For the first time in Oscar history, two actors with ties to the Twin Cities are in matching races at Sunday night's 90th ceremony (airing at 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC).
Illinois State University theater alumna Laurie Metcalf is nominated in the Best Supporting Actress category for "Lady Bird," while Illinois Wesleyan University alum Richard Jenkins is up for the award in the Best Supporting Actor column for "The Shape of Water."
On top of the B-N connection, both actors are Illinois natives, hailing from either end of the state.
To refresh your memories before Sunday night's big party, we've come up with this handy guide to each actor's career ... which, until the awards season at hand, had never intersected before.
Jenkins was born May 4, 1947, in DeKalb, making him Metcalf's senior at 70.
Metcalf was born June 16, 1955, in Carbondale (she grew up in Edwardsville), making her Jenkins' junior at 62.
Road to B-N
Jenkins arrived at IWU in 1965 as an uncertain drama major (i.e., "I came to IWU as a drama major, with no experience, no set goal. I actually transferred out one semester, then came back," he recalled in a 1999 GO! interview)
Metcalf arrived at ISU in 1972 as a theater major who seemed fairly certain of her goals from the get-go ("I don’t know if ISU helped me become what I am, but I know that if I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t be what I am today," she once said).
Jenkins said (in a recent GO! interview) his turning point came attending a showing of the Michael Caine movie "Alfie," circa 1966, at Bloomington's long-gone Irvin Theater ("I was still not sure that acting was what I wanted to do ... was it even possible? Then I saw Caine as 'Alfie' ... and I thought, my god, if I could do anything like that! It moved me so much, and I connected with him. It came along when I really needed it."
Metcalf had both good theater genes (her great-aunt was Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Zoe Akins) and the good sense and/or fortune to enroll at ISU a like-minded pack of hungry actors who, almost en masse, would go on to fame and even fortune ... among them, classmates John Malkovich, Gary Cole, Joan Allen, Terry Kinney, Moira Harris, Rondi Reed, Tom Irwin and, most fatefully, Jeff Perry (stay tuned for further explanation).
From the mentors
Jenkins' mentor at IWU from 1965-69 was John Ficca, then a professor of theater arts, who fingered the silent loner sitting in his acting class, apparently keeping all revealing thoughts and feelings bottled up. Ficca summoned the silent loner to his office and put him on the spot, inquiring why he didn't audition for roles or participate in class.
"I don't know how," Jenkins recalled answering. "And he kind of said if I wanted to do this, I'd have to participate." Advice heeded, life changed.
"He was great to me," Jenkins said in more than one GO! interview over the years.
Metcalf's mentors were varied at ISU, but among the most formidable was the late Jean Scharfenberg, the school's Mother Superior of acting who was known to strike terror into the heart of young acting students who didn't measure up to her formidable, exacting standards.
Sample, from a 1990 GO! interview conducted at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, which Metcalf helped found after her 1976 ISU graduation and where her old mentor had been hired to teach a summer acting class.
Of Metcalf: "Marvelous ... outrageous ... but what a waste she is in 'Rosanne,' Scharfenberg said of her former student, who would go on to win Emmy Awards three years in a row (1992-4) while being "wasted" on that same series (as Roseanne's sister, Jackie Harris).
Where they hung
Jenkins, in various GO! interviews over the years, conjured up fond memories of "hanging out at the Lucca Grill," not to mention the long-gone Brandtville restaurant off Veterans Parkway on the south side, and, during summer, lounging around to cool waters of Lake Bloomington, "having a ball ... a great time."
Metcalf was all over both B-N, too, spending a chunk of her summers performing with the Miller Park Summer Theatre program, al fresco on the park bandstand, along with several of her other future stars.
One of them was Lincoln native Terry Kinney, with whom she appeared in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" in the summer of ’75 ... not to great critical acclaim, alas ("Laurie Metcalf as Philia, a virgin from Crete, plays the role well ... though she doesn't have the strongest voice to be heard above the accompaniment of the Bloomington Municipal Band," complained The Pantagraph's reviewer).
Ties that bind
Jenkins has the happiest story ever after: He met his future future wife, Sharon, on campus, and on stage.
"We were just college kids having a great time ... she was a dance student and choreographer, and we did some (IWU) summer stock together. She didn't pay any attention to me at first, but we eventually fell in love," he recalls. "We were both just 22 when we married."
A half-century later, the love and the marriage are intact. (Daughter Sarah was an IWU theater major from 1993-97).
Metcalf's ties-binding story has a less happy ending. She and ISU classmate Jeff Perry went on to help found Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater, then, in 1983, after a prolonged courtship, they tied the knot.
In 1992, they untied it. The byproduct of that union was a daughter, Zoe Perry, who grew up to be an actress in her own right, currently playing Mary Cooper on CBS's "Young Sheldon" ... the role Metcalf created, grown-up, on "The Big Bang Theory" years earlier.
Jenkins landed an apprenticeship with the Trinity Repertory Theater in Providence, R.I., circa the mid 1970s, where he remained for the next 13 years. He would eventually serve a four-year tenure (1990-94) as the theater's artistic director, and maintains his ties to this day.
Metcalf segued from ISU to the Chicago theater scene, where she and her fellow ISU alums formed the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in a Unitarian church basement in Deerfield before evolving it into the standard-bearer of Chicago's theater scene for the past four decades.
Into the big-time
Jenkins' entry into the big-time had to wait until he was nearly 40, with character roles in high-profile box office film hits like "Silverado" (1985, his film debut with old roommate Kevin Kline), "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Witches of Eastwick" and "Sea of Love."
Metcalf's segue into high-profile movies began practically day-and-date with Jenkins', in 1985's "Making Mr. Right," followed by "Desperately Seeking Susan," "Uncle Buck" and "Internal Affairs." But what made her a household name was her first foray into series TV, playing Jackie Harris, sister of "Roseanne," from 1988-97 (with the series' much-heralded re-boot scheduled to return later this month on ABC).