Why was Marisa Tomei nominated for "Best Actress in a Supporting Role" rather than for "Best Actress" (Academy Awards, of course) in My Cousin Vinny?

That is, given Lead actor/actress VS Supporting actor/actress, what were the studio's reasons? (Or maybe there was some Academy rule involved?)

1 Answer 1


According to Wikipedia, a supporting actor/actress performs a role in a play or a film that "supports" the lead actor/actress.

These range from minor roles to principal players and are often pivotal or vital to the story as in a best friend, love interest, sidekick (such as Robin in the Batman series), or antagonist (such as the villain). They are sometimes but not necessarily character roles.

The film was titled My Cousin Vinny. The plot of the film focused on Vinny with Marisa Tomei's character, Mona Lisa Vito portraying his love interest.

It is a process that is decided by the voting members of the Academy, according to this article:

Ultimately, it's up to voting members of the branch of the Academy to determine if an actor or actress has a lead or supporting role while they are casting their votes, which is why studios try to influence the voting beforehand with the campaigns.

The studio behind the movie does mount their own campaign for a particular actor or actress in either a lead or supporting role.

There has been controversy with other actors and actresses in regards to what constitutes a lead or supporting role.

  • Timing on screen isn't everything when voters cast their ballots. For example, Anthony Hopkins won the Academy Award for Best Actor in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), yet his character was only on screen for about fifteen minutes of the film.

  • Rooney Mara was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 2015's Carol, though she had a comparable amount of screentime to Cate Blanchett, who was nominated for Best Actress for the same film. Critics argued that The Weinstein Company, which launched campaigns for the actresses, made the distinction because it did not want Blanchett and Mara competing with each other in the same category.

There was also controversy surrounding Marisa Tomei's Oscar win, which unfortunately overshadowed her terrific performance and well-deserved Best Supporting Oscar win.

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    And Christoph Waltz who won Support in Django when in fact entire movie revolved mostly around him.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 11:52
  • The "controversy" doesn't matter - that's something that happened long after nomination. Otherwise - this is all fine, but what is the "support" here - given that there are also films with two leads - male and female. Imagine the film without her character as it was - My Cousin Vinny Alone in Alabama or My Cousin Vinny And His Wife. It wouldn't at all have been the same, might not even be worth watching. So, yes, "love interest", but much more than supporting, no? Would the studio not even have thought of it?
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 15:12
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    @davidbak I understand that the controversy doesn't matter. I added that knowing that someone would probably put it in the comments. Also, are you asking me a question or making a general statement? If you're directing a question at me, I am sorry to say that I am not a studio head, therefore, I don't know the answer to your question. Yes, she totally stole that movie from Joe Pesci. I agree. That's my opinion, though. Per my answer, the studio makes the decision how to promote actors. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 16:11
  • @steelersquirrel - yeah that was more a comment in general - I felt it was inappropriate in the question itself so I had to put my 2 cents in somewhere ... Having just rewatched My Cousin Vinny I was thinking about the story of Gregory Peck telling his producers that Audrey Hepburn needed above-the-title billing in Roman Holiday 'cause she was surely going to win the Oscar ...
    – davidbak
    Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 23:26
  • @davidbak How interesting! I had not heard that about Gregory Peck/Audrey Hepburn before! Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 2:44

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