TIME movies

J. K. Simmons Will Be Only the Latest Villain to Triumph as a Best Supporting Actor

From Javier Bardem to Joe Pesci, evil wins at Oscar time

Veteran actor J. K. Simmons is considered the overwhelming favorite for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar this year for his performance as abusive jazz teacher Terrence Fletcher in Whiplash, and it’s thanks to a confluence of factors. Simmons, who’s been in everything from TV’s Oz to Spider-Man to M&Ms commercials, is widely respected among the acting community; his performance in Whiplash is very strong and he’s spent a lot of time promoting it. But one factor elevates him, perhaps, above the rest: He’s a villain.

The Oscars’ Best Supporting Actor category has lately been susceptible to the charms of a well-drawn nemesis. For three years running at the end of the last decade, trophies went to Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight, and Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Each of these performances were so exultantly evil as to practically necessitate mustache-twirling, and Simmons’s, with its flagrant verbal abuse, is much the same.

Of course, it’s been five years since the streak of villains in this category came to a temporary end; the intervening years saw Christian Bale win for The Fighter, Christopher Plummer for Beginners, Christoph Waltz again for Django Unchained, and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club. But these performances help show us why Oscar’s villains tend to triumph. With the exception of Bale’s character, who suffers only semi-nobly, all of the past four winners are as uncomplicatedly good as the three who preceded them are uncomplicatedly evil. Not just any villain can take the trophy: Last year saw Leto, playing a near-saint, defeating Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips and Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave, both of whom played their films’ principal antagonists. Both Abdi’s and Fassbender’s performances were uncomfortably real. Abdi’s performance as a Somali pirate was informed by what we understood to be his character’s real-life poverty. Fassbender’s was informed by something that looked too much like madness.

It’s easier to honor a villain when he is charming or cinematically unrealistic. Ledger, Waltz, and now Simmons all played characters whose allure lay in their way with words, drawing viewers in even as they committed emotional, or real, violence. It was a playbook followed by past winners including the murderous Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and the mendacious Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects. As for Bardem’s character, his violence was so outlandishly beyond what we could comprehend, much like Simmons’s verbal abuse, that it didn’t feel like voters were rewarding a sort of evil that could exist in the real world.

Perhaps the only surprise to Simmons’s win is that his type of character doesn’t triumph yet more frequently. After all, a villain role allows a competent actor juicier lines and a thicker air of mystery than anything else on film; it also, no matter how much screentime the actor actually gets, puts him on equal footing with the hero. The award may be for a “supporting” actor, but villains steal the show.

TIME movies

The Imitation Game Director Explains Why the Movie Didn’t Stick to History

The Oscar-nominated director responds to critics who say he changed history

The Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum is still surprised by how little he knew about the movie’s subject, Alan Turing, before taking on the project. “It’s sort of like if Albert Einstein was a little-known mathematician,” he says. “Alan Turing was one of the most important individuals in the last century, and he’d sort of been living in the shadows of history far too long. I think it’s impossible to not be fascinated or intrigued or outraged when you hear the story for the first time.”

Though The Imitation Game (like other some of the other biopics that stand a chance to win an Oscar this weekend) has come under fire for historical inaccuracies and not delving deeply enough into Alan Turing’s sexuality, the Oscar-nominated director says that emotional accuracy was very important to him while making the film. Though he left some of the best odd details he learned about Turing out of the film—”He was allergic to pollen, so he used to wear a gasmask sometimes in meetings without telling anybody why,” for example—Tyldum says the overall arc of the film is true to Turing’s life.

He spoke with TIME about the true story of Turing’s sexuality, suicide and odd habits.

TIME: How much do you think historical accuracy matters in a biopic?

Morten Tyldum: I think it matters a lot. It’s a huge responsibility when you’re dealing with real-life persons and real-life events to do it accurately. Of course, you have to compress a lot into two hours, and there’s no way you can be totally accurate. You have to convey the emotional accuracy—how did Alan Turing feel at this time?—and to do that, you sort of have to dramatize events.

That’s why I wanted it to feel like a thriller. He was 27 years old when he came to Bletchley [Park, where the code-breakers worked]. Here was this man plucked straight out of Cambridge. And he ends up with all these incredible secrets being dumped on his shoulders and all this incredible pressure. It would be as if he was living in the middle of this wartime spy thriller, so that’s what we wanted to convey.

One thing people have been saying is it’s not accurate that the machine he built was named Christopher. Here’s the fact though: The machine was inspired by Christopher. We know this because he wrote letters to Christopher’s mom his whole life. We know that from his journals, his obsession about recreating a consciousness that he lost—Christopher. How do we communicate that onscreen without making it a lecture? By naming the machine Christopher.

Could you talk a little bit about the effort that went into re-creating all the details in the computer?

It’s based on the machine he built. It’s this incredible design with all of these colorful dials in red and yellow—that’s how it was. We also wanted to emphasize that it was more than a machine for Alan. So we added all this red cabling that was sort of like the blood veins of something that is alive.

Turing eventually went through chemical castration and then committed suicide. Do you know what happened to the other men prosecuted under this law?

I think prison was more common than chemical castration. What I do know is that this law had a huge impact on many male lives. I got a very touching email from a 92-year-old man who said, ‘I was wrongfully convicted by the same law as Alan Turing when I was young and thank you for shedding a light on this. I watched your movie in tears.’

Fifty thousand men are still alive who were prosecuted under this law. This law existed up until 1967. Can you imagine? And it was only for men, not women. It was known as the blackmail law because people had something on you they could use against you. That’s why the campaign is going on that all the 50,000 men who have been convicted should all be pardoned. Because there’s nothing to forgive, nothing to pardon. They never did anything wrong.

Why did you decide not to show Alan Turing’s suicide?

We shot Benedict being dead, and in many ways it felt melodramatic and unnecessary. To me, it’s all about his relationship to Christopher. So him turning off the light on the machine and saying goodbye to Christopher, then the movie is over.

At first, we were fascinated by the apple. Alan killed himself by taking a bite of this cyanide apple, and the rumor was that that’s where the Apple logo came from. It was this great link from the inventor of computer science to this device we all carry around in our pockets now. I shot the apple and Benedict lying there and all that. But the whole thing turned into a sort of Apple commercial. The other thing is, it turns out it’s not really true. Steve Jobs said he wished Alan Turing had been the inspiration for the Apple logo, but it was a coincidence.

The apple did come from Alan Turing’s fascination with Snow White, which we tried to get in but there wasn’t room for it. It was too hard to explain. The true story is actually that he watched Snow White when he was waiting for the interview with Commander Denniston at Bletchley Park—the one that you see in the beginning of the film. He took the train from London, and he was early and went to the village cinema to see a movie while he was waiting. He saw Snow White, and from then on, he was a little obsessed with the story of Snow White. That’s why he decided to kill himself with the bite of an apple—which is in many ways poetic, but it felt like too much to explain.

I wanted to show the last night they had together, which is also a true story, they made this huge bonfire and burned everything. I wanted to go from his goodbye to Christopher to that ending with the fire. It just felt right.

Read next: Benedict Cumberbatch Talks About Playing the Role of the Genius

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME movies

The Imitation Game Director Morten Tyldum: We Didn’t Need Gay Sex Scenes

"It’s kind of prejudiced to say that if you have a gay character in a movie, you need to show explicit gay sex," says the Oscar-nominated director

Few knew who Norwegian director Morten Tyldum was before he took on the Alan Turing biopic, The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. But the film about the inventor of computer science, who broke the Nazi code and helped win World War II, has earned Tyldum a Oscar nomination for best director (along with nods for Cumberbatch, Knightley and Best Picture). Even if Tyldum doesn’t win, his star is on the rise: He’s set to film a space romance called Passengers next with Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence in talks to star.

Still, The Imitation Game — like every other biopic this Oscar season — hasn’t been without controversy. Tyldum talks his decisions not to delve deeper into Turing’s sexuality and not show his suicide with TIME.

How much did you know about Alan Turing before the film?

I’ve always been interested in history, so it shocked me when I read the script how little I knew about Turing. It’s sort of like if Albert Einstein was a little-known mathematician. Alan Turing was one of the most important individuals in the last century, and he’d been living in the shadows of history far too long. I think it’s impossible to not be fascinated or intrigued or outraged when you hear the story for the first time.

How much do you think historical accuracy matters in a biopic?

I think it matters a lot. It’s a huge responsibility when you’re dealing with real-life persons and real-life events to do it accurately. Of course, you have to compress a lot into two hours, and there’s no way you can be totally accurate. You have to convey the emotional accuracy—how did Alan Turing feel at this time?—and to do that, you sort of have to dramatize events.

That’s why I wanted it to feel like a thriller. He was 27 years old when he came to Bletchley. Here was this man plucked straight out of Cambridge. And he ends up with all these incredible secrets being dumped on his shoulders and all this incredible pressure. It would be as if he was living in the middle of this wartime spy thriller, so that’s what we wanted to convey.

One criticism of the film has been that you didn’t delve deeply enough into Alan Turing’s sexuality.

First of all, it’s very accurate the way it is in the film. His words about his time at Bletchley, he called it a sexual desert—he wrote that in a letter to a friend. He didn’t have any sexual encounters during all that time. His most important relationship he had was his relationship with Joan. They were engaged for six months. He even wanted children with her at that time.

We’re not shying away from Alan being gay. To me, the movie is about lost love, unfulfilled love. The computer came out of the loss of Christopher and the idea to try to recreate a consciousness. To create another love interest for him would be completely meaningless and also not true. It would be sort of like having a random, unnecessary sex scene with him and another man. You would never do that, even with a straight character. It’s kind of prejudiced to say that if you have a gay character in a movie, you need to show explicit gay sex.

Why did you decide not to show Alan Turing’s suicide?

We shot Benedict being dead, and in many ways it felt melodramatic and unnecessary. To me, it’s all about his relationship to Christopher. So him turning off the light on the machine and saying goodbye to Christopher, then the movie is over.

At first, we were fascinated by the apple. Alan killed himself by taking a bite of this cyanide apple, and the rumor was that that’s where the Apple logo came from. It was this great link from the inventor of computer science to this device we all carry around in our pockets now. But I shot the apple and Benedict lying there and all that. But the whole thing turned into a sort of Apple commercial. The other thing is, it turns out it’s not really true. Steve Jobs said he wished Alan Turing had been the inspiration for the Apple logo, but it was a coincidence.

The apple did come from Alan Turing’s fascination with Snow White, which we tried to get in but there wasn’t room for it. It was too hard to explain. The true story is actually that he watched Snow White when he was waiting for the interview with Commander Denniston at Bletchley Park—the one that you see in the beginning of the film. He took the train from London, and he was early and went to the village cinema to see a movie while he was waiting. He saw Snow White, and from then on, he was a little obsessed with the story of Snow White. That’s why he decided to kill himself with the bite of an apple—which is in many ways poetic, but it felt like too much to explain.

I wanted to show the last night they had together, which is also a true story, they made this huge bonfire and burned everything. I wanted to go from his goodbye to Christopher to that ending with the fire. It just felt right.

Benedict Cumberbatch seems like a very charismatic person, but he was playing this characters who was a bit socially awkward.

We don’t think he had autism. Some people believed that at the time because he had some of the traits. But when you see his writing, he’s very insightful when he writes about himself and his own situation. He just had this mind that went in five different directions at all times. In the middle of a conversation, he could just leave if he felt you weren’t smart or interesting.

He was an odd man. He was allergic to pollen, so he used to wear a gas mask sometimes. He just would come to a meeting and have gas masks on without telling anybody and would just sit there and talk. He had this mug that he drank tea from. And he was paralyzed that someone would take it, so he chained it to his radiator. He did some odd things.

An overlooked part of Bletchley’s history and the history of computer programming is the role women played. Why was it important to develop Joan (Keira Knightley) as a character?

She started up as a clerk, or a “big room girl,” as they called it. Bletchley was mostly women, but they were doing the legwork, the paperwork, translations. In the whole history of Bletchley, there was only two women that ever got to work on that level, and Joan Clark was the first.

She was this brilliant mathematician, but she lived in a time when intellect wasn’t really valued in women. And that was the beauty of Alan is that he didn’t have this prejudice. He really saw what she was, and they fell in love—this kind of odd friendship love—because they were both incredibly smart people. They worked together for six months, and it was a very fulfilling time for her because she was allowed to finally do something which was really meaningful and important. She continued to work for the government after the war at Bletchley.

The celebration of the outsider seems to be at the heart of the film.

They were both outsiders: she being a woman, he being this socially awkward gay man. Alan Turing was able to come up with this extraordinary idea because he looked at the world from a different point of view. It wasn’t just that he was a closeted gay man — he was also a man who had a mind that worked differently. And Joan was this woman who had to struggle to be recognized for being brilliant. It is trying to celebrate that and show how important that is.

TIME relationships

Watch First Graders Explain Valentine’s Day

And answer questions like, "Can someone love you too much?"

Is it ever too early to start celebrating Valentine’s Day? These adorable Brooklyn first graders took a quick lesson in composing love letters as they sat down to write valentines to a special someone. Their heartfelt sentiments were addressed to moms, dads—and even Michael Jackson.

But sometimes, love can be tough, even for these kids. One girl solemnly recounts her experience: “When someone kissed you, you don’t like their breath.”

Now if only the holiday was that simple for the rest of us.

TIME Books

Then and Now: Two Interviews With Fifty Shades of Grey Author E.L. James

"Fame is not something I sought," she says

When Erika Leonard first came up with the idea that became Fifty Shades of Grey, she called herself Snow Queen Ice Dragon — or SQID, for short — and wrote on a site for Twilight fans. Her erotic tales involving the characters Bella Thorne and Edward Cullen proved so popular she was persuaded to change some names and amass them into an e-book, produced by a teensy publisher in suburban Australia and written under the name E.L. James.

Kindles were a relatively new thing in 2011 and, as Leonard tells it, a group of women in Long Island, New York, found the e-books and began to tell their friends — of which there were many. As the book’s popularity grew, a group invited Leonard to come to a a reading. Photojournalist Gillian Laub was there for the occasion and grabbed an interview with the reclusive author.

Fast forward a few years, and Leonard is now a multimillionaire author and producer of the movie version of Fifty Shades, out Feb. 13. While media reports suggest that she hasn’t let wealth and fame change her too much, she doesn’t really need to give interviews. But she did consent to answer some (not all) of our questions via email.

TIME: What scene in the movie were you most worried about translating to screen and why?
Erika Leonard:
I was most worried about the scenes in the red room. I wanted them to be tasteful and erotic, and that was a journey, but we got there in the end.

Do you have favorite scene?
The glider scene and the post-graduation bar scene. For me those scenes really capture the spirit of the book.

What made you decide to become a producer?
Because I could. (Christian Grey would appreciate that comment.) I didn’t want to take the money and run — I wanted the movie to be one the readership would love.

What have you enjoyed most about the process of filming?
I enjoyed breaking down the book with the screenwriter Kelly Marcel and deciding what should and should not be in the movie. That was fun — hard work, but fun.

Your life must have changed so much in the last three years. Do you have any reflections on fame?
Fame is not something I sought, and happily I’m still not that famous — I can still roam the streets anonymously, at home and in the States, and I love that. But I have had some amazing experiences, and for that I’m incredibly grateful to all the people who bought and loved the books.

Is there anything you would differently if you wrote the books again?
Yes. Quite a few things, in fact — but the books seem to be so well loved by so many I’ve let all that go…

Do you have plans to write more books?
Yes, I do. But like most authors I’d rather do it than talk about it.

These books are an exploration of a fantasy. Have you been surprised by how much they’ve resonated?
Surprised doesn’t quite cover it. I get the most extraordinary, heart wrenching emails from readers who have been deeply touched by the books. I’m honored that so many people have shared their moving stories and their love of the books with me.

TIME movies

Go Behind the Scenes of David Oyelowo’s TIME Photo Shoot

The actor highlights MLK's charisma and political persuasion in 'Selma'

David Oyelowo, who plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Golden Globe-nominated film Selma, was photographed by John Scarisbrick for TIME’s Best of Culture 2014.

Selma centers around the voter rights movement led by King ahead of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Great storytelling, great writing is always going through the highest moment of tension, the deepest moment of conflict, and that’s what this represented,” Oyelowo says of the film.

Above, go behind the scenes of TIME’s photo shoot with the British actor.

TIME movies

Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo on Selma and Ferguson

The director and star of the most provocative film of the year speak out

In the new issue of TIME, director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo discuss their Golden Globe-nominated movie Selma—a look back at the voting-rights marches of 1965 that manages to feel utterly contemporary.

Its relevance comes in large part from the film’s refusal to treat its main character, Martin Luther King Jr., as an icon. In Oyelowo’s hands, the character becomes a frustrated, struggling, but ultimately triumphant leader, one who would not necessarily be out of place on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. Perhaps it helps that Oyelowo, who’s become a favorite for an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, never learned about King in school: The actor playing one of the 20th century’s greatest Americans is, in fact, British.

In this clip from TIME’s interview with DuVernay and Oyelowo, the pair discuss the resonance of Selma, as well as what may be the most important aspect of the film—the speech that was left out.

TIME Music

Watch Tinashe’s Tips for Turning Up Your New Year’s Eve Party

The singer stopped by TIME to reflect on her breakout year

Tinashe had a life-changing year thanks to “2 On” — her hypnotic ode to intoxication topped rhythm radio for more than a month in 2014 — but some fans still have no idea what she’s talking about.

“The craziest part of being on tour is being overseas and having crazed fans so far away from home,” says the singer, who stopped by TIME’s office just a few days after she made our Top 10 Best Songs of 2014 list. “They don’t speak English, but they still know the lyrics. That’s a trip. A lot of people don’t know what ‘2 on’ means, but that’s the cool thing about music — it’s always open to interpretation. It can be whatever we want it to be.”

Before scoring her club hit about getting a little too buzzed at parties, Tinashe released three acclaimed mixtapes that she recorded in her home studio. She now has access to top recording facilities and A-list producers — her debut album, Aquarius, featured collaborations with Mike WiLL Made-It and Stargate — but she still writes and records on her own, and she’s already planning her next album.

“My new year’s resolutions are just to improve in all aspects, from my live show to my music to my music videos — just push it,” says Tinashe, who hopes to release new music next year. “I don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.”

TIME movies

Big Eyes Star Krysten Ritter: ‘Strong, Powerful Women—That’s What I Gravitate Towards’

The star talks feminism, work and her new role as a sixties firebrand

Krysten Ritter plays the voice of reason in the new Tim Burton film Big Eyes—that is, she plays DeeAnn, an enlightened feminist who sees through the problems in the marriage between Margaret and Walter Keane (Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz). “I represent the bigger feminist movement,” Ritter tells TIME. “A bolder woman who speaks up.” Ritter provides the film’s leavening sharp wit, as well as its sense that something between the Keanes is deeply screwy.

Big Eyes tells the story of how Walter Keane stole, for years, credit for his wife’s paintings, those famous (and famously creepy) big-eyed waifs. Margaret Keane, who’s still alive and still painting, grew isolated from the world and alienated from the art that was making her husband famous. In an interview with TIME, Ritter talks about the degree to which male artists still have it a bit easier than their female counterparts. “It would be greedy for me to say that there aren’t a lot of roles, because I’m working consistently and I’m very fortunate,” she says. “But I see more opportunities for boys than I do for girls.”

The star of Big Eyes and the upcoming Netflix/Marvel series A.K.A. Jessica Jones (who said her 2014 new year’s resolutions had been to book a Burton film and a Netflix show) remains optimistic, though. “That’s hopefully changing,” she says.

TIME person of the year

Watch U.S. Ebola Survivors Describe Fighting the Deadly Virus

"I saw his eyes and they had been red from crying, and I knew immediately"

Dr. Kent Brantly vividly remembers the day he was told he had Ebola. A missionary doctor with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia, Brantly had been treating Ebola patients and was familiar with the deadliness of the disease.

And yet, he didn’t panic when a colleague broke the news.

“It was really a very surreal moment. It was a very solemn moment,” Brantly says. “I felt a very strange but overwhelming sense of peace.”

For Dallas nurse Nina Pham, who had cared for Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan at Texas Health Presbyterian in Dallas, learning that she tested positive for Ebola was devastating news.

“Because Mr. Duncan had died three days prior, flashbacks started coming to my head of how his disease progressed and eventually led to his death,” Pham says.

In the video above, Brantly and Pham, along with nurse Amber Vinson, Dr. Rick Sacra and medical aide Nancy Writebol — all of whom have survived Ebola — recount their experiences.

TIME named Ebola Fighters as the 2014 Person of the Year. Read the full story here.

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