Damien focused his attention on drumming throughout high school, which served as inspiration for his breakthrough film Whiplash and now La La Land, both of which landed numerous Oscars. His extensive experience with music has significantly affected both films and has set a precedent for audiences to look out for in his future films. Having abandoned a career as a drummer, Chazelle’s technical film training only consisted of his time at Harvard.
On how passions and career paths can change:
“It’s a little difficult when something goes from being an utter obsession—a thing where your skill defines you as a person—to it just being a thing you occasionally do.”
It’s hard to imagine that one of the most heralded costume designers in Hollywood spent the beginning years of her career working in various retail stores in Seattle. It was by a chance encounter in New York that led Atwood to work as a production assistant on the film Ragtime, and from there, her career took off.
On first impressions:
“Costumes are the first impression that you have of the character before they open their mouth—it really does establish who they are.”
Before winning his first Oscar and subsequently becoming the first Muslim to ever win one, Mahershala Ali played basketball in college. As a student athlete, Mahershala realized the treatment athletes received wasn’t for him and he took a sabbatical after graduation before earning a master’s in acting from NYU.
On constantly learning:
“Hold tight to the mentality of being a student, meaning hold on to curiosity and approach life as a student.”
Homeschooled since middle school, Stone took the opportunity of remote education to make a PowerPoint presentation called “Project Hollywood” in an attempt to convince her parents to let her pursue an acting career in Hollywood. And somehow, it worked. She spent her first years working at a dog treat bakery and auditioning for any roles she could find, with small cameos in several shows and movies. It took over four years for her breakthrough to come.
On finding strength through creative outlets:
“You know how sports teach kids teamwork and how to be strong and brave and confident? Improv was my sport. I learned how to not waffle and how to hold a conversation, how to take risks and actually be excited to fail.”
If it hadn’t been for small roles that continuously crept up, Casey Affleck might be working in politics. After completing his first film in California, Affleck moved to Washington D.C. to pursue graduate school, and then transferred to New York to finish up at Columbia. Not fully invested, he took roles whenever they came up and officially left graduate school for film.
On embracing unexpected change:
“For people who have…had curve balls thrown at them, it is easier to digest change and digest change in other people. Change only scares the small-minded. The small-minded and me.”
The 2017 Oscars were anything but boring. From underdog wins to an unexpected twist at the very end, the famous awards show celebrated talent, wit, and the new trailblazers, many of which of took unusual paths to Hollywood stardom. Here we highlight the unique career paths of five new Oscar winners, along with the lessons they learned along the way and advice they have for students and young professionals.
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