USMagazine, Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 9:30am (PST)
It's an air-tight race for Best Supporting Actress this year at the Academy Awards, with The Artist's Berenice Bejo, Bridesmaids' Melissa McCarthy, Albert Nobbs' Janet McTeer, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain, both from The Help, vying to take home an Oscar.
Ahead of Hollywood's biggest night February 26, Us Weekly introduces you to the five contenders for this year's Best Supporting Actress trophy.
BERENICE BEJO, THE ARTIST Appearing in the silent black-and-white film as Peppy Miller, a Hollywood extra who falls for a silent film star (Jean Dujardin), the French-Argentine actress is a relative unknown to American audiences. Prior to making a splash in The Artist, Bejo 35, was known for her 2001 role as Christiana in A Knight's Tale. Making her U.S. television debut in December 2011 on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Bejo has no idea what's in store for her at the Feb. 26 show. "In America, there's a big audience for the Oscars?" she recently asked reporters when promoting her film in Los Angeles.
JESSICA CHASTAIN, THE HELP Bringing Miss Celia Foote to life in the film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 bestseller about 1960s race relations in Jackson, Miss., Chastain sure had a big 2011. Appearing in five other films in addition to The Help, Chastain, 30, was widely lauded as one of the year's hottest breakout stars. Recognized with Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and BAFTA Award nominations for The Help, a win at this year's Academy Awards would provide Chastain with her first Oscar trophy.
MELISSA MCCARTHY, BRIDESMAIDS Prior to earning an Oscar nod for the 2011 ensemble comedy costarring Kristen Wiig, McCarthy was known to fans of The WB's Gilmore Girls as lovable chef Sookie St. James and later as Molly Flynn on CBS' Mike & Molly. A cousin of actress Jenny McCarthy, the first-time Oscar nominee, 41, is developing a plus size clothing line when she's not working on her next projects, which include Judd Apatow's Knocked Up spinoff and a half-hour CBS comedy with husband Ben Falcone.
JANET MCTEER, ALBERT NOBBS Personally sought out by Glenn Close to appear in the gender-switching drama, British actress McTeer somewhat upstaged Close with her performance as timid butler Hubert. "I was trying to find an actress who didn't have an instantly recognizable face from film," Close has said of the 6-foot-1 Tony-nominated Mary Stuart actress, 50. "I thought of Janet -- and thought that her height would be fantastic." Though she once denounced the hoopla surrounding the Oscars as "silly," McTeer now appreciates the notoriety Nobbs has afforded her. "I think [my nomination is] hugely flattering. It's a great honor and it does a huge amount for the film," she has said.
OCTAVIA SPENCER, THE HELP Winning a Golden Globe for her touching portrayal of maid Minny Jackson in The Help, Spencer previously appeared as Constance Grady on Ugly Betty. Initially planning to pursue a career in film casting, Spencer, 39, credits Sandra Bullock with helping give her her big break. "She wasn't meant to have more than a few lines in [my] short film [Making Sandwiches], but as everyone will soon find out, you don't just give Octavia Spencer 'a few lines,'" Bullock has said. "The minute she opens her mouth, she makes a meal out of every word. And once we saw what she could do, we kept on giving her more to say."