Not everyone was lamenting the absence of Ridley Scott from the list of five Oscar nominations for Best Director. After all, Scott’s snub, if you want to call it that, opened the door for Room‘s director Lenny Abrahamson, the only nominee who had not also received a crucial Director’s Guild of America nomination.
Room, the heralded drama starring Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay as a mother and son held captive and eventually liberated from a tiny shed, had also been left off the Producer’s Guild nominations list, so Abrahamson and his team couldn’t help but be surprised when Room received four nominations, including nods for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Emma Donoghue.
Abrahamson spoke to EW from his Dublin office, where he was taking in well-wishes before heading out to the local pub for a celebratory pint. Or two.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After the Producer’s Guild snub of Room, were you at all prepared for this?
LENNY ABRAHAMSON: Not at all. This came down to some people who watched the film and really loved it and cared about it. I had read all of the punditry, which I really believed. I had dampened everybody’s expectations here. I’d convinced everybody around me that, “Hey, forget about me getting a nomination, for sure. Let’s probably forget about Best Picture too and concentrate on Brie and [screenwriter] Emma Donoghue, which would be amazing anyway.” Particularly Brie, because we knew that would be the only lock. So to get four big nominations is amazing.
Were you watching the nominations live?
I watched it streaming online. I was at home. Everybody else was at the office in Dublin and there were a crew that had come from the news. And I just couldn’t take it. I wanted to be at home, sitting quietly. So I sat there with a cup of tea and pretended to do some emails as if I was just half listening to it. I was delighted when Emma was called and when Brie was called, but absolutely flummoxed and flabbergasted and all those words when I heard my name. It’s wonderful that not everything in life is so predictable.
Jacob Tremblay, your 9-year-old star of Room, was overlooked. But do you think that by honoring you and Brie, the Academy also honored him?
Yeah, I would agree. But everyone needs to know that none of this would be remotely possible unless Jake wasn’t so prodigiously brilliant. And so I salute him and I would have loved to have seen him nominated. Who knows, for his own sake, maybe it helps a little bit not to have that intense a spotlight at such a young age. But there’s just no way I’d ever be talking to you if it wasn’t for him.
What’s so impressive about Room is the powerful way in which you handle extremely difficult material. Considering that the novel is inspired somewhat by the grotesque Josef Fritzl case, that’s an accomplishment.
That’s what really got me as a reader and potential filmmaker. I approached the book with trepidation. But because the story is told through the little boy and because he’s so protected by his mother, what you get is this wondrous voice as opposed to the grim horror perspective on the story. And as a director and as a father, I wanted to tell a universal story about parenting and childhood, which has a deeply uplifting meaning.
And you managed to keep the child’s point of view while also making a film about the mother.
What I think is great is that we’ve managed to achieve that balance in the film. For Jack, the room is beautiful and wonderful and full of interesting stuff, but as soon as you look at it you see how small and murky it is. And you can’t not see that. But we found a way of communicating that wonderful feeling and giving the audience a sense of the childhood version of this place.
Can you remember back, five years ago, when you wrote that letter to Emma Donoghue?
That’s probably the most satisfying thing of all. We started from zero. We didn’t feel like we had much of a chance but myself and [producer] Ed Guiney did our utmost to convince Emma that we were the people to take this novel to the screen. First of all, to just get her to say yes was a huge effort, and then to make it and make it right. For all of those things to go, it’s really, really, really satisfying.