Today I Learned: These 2018 Oscar Nominees Got Schooled

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The 90th Academy Awards® are upon us, and with them, the usual intrigue. How many groan-inducing Harvey Weinstein punchlines will we have to sit through? Which presenters will accidentally overshadow the award winners by committing humiliating on-air gaffes? Which stars will we most mercilessly ridicule for their wardrobe choices in spite of their being far more successful, talented, and attractive than we are?

Ahh. The Oscars®, combining all the glitz and glamour of an affluent high school prom with the bombastic pre-recorded music and long wait time of being in line for a ride at Disney World.

Indeed, from the time that Ryan Seacrest starts interviewing arriving guests on the red carpet to the moment that somebody (preferably not Warren Beatty) peels open the Best Picture envelope, the official Oscar broadcast is, like, 127 hours long (though it felt much longer the year James Franco co-hosted).

Amazingly, in all that time, no one ever mentions college. With all the couture designers, jewelers, and causes célèbre that must be name-dropped, you don’t hear much about the alma maters of nominees. And that’s funny because school marked a turning point for so many of these brilliant thespians, the moment that placed each of them on a trajectory to this highest of Hollywood honors.

Since we want you to fully appreciate the 2018 Oscars, we’re correcting this oversight. Our Oscar Edition of “Today I Learned” looks back at the educational point of inflection that placed so many of this year’s Oscar nominees on the path to stardom.

Timothee Cahalmet (Columbia University)

Best Actor Nominee  — Call Me by Your Name

Timothee Cahalmet proves that it only takes a few semesters of Ivy League education to land an Academy Award nomination. With just a single year at Columbia University under his belt (and a brief time spent in the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study), Cahalmet landed the lead role of a lovestruck, young, Italian boy in Call Me by Your Name. At 22, he is the third-youngest actor to receive an Oscar nomination. If he wins, he will be the youngest winner ever, taking the title from Adrian Brody, who was 29 when he scored for The Pianist.

Daniel Day-Lewis (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)

Best Actor Nominee — Phantom Thread

Daniel Day-Lewis only attended Bristol Old Vic Theatre School after being rejected for a a five-year apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker. It’s probably for the best that his would-be mentor didn’t see young Day-Lewis as a craftsman. Today, he is regarded by many as the greatest living actor in any medium. Daniel Day-Lewis appears in a movie on average every five years. Whenever that happens, he’s pretty much automatically nominated for an Academy Award. His performance as a famous but reserved dressmaker in Phantom Thread marks his sixth nomination. With three wins for Best Actor, he currently holds the all-time record. He has also indicated that he now plans to retire from acting.

Woody Harrelson (Hanover College)

Best Supporting Actor Nominee — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Woody Harrelson’s alma mater played a major part in the backstory for his career-defining on-screen character, young bartender Woody Boyd on Cheers. During its run, the show frequently referenced Boyd’s small-town upbringing in Hanover, Indiana. Though Harrelson was actually born in Texas, he did graduate with a BA in theatre and English from Hanover College, in Hanover, Indiana. He would bring that experience with him to his breakout television role, one that set him on a path toward three Academy Award nominations. This year’s nod is for his moving performance as a cancer-stricken cop in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Allison Janney (Kenyon College)

Best Supporting Actress Nominee — I, Tonya

Allison Janney studied directly under a ten-time Oscar nominee, one-time winner, as a student at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. It was there, in the early ’80s, that she studied with Kenyon alumnus Paul Newman. The legendary actor even directed her in her first stage performances, ultimately playing a large role in Janney’s decision to stick with the acting profession. Her performance as the ruthless and obsessive mother of a disgraced figure skater in I, Tonya earned Janney her first Academy Award nomination.

Daniel Kaluuya (St. Aloysius College)

Best Actor Nominee — Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya may have gotten his training for his powerful performance in 2017 horror satire Get Out while attending St. Aloysius College in London. And we’re not talking about acting classes. According to Kaluuya, the boys-only Catholic state school had a “boisterous” “fighting energy.” That fighting energy manifested as a spate of stabbings and related knife crimes, leading at one point during Kaluuya’s schooling to a year-long, school-wide detention. No doubt, both the combat experience and school-imposed captivity informed his Academy Award-nominated performance.

Frances McDormand (Yale School of Drama)

Best Actress Nominee — Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand, with five Academy Award nominations, just barely edges out her old grad school roommate. In the ’80s, while a student at the Yale School of Drama, McDormand roomed with another future powerhouse, four-time nominee, Holly Hunter. That’s not all they have in common, either. Both have appeared in numerous Coen Brothers movies, even working together in Raising Arizona. McDormand — who is married to filmmaker Joel Coen — is nominated this year for her portrayal of a grieving mother hellbent on justice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Laurie Metcalf (Illinois State University)

Best Supporting Actress Nominee — Lady Bird

Laurie Metcalf was an inaugural member of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company, a group started by her Illinois State University classmates Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry (along with Perry’s high school classmate, and future Oscar-nominee Gary Sinise). Her performance as the matriarch of a strained mother-daughter relationship in Lady Bird, earned Metcalf her first Academy Award nomination. However, the veteran of stage and screen is highly decorated with numerous Emmy and Tony nominations, the former most notably for her career-defining role as Aunt Jackie on the groundbreaking primetime sitcom Roseanne.

Gary Oldman (Rose Bruford College)

Best Actor Nominee — The Darkest Hour

Gary Oldman applied for, and was rejected by, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The admissions office advised that Oldman consider a different line of work (whoops). At the time, he held a series of odd jobs, including assembly-line worker, shoe salesman and the guy at the abattoir with the unfortunate task of decapitating pigs. Fortunately, Oldman defied the Academy’s advice, eventually earning a scholarship to the Rose Bruford College and completing his BA in acting in 1979. His acclaimed performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour has earned Oldman his second Oscar nomination.

Jordan Peele (Sarah Lawrence College)

Best Director Nominee — Get Out

Jordan Peele got the inspiration for the film Get Out while taking standardized tests in elementary school. In particular, the experience of racial otherness he felt when checking off the African American box at the start of those tests helped inform his critically and commercially important satirical horror film about race in America. We don’t know how Peele ended up doing on his tests (though they were good enough to get him into Sarah Lawrence College). One thing we do know is that he is only the third director in history (alongside Warren Beatty and James L. Brooks) to pull off the nomination hat trick — Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay — with his debut film.

Christopher Plummer (McGill University)

Best Supporting Actor Nominee — All the Money in the World

Christopher Plummer attended McGill University in Montreal almost as a matter of inevitability, considering that his mother was secretary to the school’s Dean of Sciences, his great-grandfather, Sir John Abbott, was Law Dean (and future prime minister of Canada), and his great-great-grandfather was once McGill’s president. Plummer had already taken an interest in acting by this time (in the early 1940s), but wouldn’t score his first Oscar nomination until 2010. Two more nominations would follow. Indeed, his win for Beginners and his nomination as a miserly millionaire in this year’s All the Money in the World make Plummer both the oldest Oscar winner (82 years old) and oldest nominee (88 years old), in the category of acting.

Octavia Spencer (Auburn University)

Best Supporting Actress Nominee — The Shape of Water

Octavia Spencer is probably the only person to represent Auburn University with a War Eagle Cry from the red carpet at the Oscars. Back in 2012, she became the first actress from Alabama to land a nomination and award for her performance in The Help. The Auburn grad’s turn as a chatty and loyal cleaning lady at a top secret government facility in The Shape of Water earns Spencer her third shot at a statuette.

Meryl Streep (Yale School of Drama)

Best Actress Nominee — The Post

Meryl Streep was so overworked during her time as an aspiring young actress at the Yale School of Drama that she contemplated shifting her focus to the study of law instead. After appearing in more than a dozen campus stage productions in her first year, Streep began to develop ulcers. She persevered, however, earning her MFA from Yale in 1975. It’s probably best she stuck with it. This year, Streep’s portrayal of a meek but courageous newspaper magnate and widow in The Post earned her a record twenty-first Academy Award nomination. If she wins, it’ll be her fourth.

Denzel Washington (Fordham University)

Best Actor Nominee — Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Denzel Washington played college basketball at Fordham University under future NBA coach P.J. Carlesimo in the late ’70s. It wasn’t until he worked as creative director for a YMCA camp over summer break that he took an interest in acting. When he returned to school the following semester, he enrolled in Fordham’s Lincoln Center acting school and never looked back. In Roman J. Israel, Esq., his eponymous portrayal of the quirky civil rights lawyer netted Washington his ninth Oscar nomination. So far, he has two wins under his belt.

Are any of this year’s nominees from your school? Let us know, or just hit us with any cool Oscar trivia. You know how much we love trivia!

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