As Daniel Day-Lewis hones the final paragraphs of his acceptance speech, Helen Hunt works on her happy-just-to-have-been-nominated face, and whoever’s presenting Best Actress practices the correct pronunciation of “Quvenzhané”, a dark horse is threatening to disrupt the Oscars – and no, it’s not Ben Affleck. It’s a bad bout of the Hollywood lurgy.
Film stars may enjoy fabulous wealth and the adulation of millions, but even they are not immune to the flu virus. At the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards on 27 January, Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence, winner of the Outstanding Female Actor prize, told reporters she was suffering from a highly contagious strain of “walking pneumonia”.
The previous night, the 22-year-old had been notably absent from the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Awards in Los Angeles, where her co-star Jacki Weaver accepted an award on her behalf, saying, “Poor Jen is really sick. She really is sick.”
On the red carpet at the SAG Awards, Lawrence’s fellow nominee Marion Cotillard told a reporter from E! not to touch her as she was so unwell. Asked why so many stars were coming down with the bug, Cotillard replied, “LA doesn’t know how to deal with cold weather, I guess.” During January, night-time temperatures in Los Angeles occasionally dropped as low as freezing.
After he contracted the virus, Tommy Lee Jones, 66, chose not to attend the SAG Awards, where he was named Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Lincoln. As Dick Van Dyke accepted a Lifetime Achievement award, he noted with sadness that two of his close friends, Carl Reiner and Mary Tyler Moore, were unable to be there. “There’s a lot of flu going around,” said Van Dyke. “Everybody’s sick.”
The flu epidemic has hit almost every state in the US this winter. Chris O’Donnell, star of NCIS Los Angeles, appeared in an advertisement for the flu vaccine in October. During the recent Sundance Film Festival in Utah, the Park City Medical Centre handed out 5,000 free bottles of hand sanitiser to festival-goers, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. Doctor Tom Frieden, director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Reuters it had been a “worse than average season, particularly for the elderly”.
Burt Reynolds was admitted to the intensive care unit of a Florida hospital in late January, suffering from complications arising from the flu. The 76-year-old, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1998 for his role in Boogie Nights, was discharged after undergoing treatment for dehydration. Meryl Streep was among the season’s first confirmed victims. She was unable to attend this year’s Golden Globes on 13 January. The ceremony’s co-host Amy Poehler explained in her opening monologue that Streep had the flu, “And I hear she’s amazing in it”.
Hugh Jackman was also suffering at the same event, though he felt well enough to pick up his award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, for his performance in Les Misérables. “I’m at the tail end of this flu,” Jackman told the assembled VIPs.