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Movement coaches, prosthetics and learning German: The transformations behind this year’s Oscar nominees

In the Golden State – where it sometimes seems everyone looks like a movie star – it’s not only acting talent which stars are judged on for the Oscars, often it’s the scale of their transformation.

This year’s nominations have been extraordinary in terms of the leading actors who’ve gone that extra mile.

Step forward Cate Blanchett – who not only learned to speak German but had to brush up on her piano-playing skills – and, most impressively, convincingly led a philharmonic orchestra for her role as a conducting maestro in Tar.

A skill which, as I found out, involved a bit more than just waving your arms around.

“Keep the top half more loose,” conductor Natalie Murray Beale whispers as I stand in front of the Royal College of Music orchestra while they, with an element of pity, attempt to keep time with my flailing hands.

Later Beale – a professor at the Royal College of Music and conducting supervisor on Tar – explains how Blanchett really did demonstrate a unique set of skills.

“Everything she’s conducting is accurate and precise and her hands and her body are in the right space but, even more than that, I think that what she inhabits emotionally and the communication with the orchestra is extraordinary. And that’s a very, very special skill.”

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In giant lettering, a billboard on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip – designed to catch Academy members’ attention, points out the “extraordinary performance” Austin Butler gave in Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis.

He not only learned to sing like The King, but also mastered a deep southern drawl and the music legend’s dance moves.

Movement coach Polly Bennett worked with Butler to ensure he wasn’t doing an impression but putting meaning and purpose into every last handshake and foot twitch.

“We go horses hooves, horses hooves, reach out your wedding ring, and then shake out your glove,” Bennett demonstrates after I persuade her to show me some basic moves.

Austin Butler, I am clearly not. However she sweetly offers: “There’s always time.”

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Beaming with pride, she admits she’s incredibly proud of the performance they achieved.

“The fact that there’s nobody going, ‘it doesn’t look like Elvis!’ or ‘he doesn’t sound like Elvis!’

“It came from Austin, it came from his body and his understanding of the psychology behind the movement…He’s an incredibly tenacious, inventive person.”

On top of that, Butler also had the challenge of ageing in the role.

For that, not only did he wear prosthetics, he piled on the pounds by – according to the star – microwaving and drinking ice cream.

Of course that wasn’t an option for Brendan Fraser whose prosthetics in The Whale were on an entirely different scale.

He had around five hours of make-up to be fitted into a moulded suit weighing around 300 pounds to play morbidly obese Charlie.

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Fraser told Sky News that having Darren Aronofsky directing gave him confidence.

“Aronofsky is a world-class filmmaker who has a track record for bringing out very good and even transformative performances from the actors he chooses to work with.

“So, I didn’t have any doubts knowing how good he is at what he does.”

While Ana De Armas (up for best actress for playing Marylin Monroe) spent nine months working on the voice alone for Blonde, The Fabelmans’ Michelle Williams had to ballet dance, play the piano and act with a monkey.

It shows the incredible effort needed to deliver an authentic, Oscar-worthy performance – perhaps a little more than most of us (well, me!) could ever hope to master.

You can watch the red carpet and Oscars ceremony from 11pm on Sunday, exclusively on Sky News in the UK.

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