Oscar Rewind: The Acceptance Speech That Spawned Another Movie | Modern Society of USA

Oscar Rewind: The Acceptance Speech That Spawned Another Movie

Oscar Rewind: The Acceptance Speech That Spawned Another Movie

You won’t find many people in Hollywood who say they’re happy that Daniel Day-Lewis declined to do their project, but that happened with “Philadelphia,” the Oscar-winning AIDS drama that 25 years ago led to one of the most memorable acceptance speeches in academy history.

“We were making a really serious drama, and Daniel brings that kind of weight,” the film’s screenwriter, Ron Nyswaner, recalled in a recent phone interview. But the esteemed British actor turned down the role of Andrew Beckett, a stricken gay lawyer who sues his firm for firing him, in the director Jonathan Demme’s drama.

“Then Tom Hanks presented himself,” Nyswaner continued, “and it was Jonathan’s genius to see that Tom would bring that lighter touch and that invitation for the audience to come along for the ride.”

That they did. The movie grossed more than $200 million worldwide, and Hanks, who won best actor at the 1994 Academy Awards (the first of his two Oscars), tearfully thanked his wife, Rita Wilson and his co-workers on “Philadelphia.” Then he shined a spotlight on two private citizens.

“I would not be standing here if it weren’t for two very important men in my life,” he began and continued later, “Mr. Rawley Farnsworth, who was my high school drama teacher, who taught me that ‘act well the part, there all the glory lies,’ and one of my classmates under Mr. Farnsworth, Mr. John Gilkerson. I mention their names because they are two of the finest gay Americans, two wonderful men that I had the good fortune to be associated with, to fall under their inspiration at such a young age.” He went on to eulogize AIDS victims like Gilkerson, a San Francisco actor and puppeteer who died in 1989: “The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels.”

In any case, Hanks’s performance in the film — and at the Oscars — had a lasting impact. “It’s the kind of thing that helped normalize gay people and people with AIDS with the broader public,” said Arnold Wayne Jones, author of “The Envelope, Please: The Ultimate Academy Awards Trivia Book.” He added, “These things make a difference.”

They still do. “I have spent the last 25 years being approached by people who have said to me, ‘Thank you — your movie changed my life,’” said Nyswaner, who has been writing for cable dramas in recent years. “Last year on the set of ‘Homeland,’ a production assistant from Egypt walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, I just have to tell you that because of watching your movie when I was 14, I realized who I was.’ So I know ‘Philadelphia’ has positively affected people’s lives.”

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