“I’m the Guy Who Always Loses”

Sound mixer Kevin O’Connell, 50, hopes to win an Oscar on February 25. He’s nominated for Best Sound Mixing the Mel Gibson epic Apocalypto. It’s his nineteenth nomination for an Academy Award. He has never won. This has given him the title of biggest loser in Hollywood, despite having mixed the sound on more than 100 movies. His credits include films like Spider-Man 1 through 3, Top Gun, Terminator 3 or Black Rain.

By Peter Hossli

Mr. O’Connell, you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award 19 times for Best Sound Mixing or Best Sound. So far, you lost 18 times. What went wrong?
Kevin O’Connell: I lost for nothing other than bad luck. The Academy is a real crapshoot. It’s like buying a lottery ticket. You start over every time. My chances don’t get better just because I was nominated before.

This time, you’re nominated for the sound in Mel Gibson’s «Apocalypto». What’s your campaign strategy to finally win it?
O’Connell: I tell people not to judge me on the merits of what the director said off-camera. Sound mixers normally don’t campaign that hard. And Disney, the distributor, is not putting a lot of horsepower behind it.

This does not sound promising. Still, if you win, whom will you thank?
O’Connell: My mother. 29 years ago she gave me the opportunity to work in film. Back then she said, ‘you work hard and someday you’ll win an Oscar’.

You must feel pretty bad to keep disappointing your mother.
O’Connell: Actually, she’s proud enough to go the Academy Award luncheon with me almost every year. At this point, wining is not as important to her as my achievement of having been nominated 19 times.

What have you done with the 18 speeches that you’ve prepared but didn’t use?
O’Connell: I crumbled them up and put them in a drawer in my house. I can’t really reuse them because the names of the people I work with change with every film. The only thing that is consistent is the name of my mother. It used to be at the bottom of the speech, now it’s at the very top.

You must get a lot of pity in the industry.
O’Connell: At this point, the whole sound community would like to see me win – except the four other nominees, of course.

Martin Scorsese has a record of losing 5 times in the Best Director category. How will you console him if he loses again this time?
O’Connell: I’ll tell him to never give up. Then again, he’s already a winner. Scorsese is one of the five best filmmakers of all time. Listen, guys like Scorsese and I, we don’t need Oscars to validate our careers. His career is not getting better with an Oscar. Neither is mine. It’d just be nice to get the monkey off my back.

What would a win mean to you?
O’Connell: It would prove to the world that you should never give up on your dreams, regardless how difficult it might be.

Where will you put the statue?
O’Connell: You mean, if I survive hearing my name? One thing is for sure; there is no room for it on my walls. They’re clustered with nominations certificates.

If you win, wouldn’t it be a bit bittersweet? You’d lose the title of being the biggest loser in Hollywood.
O’Connell: That’s the one title I’m willing to give up. But it’s true I’m getting a lot of attention out of this. As soon as I win it will be over.

Who will you blame if you lose this time?
O’Connell: There is only faith to blame. My greater calling is not to be the guy to win a bunch of Oscars but to be the guy who always loses.

With what film would you really have liked to win?
O’Connell: With “Top Gun”. That year it truly had the best sound of all the nominated films.

What’s your oldest Oscar memory?
O’Connell: Back in the 80s, I fell down drunk at the Governors ball at the table of the Studio that produced my film. Not a good, but a fun, memory.

What was your funniest Oscar moment?
O’Connell: I once went to the bathroom and banged at a door. It wasn’t locked, so it opened and Jack Nicholson was sitting there with his pants down. “I ain’t got nothing”, he screamed and put his hands up like a criminal, “I ain’t got nothing”. Until this day, I wonder what he meant.

What’s you biggest Oscar fear?
O’Connell: Having to get up in front of 300 million people and actually give a speech.

What was the best thing you got in a gift bag?
O’Connell: Nominees don’t get gift bags, only winners do. But I once got a face cream that I liked so much I still buy it.

What was the best party?
O’Connell: I don’t go to a lot of Oscar parties. If you don’t win, you don’t feel like partying. Besides, I always had to work the next day.