On Feb. 24, winners will be crowned at the 91st Academy Awards. But before the red carpet is rolled out and envelopes are opened, Entertainment Weekly has inside intel on the 2019 nominees. Keep checking back at this week for spotlights on contenders in all the major categories.

Viggo Mortensen
Starring in: Green Book
Age: 60
Oscar Past: 2 Noms, 0 Wins
Role Call: Real-life nightclub bouncer Tony Lip, hired to drive and protect black pianist Don Shirley on a tour across the Southern states

Tony Vallelonga (a.k.a. Tony Lip) could have easily come across cartoonish. Viggo Mortensen’s lumbering character is a brash, Italian-American scammer with an enormous appetite (one so massive that at one point he folds an entire pizza in half to devour it) and a penchant for solving problems using his fists. Even Mortensen himself wasn’t sure he could do it. “I was worried about doing a caricature,” he admits. “I was thinking, ‘Yeah, I don’t know how this is going to go.’”

He needn’t have fretted: In the film, Mortensen brings a heartfelt openness to Tony as he begins to understand his employer, the refined pianist Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). It’s all thanks to Ali being the right scene partner, Mortensen says. “Chemistry’s a mysterious thing, you either have it or you don’t,” he explains. “[Our characters] have different rhythms, and it just worked.”

Mortensen has had a strong presence in the awards race so far (he scored a Golden Globe nod and is up for a BAFTA), though he and the film have stumbled during the campaign leading up to the Oscar nominations. He apologized in early November for using the N-word in a post-screening Q&A, while the film has been under fire from critics for perpetuating racial stereotypes and the “white savior” trope, and from members of Shirley’s family, who called the film “100% wrong” in its portrayal of the late musician.

If Mortensen wins, it’ll be his first Oscar after two previous nominations in the Best Actor category: the first in 2008, for Eastern Promises, the second in 2017, for Captain Fantastic.

For more on the nominees, pick up this week’s Entertainment Weekly, available on stands Friday.

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Green Book (2018 movie)
In a world that seems to get uglier every day, this movie's gentle heart and mere humanity feel like a salve.
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