Los Angeles to pursue film and television. With no formal training, says hitchhiking was his best acting training.
After graduating from high school, moved west where he took classes at the Stella Adler Conservatory and co-founded the Orpheus Theater Company. Later moved east and acted mostly in indie films and on stage until his breakout role in You Can Count On Me in 2000.
Geoffrey Rush (Previous nominee)
Arts Degree from the University of Queensland. Immediately out of college, acted with the Queensland Theater Company for 17 productions. Also studied mime and pantomime in Paris at the L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq.
Jeremy Renner (Previous nominee)
Began acting at Modesto Junior College. Before two years had passed, had moved to L.A. to pursue acting professionally. Was pursuing computer science major and criminology before taking acting as an elective and falling in love.
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Melissa Leo (Previous nominee)
Studied Drama at Mount View Theatre School in London, England, and later at the SUNY Purchase Acting Program, but did not graduate.
Been acting since age 8 and home schooled since age 12. Trained for a year at Cynthia Bain's Young Actor Studio in Los Angeles.
Amy Adams (Previous nominee)
Made the decision not to go to college after high school. Performed in community and dinner theater until landing her breakthrough role in Junebug at age 30. Took some technique classes at B. Vocal in Minnesota and studied with the Actor's Workshop in L.A. in the early 2000s.
Attended an all-girls high school in Australia, but acted whenever she could, both professionally and nonprofessionally. After graduating, was offered a scholarship to university to study sociology as well as a role on an Australian TV show, Wandjina -- she chose the show and thus acting as a career. Broke out at age 24 with a starring role in the film Stork.
Helena Bonham Carter (Previous nominee)
Began acting professionally at age 16. Graduated from high school but was not accepted into King's College because the administrators were concerned that she would drop out to continue her acting career. So she pursued her acting career instead! No formal training.
Certainly an interesting bunch this year, isn't it? Let's get into the breakdown!
College Degrees: Colin Firth, Annette Bening, Geoffrey Rush, Natalie Portman, James Franco - 5
College Dropouts: Melissa Leo, Javier Bardem, Jeremy Renner, John Hawkes - 4
High School Through Home School: Michelle Williams, Jennifer Lawrence, Hailee Steinfeld - 3
Completed High School (and only high school): Helena Bonham Carter, Jacki Weaver, Amy Adams, Mark Ruffalo, Christian Bale, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeff Bridges - 7
No High School Diploma: Nicole Kidman - 1
Formal Training in College (with degree): Colin Firth, Annette Bening, Geoffrey Rush - 3
Formal Acting Training Outside of College: James Franco, Jesse Eisenberg, Nicole Kidman, Mark Ruffalo, Javier Bardem - 5
Nonformal Training in College (without degree): Melissa Leo, Jeremy Renner, John Hawkes - 3
Acting Classes/Coaches/Camp (nonformal): Natalie Portman, Amy Adams, Hailee Steinfeld, -3
No Formal Training ... or Nonformal Training: Jeff Bridges, Christian Bale, Michelle Williams, Jennifer Lawrence - 4
So there you have it. Our most unconventional group yet! For the first time since I began this series, the drama degrees have lost out to pursuing a career right out of high school and formal training outside of a university environment. And if the prognosticators are correct, each winner this year will have a different background in both education and training. So what is this installment's moral? For you aspiring actors out there: different strokes for different folks. Whatever works for you is what will work for you, as long as the determination is there.
Tune in to the Oscars on ABC Sunday, February 27, for the results!