The words “Academy Award winner” have prefaced Marisa Tomei’s name for 15 years now, ever since she won the prize for Best Supporting Actress in the lamentably bad comedy My Cousin Vinnie.
In the July 1994 edition of Movieline, for which Tomei was the cover girl, the actress spent the duration of the interview fending off the suggestion that she had become difficult since becoming an Academy Award winner. “Darrrling,” she told Stephen Rebello, “I had no idea I was being called a bitch on wheels. I don’t think I am.” Later, she laughed after cracking a sexually suggestive joke, “Oh God, I’m going to come off in this interview like this total whore,” perhaps foreshadowing her future roles baring skin.
Since her Vinnie win, Tomei has become the go-to-gal for smart independent fare, turning in stunning performances in little-seen, often-praised movies such as In the Bedroom and Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. This year, Tomei finds herself nominated in the same category she already won, but for a much more compelling and complex character, Cassidy, a single mother, who moonlights as a stripper in Darren Aronofsky’s critically acclaimed flick, The Wrestler.
While the lead actor Mickey Rourke’s poignant performance has been garnering the lion’s share of the buzz, Tomei’s subtle work as a stripper with a heart of gold who is torn between letting Randy the Ram into her life and keeping him at the customary, “you’re just a customer” distance, is just as deserving of an Oscar.
She and Randy are similar–both are past their prime physically, and though Tomei still has the body of a 20-year-old, the creases in the corners of her eyes and around her mouth belie her true age, and cause her to lose money. When she gets turned down by a gaggle of frat boys, her eyes flicker disappointment, rejection, and rage— all in the span of a heartbreaking instant, most worthy of a statue covered in Oscar gold.