In a made-for-TV moment, Anthony Hopkins pulled off an unexpected Best Actor Oscar victory last night for his turn in Florian Zeller's The Father, winning over the late Chadwick Boseman, who starred in a different stage-to-screen adaptation, August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom.
Boseman's posthumous win for his glorious last performance was heavily expected — in breaking with Oscars tradition, they even saved the category for last, perhaps to send the home viewers out on an emotional high. However, that's not how it went, and watchers, prognosticators, and even Hopkins himself, who was asleep in Wales at the time of the announcement, were left scratching their heads in disbelief.
But they needn't be shocked if they had paid attention to the trajectory of Zeller's material. The protagonist of The Father is a role that has long proved unbeatable.
Zeller, who, with Christopher Hampton, earned a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar last night, created a shape-shifting drama that takes audiences into the mind of an older man suffering from dementia. It premiered in 2012 at the Théâtre Hébertot in Paris, and leading actor Robert Hirsch, for whom the role was written, took home the Molière Award (the French equivalent of the Tony) for Best Actor. Upon its West End premiere in 2015, actor Kenneth Cranham earned the Olivier for Best Actor. And Frank Langella, who starred in the work's Broadway production for Manhattan Theatre Club, took home the Tony for Best Actor in 2016. It has also earned an Irish Times Theatre Award for Owen Roe (2017), and a Fleur du Cap Award for Marius Weyers (2017, Cape Town), and various others.
Hopkins, who was richly deserving of the award, did a short acceptance speech on Instagram, shouting out Boseman, whom he clearly thought was going to win. But let this be a lesson to the producers of the Oscars — pay attention to history, and maybe look at the envelopes in advance before you take a gamble at the expense of two great artists.