On March 4, winners will be crowned at the 90th Academy Awards. But before the red carpet is rolled out and envelopes are opened, we’ve got inside intel on the nominees. Below, read about the contenders for Best Actor, and come back to throughout the week for spotlights on the other major categories.

Timothée Chalamet

Starring In: Call Me By Your Name
Age: 22
Oscar Past: 0 nominations; 0 wins
Role Call: Elio Perlman, a curious teenager who falls for his father’s assistant during a steamy summer in Italy

He’s the youngest Best Actor nominee in 78 years, but Timothée Chalamet’s performance in Call Me by Your Name pulses with refined maturity. Much as his character falls for an older man (Armie Hammer), Chalamet spent a summer in Italy getting intimate with James Ivory’s screenplay. “Because I was there for three months, [the script] felt like a person,” he says. “The experience that’s on screen up until [the end] is what I’d just gone through.” As such, he was able to approach Elio’s first love (and heartbreak) with the same intensity and confidence that gives the coming-of-age film its soul. “[It was] a wonderful mix of character and actor at the right time in his life,” says Michael Stuhlbarg, Chalamet’s onscreen dad. Despite the heat of the love story, it’s how Elio chooses to deal with loss that gives the film its power. In a final scene with his father, Elio weighs whether the pain of lost love has been worth it. “To feel nothing so as not to feel anything?” the patriarch tells his son. “What a waste.” In Chalamet’s hands, we feel it all. — Joey Nolfi

Daniel Day-Lewis

Credit: Laurie Sparham / Focus Features

Starring In: Phantom Thread
Age: 60
Oscar Past: 5 nominations; 3 wins
Role Call: Reynolds Woodcock, a meticulous and finicky fashion designer for the rich and famous in 1950s London

Reynolds Woodcock makes his dresses as much as they make him. After one of his collections is completed and out the door of his townhouse, he’s overcome with a great sadness, as if sorrow were the only thing that could adequately fill the void left by his garments. He tells his new muse, Alma (Vicky Krieps), that as a boy he sewed messages and objects into the lining of his outfits, things only he would ever know about. It’s safe to assume that Daniel Day-Lewis did the same with his character and the story, which he helped conceive with writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. “Rather than go away and write a script and try to impress him,” Anderson says, “I was collaborating with him each step of the way, which was very helpful.” If Phantom Thread is indeed Day-Lewis’ final screen role, as he says it is, he has left us with something custom, one-of-a-kind, and flawless. — Kevin P. Sullivan

Daniel Kaluuya

Starring In: Get Out
Age: 28
Oscar Past: 0 nomination; 0 wins
Role Call: Photographer Chris Washington, whose weekend visit to his girlfriend’s family goes horrifyingly awry

Long before matters take a phantasmagorically terrifying turn in Jordan Peele’s racially charged horror comedy, Daniel Kaluuya’s character, Chris, endures an array of all-too-believable indignities at the hands of his white girlfriend’s seemingly liberal family and their well-heeled friends. “There were certain scenes when you were toeing a thin line,” Kaluuya (Sicario) says. “Because Chris wants to be a good boyfriend, and a good guest—but they are saying some very crazy stuff. You didn’t want the black audience to go, ‘Oh, he’s a sellout. He’s not speaking up.’ ” Kaluuya’s winning, shaded portrayal has earned wide acclaim from a variety of quarters. “I’m a bit of a walking therapy session,” the British actor says. “A lot of guys go, ‘Yeah, I’ve lived that.’ Black women come up and hug me. It’s nice to be a part of something that people are invested in.” Who knew the sunken place would lead to such heights? — Clark Collis

Gary Oldman

Starring In: Darkest Hour
Age: 59
Oscar Past: 1 nomination; 0 wins
Role Call: Newly appointed prime minister Winston Churchill in the early days of WWII, wrestling with the decision of whether to negotiate with Hitler or keep fighting

Darkest Hour illustrates just how close the world came to a cataclysmic reality if it hadn’t been for Winston Churchill, who refused to surrender to Germany in 1940 even as the remains of his country’s demoralized army lay trapped on a French beach. “It’s sort of incredulous to say it all changed because of one man, but really, he was responsible for saving Western civilization,” Gary Oldman says. The actor spent more than three hours a day in the makeup chair, but he discovered the real essence of Churchill while studying wartime newsreels. “He’s always been represented as this curmudgeon, [but I saw him] as mischievous and cheeky,” Oldman says. “I saw someone who was dynamic, energetic, with a naughty grin on his lips and a twinkle in the eye.” Playing Churchill was such a fulfilling experience that Oldman says he’s ready to do it again. “I wouldn’t mind another crack at it in a different time period,” he says. “They do it all the time in those Marvel movies, don’t they?” A treatment worthy of a real-life superhero. — Sara Vilkomerson

Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington stars in ROMAN J. ISRAEL, ESQ.
Credit: Columbia Pictures

Starring In: Roman J. Israel, Esq.
Age: 63
Oscar Past: 8 nominations; 2 wins
Role Call: Roman J. Israel, an idealistic attorney who’s dedicated his life to fighting for truth and justice

It’s an understatement to call Roman J. Israel, Esq. a Denzel Washington movie. “I wrote it with him in mind,” writer-director Dan Gilroy explains. “In fact, had Denzel not done it, I wouldn’t have done the film.” Lucky for Gilroy, Washington had an instant fascination with the titular defense attorney, an awkward misfit who struggles with social cues but is a fierce champion of civil rights. The actor threw himself into preparation, researching the autism spectrum and gaining more than 30 pounds to portray the aging crusader. But Washington especially zeroed in on the idea of Roman as a person stuck in time, still obsessed with the activism of the ’60s and ’70s. That meant donning an Afro and immersing himself in the greatest hits of the 1970s. “He comes at things as a director,” Gilroy says, “and his instincts are so invariably right and strong.” A third Oscar would leave no doubt. — Devan Coggan

Call Me by Your Name
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