Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama
The career of actress Jean Seberg began with seemingly unlimited promise: A small-town girl from the heartland of America, she created an overnight sensation when she was selected from a pool of 18,000 candidates for what seemed a certain future of fame and celebrity. The dream quickly became a nightmare, however, and both her career and her life spiralled out of control as she became a victim of unrealized expectations, exploitative films, and even her own ideals. Born November 13, 1938, in Marshalltown, IA, Seberg harbored acting dreams throughout her childhood, appearing in local productions of dramas like Our Town and Picnic. She was just 17 when director Otto Preminger selected her from a national talent search to star as Joan of Arc in his 1957 production of Saint Joan, but when reviews of the film as well as her performance were uniformly negative, it appeared that her career was already over. In an act of defiance, Preminger then cast Seberg again -- as another French girl, no less -- in his next project, Bonjour Tristesse. Again, however, her future looked grim, and this time even Preminger gave up on her, passing her contract on to Columbia, where they cast her in 1959's The Mouse That Roared for lack of a better project.
Seberg was already written off by Hollywood when French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, previously known as a critic for the influential journal Cahiers du Cinema, requested her to co-star with Jean-Paul Belmondo in his feature debut À Bout de Souffle. By sheer coincidence, she was already in Paris at the time, having just married attorney Francois Moreuil, and Columbia loaned her out for practically nothing. As a pixieish American romancing a French thug, Seberg delivered an impressive performance in what was to quickly emerge as one of the seminal films of the postwar era. Suddenly she was a hot property, and Columbia quickly ordered her to return to the U.S. to appear in the anti-drug drama Let No Man Write My Epitaph. Hollywood simply had no idea how to use Seberg, but in Europe she was much sought after. She next appeared in La Recreation, and in 1961 Philippe de Broca cast her in his L'Amant de Cinq Jours (aka Five Day Lover). She also appeared in another Godard project, but the mercurial director lost interest and never even began editing the completed footage.