The East Terrace
Azam in shock contention for Oscar
January 30, 2009
Azam's performance has been compared to the work of some of greats of the acting workd © Getty Images
Gloucester hooker Oliver Azam has shocked the entertainment and rugby industries by being nominated for an Oscar at the 2009 Academy Awards.
It is the first time a professional rugby player has been short-listed for one of the prestigious Hollywood gongs.
Azam has been placed as a contender in the 'Best Actor in a Supporting Role' category after his sterling performance in the Gloucester v Cardiff European Cup game on the January 18, 2009. The main reason for his selection was his intense portrayal - during the 27th minute of the match - of a man suffering a heavy blow to the head. Despite a less than convincing performance from fellow rugby professional Tom James of Cardiff (who was supposed to give Azam a hefty smash to the head), the Oscar judges were moved by Azam's 'physical expressiveness, and emotional vulnerability'.
A spokesman for the Academy Awards said of Azam's European Cup display: "It was so believable. The manner in which he responded to the actions of Tom James was pure genius. I've rarely seen the like in sport, let alone rugby. When I saw the DVD release of the game and got to watch it more closely, well, I was stunned into silence.
"When you see a performance of that calibre, something of that standard, well, you'll believe a man can fly. From the very faintest of contact with Tom James, Azam was able to produce a reaction on a level to that of a man who has just been thrown into the path of an express train."
Whilst Azam has represented his native France on ten occasions at Test level, the Oscar nomination will surely be considered the highlight of his career.
"It's amazing to see my work getting international recognition," said the thirty-four year-old hooker. "Not only is my work getting noticed, but I feel also it is an award for the work of other rugby players who have tried to introduce the acting culture into rugby. I feel quite humble, actually, to be the first rugby player to get an acting nomination. I can't believe I'm getting this chance to make history. If I get this award, I'll dedicate it to all the others who are doing their best to bring the acting culture into rugby union."
Asked for his influences for his theatrical style, the former Montferrand hooker replied, "Well, it may seem obvious, but I'm inspired by those who are able to show a full range of emotions. In particular, I admire those who can portray extremes of emotional and physical pain. I'm thinking Mel Gibson, Paul Newman, you know, the classic actors."
Whilst industry insiders doubt that Azam will actually claim the Oscar (the deceased Heath Ledger is the favorite for his performance of supervillan The Joker in Christopher Nolan's 'Dark Knight') they point out that Azam has 'huge potential' for future glories.
"Anyone who can produce such a display should be watched closely in the future," said Richard Noakes, a top film critic from Los Angeles. "Not only does Azam bring top quality acting to the table, he can even do all his own stunts.That kind of ability can reap all sorts of rewards in Hollywood."
However, not all of the rugby world is thrilled by the Oscar nomination for Azam. Senior members of rugby's famed 'Front Row Union' are calling an emergency meeting to debate whether or not the French hooker's acting should get him thrown out of the sacred institution.
"There's no place in the front-row for actors," said one Front Row Union committeeman. "In my day we had no truck for that sort of behaviour. The kind of hookers that go down like Azam did aren't the kind of hookers who should be wearing a number two jersey on a rugby field. Rather they should be hanging around seedy city suburbs under street lights, if you get my point."
James Stafford is editor of The East Terrace (theeastterrace.com) - an offside view of life in the rugby world