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Does an actor have to win an Oscar to be 'great'?

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For any actor or actress, an Academy Award nomination is a career-defining achievement. Forever forward, Vera Farmiga will be introduced as “Academy-Award-nominated actress Vera Farmiga.” (Until she wins one, of course.) Recognized actors often insist it’s the nomination, not necessarily who wins the Oscar, that is the true honor. After all, the best performance, whatever that might mean, doesn’t always win.

But I wonder if they really mean it. Put another way, whose career would an aspiring actor prefer: Kevin Spacey’s or Peter O’Toole’s? Both are supremely accomplished, but with at least one notable difference. Two actually. Spacey has two Academy Awards for acting (The Usual Suspects, American Beauty), while O’Toole has none*. But O’Toole has been nominated eight times, six more than Spacey. O’Toole’s career is certainly lengthier and it includes one of the most iconic roles in all of cinema (Lawrence of Arabia). Spacey is a superb character actor who proved himself equally adept as a leading man. Eight acting nominations might tip the scales towards O’Toole, but the Irish actor never experienced the thrill of rushing onstage to seize the trophy, to thank his loved ones in front of millions of people, to have that moment when the whole world is listening. For an actor, I assume that moment is something special. So I’m truly curious how other actors would answer this question. Would Peter O’Toole swap five of his nominations for one of Kevin Spacey’s Oscars?

For now, I’ll settle for you, my fellow laypeople. Whose acting career would you prefer? How do you measure acting greatness?

* O’Toole was presented with an honorary award at the 2003 Oscar ceremony.

Photo Credit: Spacey: Wild1/PR Photos; O’Toole: Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos