Way back in September, the biggest headlines out of the Toronto International Film Festival were devoted to one movie: Spotlight. Tom McCarthy’s drama, which chronicles the Boston Globe’s investigation into sex abuse allegations in the Catholic Church, was labeled awards season gold — and it was even hailed as a worthy successor to All The President’s Men.
But that was September, and since then, the film’s Oscar chances, which had once felt like a lock, suddenly seemed… iffy. The film’s talented ensemble — Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Brian d’Arcy Jones, Stanley Tucci — meant that there was no one star to build on Oscar campaign around, and as stories of Leonardo DiCaprio eating bison liver began to dominate the year-end pre-nomination buzz, some were wondering whether Spotlight peaked too early. Such fears seemed legitimate when Spotlight got shut out of the Golden Globes last weekend, raising the question of whether the subtle but powerful journalism drama still had a prime seat at the Oscar table.
Turns out that the filmmakers needn’t have worried: Spotlight raked in six Oscar nominations, including ones for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.
“Literally, before I went to bed last night, I looked at the bloggers and I was like, ‘Okay, if we have a great morning, we’ll get five,’” co-writer Josh Singer says. “And then when we got six, it was just super thrilling.”
Singer penned the script with McCarthy, who also directed, and their screenplay follows the Pulitzer-winning investigation into clergy sex abuse — and whether the Catholic Church covered it up. Spotlight is a damning investigation into complacency, and it questions why the community of Boston (and the Boston Globe) didn’t pick up on this sooner. Both writers spent years meticulously researching the story, and they conducted countless interviews with the real-life journalists portrayed in the film.
“Some people say, ‘Is this whole award thing exciting? Is this your favorite part of it?’” McCarthy says. “No. The favorite part was the research. Just digging into the material and spending all this time interviewing these really fascinating people, both the reporters and the survivors. If you like hard work, it’s just the best.”
While the cast is full of stars all worthy of awards consideration — the entire ensemble is up for the SAG award — the Academy singled out McAdams and Ruffalo, who both play Globe journalists digging into the sex-abuse allegations. This is McAdams’ first nomination and Ruffalo’s third.
“They actually share what I think is a really lovely scene on the back porch there, when they’re kind of talking about their personal connection to faith,” McCarthy says. “It’s interesting that those two got nominated, and it’s one of the few really personal scenes in the movie. By personal, I mean about their personal lives. Most of the movie’s about the work.”
But of Spotlight’s six nods, there’s one that McCarthy was most excited about: Tom McArdle, who earned his first-ever film editing nomination. The two have worked together for years, from McCarthy’s 2003 directorial debut, The Station Agent, to the recent Adam Sandler comedy The Cobbler. “I think I might have screamed loudest for him,” McCarthy says. “I almost leapt through the roof, I was so excited for him.”
Both McCarthy and Singer say that they’re especially hopeful that the Oscar buzz will draw attention to two of the issues at the heart of the film: clergy sex abuse and the dwindling resources for investigative journalism. The Boston Globe recently unveiled a new fellowship to support long-form reporting, funded in part by the Spotlight distributor, Open Road Films, and Singer added that they’d love to create even more.
“I think these six Oscar [nominations] will give this movie a larger platform,” McCarthy says. “More people are going to read about this movie and the issues, and that’s what’s really exciting about that — just the exposure.”
But for now, he has to end this interview with a journalist so he can go answer his phone, which is ringing off the hook with calls from family and friends.
“My wife’s like, ‘Don’t put the journalist on hold! You made a movie about journalists!’” McCarthy says, laughing. “I’m like, ‘I know, but family!’ I’ve been properly chastised. You see? The respect for journalists is already growing. At least my wife’s respect.”
See the full list of Oscar nominees here.