Admit it: You’ve fantasized about winning a top acting award. The anticipation, the envelope, the shock, the room full of glamorous, talented people cheering you on as you accept the statue... It’s in your future. You just have to work hard, follow your passion, and believe!
Whether it’s an Emmy, SAG, Oscar, or Tony Award you’re aiming for, you’d better start practicing your acceptance speech. For actors who have reached a certain level of fame and success, awards shows are an important opportunity to increase exposure and open more doors in their careers. In giving delightful, inspiring, or generally memorable acceptance speeches, the actors below demonstrated the charisma and charm that helped put them in the pantheon of movie, theater, and television stars. Find a heavy object to represent your statue and start practicing your speech—with these handy tips.
Open with a joke.
Meryl Streep is no stranger to awards acceptance speeches; if you’re looking for examples of great ones, take it from a pro who gives them all the time. In accepting the 2004 Emmy for best leading actress in a movie or mini-series, Streep opened by saying, “You know, there are some days when I myself think I’m overrated...but not today.” This speech has it all: a balance of humility and self-celebration, genuine shout-outs to her fellow nominees (including a crack at her friend Emma Thompson) and most importantly, a profound reverence for the people who helped Streep achieve greatness. We dare you not to get emotional when she thanks Tony Kushner for writing “Angels in America.”
Embrace your emotions!
“When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you’re from your dreams are valid.” So said Lupita Nyong’o winning the Oscar in 2014 for “12 Years a Slave.” The first-time nominee wasn’t afraid to wear her emotions on her sleeve as she graciously thanked her collaborators, friends, and teachers. A perfect speech, through and through.
Don’t stop until you’re finished—even if they’re playing you off.
As Cuba Gooding Jr. indicated at the 1997 Academy Awards, acceptance speeches are often cut short in the interest of time. Despite being interrupted by some abruptly loud music, the actor powers through, making sure to thank his “Jerry Maguire” co-stars Tom Cruise and Regina King, and repeatedly proclaiming to the entire room, “I love you!” His sheer gratitude and exuberance earns him a standing ovation from the delighted crowd.
Thank your co-stars.
Your director deserves all the recognition in the world, and of course you couldn’t win an acting award without the right material, so be sure to thank writers as well. And don’t forget your agent and manager! But when it comes to honoring collaborators, keep in mind Nathan Lane, who shared the Tony Award for leading actor in a musical in 2001 with his co-leading man in “The Producers,” Matthew Broderick. By bringing him onstage and stating the award was for both of them, he reminded us that fellow actors are happy for the winner—but want to be recognized, too.
Don’t be afraid to contextualize...
Winner of the 2015 Emmy for leading actress in a drama, Viola Davis made history as the first black woman to win in the category. Her rousing speech was a testament not only to her grace, but to her willingness to address the hurdles that have faced women of color in entertainment, and more broadly, in history: “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.... To the Taraji P. Hensons, the Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Meagan Goods’, to Gabrielle Union, thank you for taking us over that line.”
...or highlight a particular moment in history.
The 2016 Tony Awards were overshadowed by the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. It was a tragedy on everyone’s minds, as host James Corden’s opening statements made clear. But the telecast became a stirring reminder of the power and hope that storytelling provides, and a celebration of humanity in the arts. Lin-Manuel Miranda, in accepting the Tony for best score for “Hamilton,” spoke passionately—in sonnet form—about “remembrances that hope and love last longer. And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love, cannot be killed or swept aside.”
Shake things up with a (clever) gimmick.
Awards season regular and all-around goddess Emma Thompson, in accepting the Golden Globe Award in 1996 for writing “Sense and Sensibility,” did two things that would normally be serious no-nos: she read from a card, and she had a gimmick. However, because the schtick—describing the evening and thanking her collaborators as a time-traveling Jane Austen—related directly to the project for which she was recognized, and was delivered by someone as effortlessly charming as Thompson, it works like gangbusters. The best bit: her final line poking fun at none other than “Emily Thompkinson,” referring to herself as a “nefarious creature.”
Or, be brief.
Joe Pesci is proof that that famous Shakespeare quote, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” holds true. When in doubt—and you’re as overwhelmed as Pesci was accepting the Oscar for “Goodfellas”—keep your speech short.
Just act naturally.
If you’re looking for real practical advice on giving an awards acceptance speech, you should learn from Ja,n. As portrayed by Parker Posey, the acting teacher of the only (fictional) class on Emmy acceptance speeches, the legendary actor has plenty of advice for aspiring winners. Just watch:
Or, be Glenn Close:
Land the role that will lead to your own acceptance speech with Backstage’s TV audition listings!