Oscar Directors: Abrahamson, Room Director, Surprised to be Nominated

Room director, Lenny Abrahamson, did not expect to be nominated for the Best Director Oscar, but had good vibs about its star, Brie Larson getting Best Actress nomination.

He understood misses for the film from organizations like the Producers Guild of America (PGA), he told Variety, “because I have a sense of what the membership is, so I thought, ‘I can understand why we’re not there and ‘Carol’ is not there.’ I noticed in the last few days we had dropped off. I believed what everyone else believed, which is that it is a film people might not watch. Once people do watch it, though, they become very attached to it and feel very strongly about it, so I think I underestimated the people voting.”

“I could not have been more surprised when my name was called out,” Abrahamson says. “My wife and I were in the kitchen and we just started laughing. I had certainly convinced myself, and her, that it wasn’t going to happen. And when people in Ireland say, ‘Oh, you’re going to do well. We’re rooting for you,’ you feel like such a killjoy when you say, ‘You know what? I get how these things work now and this isn’t going to happen, so just don’t think that way.’ And yet it still did.”

Filmmakers like Bennett Miller (“Foxcatcher”), Alexander Payne (“Nebraska”), Benh Zeitlin (“Beasts of the Southern Wild”) and Mike Leigh (“Vera Drake”), have also received nominations for their small-budget indie art films. So Abrahamson was enthused to receive a vote of confidence from his peers.

“The style of direction in ‘Room,’ maybe a little bit like ‘Spotlight,’ tries to be hidden,” he says. “I try to not get between the viewer and the characters, even though I’m working incredibly hard. But it seems like people really got that. I think as directors they may recognize, more than the rest of the body of filmmakers, exactly what you do as a director, because I think sometimes the conception is if the camera isn’t swinging around and it’s not pyrotechnic or worthily melodramatic, then the direction is uninvolved. But trying to make something as tricky as ‘Room’ really believable is extremely hard and it largely rests with that relationship between the actors and the director, and the director and the crew. So I’m really honored that that group of directors recognized that and were willing to vote for me.”

Of his fellow nominees, Abrahamson has only seen the work of George Miller (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) and Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”), but he looks forward to catching up.

“That was the film I saw at Telluride that I most liked,” he says. “Tom, in that film, is my kind of director. It’s so seamless. It’s so believable. He manages the flow of information so well and makes it fascinating, and that’s a really difficult thing to do. It has the quality of really good ’70s filmmaking, so I’m delighted to see him nominated.”

However, like most, he was surprised “The Martian” helmer Ridley Scott was shut out. “I think that’s the biggest shock of all, really,” he says. “He’s an incredible director with a massive legacy. He was my favorite to win the prize at the Oscars, so that’s amazing and very surprising.”

Room debuted at the Telluride Film Festival, went on to claim the Toronto festival’s audience award and then opened in very limited release on October 16.  Never playing on more than 200 screens, the film made about $5 million at the box-office mark.  It arrives in the U.K. and Ireland today.

US Distributor A24 will reach its highest screen count yet with close to 300 (which will potentially yield the film’s biggest box office weekend yet). That was in response to Larson’s win at the Golden Globes last week, but with a few choice Oscar nominations, the plan is to keep expanding it to the 800-1,000 screen range.