This year, Kevin O'Connell might try lucky underwear.
Lucky cuff links didn't do the trick. Neither did a lucky bow tie. Switching from a well-worn Hugo Boss tuxedo to a red carpet-ready Armani didn't help, either.
No matter what he does, O'Connell is already a record holder, though not quite the sort he dreamed of. He's the Susan Lucci of the Oscars — the person with the most nominations without a win. Seventeen nominations, 17 losses.
Come March 5, the veteran sound mixer is up for No. 18, for "Memoirs of a Geisha."
His streak, the reed-thin O'Connell says, is not at all bothersome in the way some might presume. He still gets excited, he insists — his smiling eyes enhancing his words — when his phone rings on nominations morning.
"There's 300 to 400 films every year. Five of them get that phone call, and I've gotten it 18 times," the Los Angeles native says, looking down on the city from his hillside home near Mulholland Drive. "I really feel fortunate."
In fact, he adds, he tries not to think much about the Academy Awards at all, not until the week of the event anyway. That's when he takes his tuxedo to the cleaners and scrawls down a few words of thanks in case maybe, just maybe, the presenter finally calls his name.
Not that he'd even be able to hear it. At that crucial moment, this sound expert seems to go stone deaf.
"When they start reading off the nominations, my body temperature goes up to 150. I feel like my face is going to explode, and I can't hear anything. I don't even hear my name being announced," says O'Connell, 48. "I get flutters just talking about it."
Happy to mingle and enjoy the boozeIt wasn't always so. When O'Connell was first nominated in 1983, he was a partying 24-year-old in a rented tux, happy to mingle with the stars and enjoy the free booze.
But in subsequent years he sometimes got his hopes up — like in 1986, when he was nominated for his work on "Top Gun." He really thought his team would take home the trophy.
"I think it was the best-sounding movie that year," O'Connell says.
Sound mixers nominate their own, but the winner is determined by the entire voting academy, who don't always understand the intricacies of sound work, O'Connell notes.
"They vote for maybe what their favorite film is, and the academy isn't going to vote for 'Top Gun' for their favorite film," he says.
There have been a few what-ifs on O'Connell's road to Oscar notoriety. For years, he worked with mixer Donald Mitchell, sharing five Oscar nominations with him. The first year the pair worked apart, Mitchell won the Oscar for "Glory."
The following year, O'Connell did a student film as a favor and passed up a chance to work on a big-budget movie called "Dances with Wolves," which won the Academy Award for best picture — and best sound mixing.
But O'Connell isn't bitter. Or if he is, he certainly isn't showing it.
Even when he lost to a 20-something, first-time nominee last year, O'Connell toasted the winner.
"God bless him that he doesn't have to go through what I went through," O'Connell says. "I'm glad that he'll go home and hug his family and know that he won, you know?"
Keeping his perspective
O'Connell's own family — wife Heather and sons Cooper and Casey — helps him keep the streak in perspective. They're "better than anything I could win," he says.
Lucci, of course, is the one person who can truly empathize with what O'Connell has gone through. After being nominated for an Emmy award 19 times, the soap-opera star finally won in 1999.
Lucci treasures each nomination, she says, considering them confirmations of quality work.
"It's really an honor to be nominated," she says. "But it is much better to win."
Dealing with a string of winless nods takes a well-developed sense of humor, she adds.
It also helps, says O'Connell, that his work has teamed him with some of Hollywood's biggest directors. And to have a movie theater for an office — the high-tech Cary Grant Theater at Sony Studios, where soon he'll start work on one of the year's most anticipated films — "The Da Vinci Code," with director Ron Howard.
While he has perfected the persona of gracious also-ran, he hates hearing the L-word applied to an 18-time Oscar nominee. "There are worse things to be recognized for than having 18 Oscar nominations and not winning," he says.
He already knows where he'd put the trophy, if... .
It wouldn't go into the special Oscar-sized niche that workers built into his living room during a home remodeling project six years ago — without being asked, he notes.
Instead, our modest nominations-gatherer says he'd put the statuette in his TV room, next to the Emmy he won in 1989 for "Lonesome Dove." The spot is currently occupied by a Spider-Man figurine.
"It would probably go where Doc Ock is sitting right there," O'Connell says, leaning against a wall filled with framed nomination certificates.
Even more important than where he'd put it is who he'd thank. The person at the top of that acceptance speech _ one he's practiced 17 times — is, naturally, his mother, Skippy. She also did Hollywood sound work, and helped him land his first movie job.
"I can't even say it without crying," he reveals, his voice cracking. "It's just such an homage to my mother, really, who thought enough of me to let me in the business. She said, 'You work really hard and you win yourself an Oscar so someday you can get up on that stage, and in front of the whole world, you can thank me.'
"And I'm still waiting for that to happen."