Dallas Buyers Club may very well turn out to be the dark horse in the Oscar race. Capturing 6 richly deserved Oscar nominations, it has already won significant Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.
Here are some astonishing facts and some little known details that substantiate why this film will be the Oscar’s dark horse. To avoid confusion, Dallas Buyers Club (DBC) is a drama and not a documentary or docudrama however, key details of the story are factual.
1. All First Time Oscar Nominees:
Dallas Buyers Club is truly the ‘indie’ film of the Best Picture Oscar lineup (read our review). It was made on a slim budget, written by a team of unknown screenwriters and is directed by Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (The Young Victoria, C.R.A.Z.Y., Café de Flore), who has never been on the Oscar podium before and who also co-edited the film with Martin Pensa. This is also Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s first Oscar nomination.
The highly successful screenwriting duo Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack have taken dramatic license with the story creating a screenplay that took a rather obscure story to an international audience. It is Melisa Wallack’s first foray into screenwriting. It has taken Craig Borten 20 years to bring this screenplay to the silver screen.
2. An Obscure Story about a Taboo Subject
The subject matter of the film is based on a rather obscure story about characters living on the fringe of mainstream society, battling AIDS in the ‘80’s when it was a taboo and very misunderstood disease. The film delves into uncomfortable topics such as the FDA’s role in suppressing access to much needed AIDS drugs, attitudes towards transsexuals, gays, bisexuality and denial of proper hospital treatment for AIDS patients at the time. These details are true.
Much has been made of whether Ron Woodroof was bisexual or not and who cares, but the truth seems to be that he was a committed homophobe before his AIDS experience changed his attitudes. Rayon, Woodroof’s transgender business partner in the film is a totally fictitious character but crucial to the story. Rayon allows the audience to follow Woodroof as he develops understanding, empathy and respect for the LGBTQ community.
3. An Unlikely Hero
Craig Borten interviewed electrician Ron Woodroof, the real life character upon whom the protagonist of Dallas Buyers Club is based, the month before he died. He recorded many hours of interviews and was given access to Woodroof’s personal journals. Ron Woodroof died Sept. 1992. The only article about Ron Woodroof at the time was a major article before his death in 1992 by journalist Bill Minutaglio for The Dallas Morning News. He returned to obscurity after that until this movie. It was in 1985 that Dallas electrician Ron Woodroof, diagnosed with AIDS and prevented from getting the medication he needed decided to work outside the system to help get AIDS patients the medication the all needed.
4. More Unlikely Heroes And a Crazy Financing Story
Joe Newcomb, one of the executive producers of Dallas Buyers Club dreamed of making headlines as a Toronto Blue Jays pitcher in 1987. His dreams were brought to an abrupt end when he blew out his elbow and found he would never pitch again. He turned to business, getting a degree in Memphis and starting his own company Truth Chemical, in 2002. Connections mean everything and by a strange twist of fate Newcomb and Charlie Sheen became connected through a mutual friend, Chicago White Sox slugger Adam Dunn. Sheen was looking for money for a baseball movie that would not materialize. Newcomb discovered the Dallas Buyers Club script at this time and jumped on board when the film was almost out of financing options. This was 2012. The convoluted story of financing Dallas Buyers Club is covered here and includes support from Brad Pitt.
Adam Dunn, Matthew McConaughey Joe Newcomb, Jared Leto
He put the money up to finance Dallas Buyers Club after reading the script and being completely gripped by it. Joe Newcomb’s money basically saved the movie at the most critical point. Matthew McConaughey had lost 50 lbs and was at a critically low weight, pulling out of the project due to lack of finances 2 weeks before shooting would be crazy but inevitable without the financing. The window of opportunity was closing as other film commitments were also filling in for McConaughey.
More stunning was the next news that it was a darling at TIFF 2013, the Toronto International Film Festival that has proven to be the most reliable Oscar predictor. Now he just might win an Academy as one of the film’s executive producer.
5. Jared Leto Joins The Cast
Jared Leto was on tour with his rock band for “30 Seconds To Mars”. An actor and musician, Jared Leto wanted this role badly and felt deeply connected with the character of Rayon, but director Jean-Marc Vallée did not see him in the role. Not to be put off, Jared dressed up in full character as Rayon and did a live video audition for Vallée. The role was his. Jared became Rayon and the first day on set even pinched Vallée’s ass.
6. Bad Press
In a very surprising rant, Steve Friess, Time’s online Time Ideas (Feb 28, 2014) tries to capture headlines by throwing Jared Leto to the dogs for his superb role as Rayon, the transgender prostitute in the drama Dallas Buyers Club. He basis his article entitled; “Don’t Applaud Jared Leto’s Transgender “Mammy”, on the idea that “Leto’s award-winning performance as the sassy, tragic-yet-silly Rayon will belong in the dishonorable pantheon along with McDaniel’s Mammy.” He says the script is flawed for not sticking to the ‘facts’, and accuses the screenwriters of creating a totally fictitious character! He completely misses the purpose of the character altogether putting it down to ‘comic relief’. Friess is confused as to whether Jared Leto is a “he” or “she”? who is the recipient of the Oscar nomination. Hollywood can be accused of many things but here they will be applauded now and for years to come for spotting great performances and a great film in this one.
7. Distribution Woes
You would think that a film with 6 Oscar nominations and 2 major Golden Globe wins would be on every screen across North America. Well surprisingly this is not the case and it may have something to do with the turmoil at Focus Features, the North American distribution company signed on to promote DBC. Right before the North American Premiere of DBC the head of Focus Features was fired and an announcement was made that a whole new approach to distribution was going to happen at Focus. Did Dallas Buyers Club get caught in the shuffle?
Dallas Buyers Club, directed and co-edited by Jean-Marc Vallée, stars Jennifer Garner, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Dallas Roberts, Steve Zahn and co-written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. Martin Pensa co-edited the film, hair and makeup are by Adrultha Lee and Robin Matthers and Robbie Brenner and Rachael Winter with Voltage Picture and Joe Newcomb with Truth Entertainment are producers.
Robbie Brenner, Joe Newcomb, Rachel Winter
Dallas Buyers Club is nominated for 6 Oscars including:
Best Motion Picture of the Year
Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Achievement in Film Editing
Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
Best Writing, Original Screenplay
Special thanks to Stacia Pratt, Executive VP PR Truth Entertainment for behind the scenes details and photos for DBC.