Six degrees -- no, fewer -- separate Oscar nominees
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From Sherri Sylvester
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Forget the cutthroat competition: This year's Oscar race has been a reunion of old friends. There are fewer than six degrees of separation between these nominees.
So break out your pens and pencils, it's time to play connect the dots between Oscar's all-stars ... and there's a lot of ink between this year's contenders, from the looks of it.
First, start by drawing a line between Hollywood powerhouses Steven Spielberg and Gwyneth Paltrow. Best Director nominee Spielberg gave Best Actress nominee Paltrow an early career break when he cast the young Paltrow as Wendy in 1991's "Hook."
McKellen to Meryl, Judi, Nick
Now connect English-born Ian McKellen, who is nominated for Best Actor in "Gods and Monsters," to three nominees -- Meryl Streep, Judi Dench and Nick Nolte.
McKellen and Streep acted together in the movie, "Plenty." Streep is nominated for Best Actress for her role in "One True Thing."
"Meryl, the most accommodating star that I've ever worked with. She even arranged for my favorite dessert to be put on the menu of the local catering," says McKellen.
Best Supporting Actress nominee Judi Dench and McKellen have a history together in the theater. McKellen did Shakespeare with Judi Dench in 1976.
"Before that, in 1967, we were in a play together, 'West End.' 'West End' ran for a year. Then we did some Bernard Shaw together, and then we played the Macbeths," said McKellen.
McKellen also shared the screen with Best Actor nominee Nolte in "I'll Do Anything." Nolte was nominated for his role in "Affliction."
This year's Best Actor competitors remember "I'll Do Anything."
"He had one scene, one scene, and I think he had one line. And he was a director, and I was the actor auditioning. It was a spoof on what happens in Hollywood," says Nolte.
Nolte to Harris to Hanks
Now connect the dots between Nolte and Ed Harris, who was nominated for Supporting Actor in "The Truman Show." The two go back to the 1983 film "Under Fire."
The lifeline between Harris and Best Actor nominee Tom Hanks is clear as a blue sky. Harris led Tom Hanks' return to Earth in the critically acclaimed "Apollo 13."
And then there is Warren Beatty, who has connections to Elia Kazan and Kathy Bates.
Beatty, whose screenplay of "Bulworth" was nominated for an Oscar, was cast in his first feature, "Splendor in the Grass," by the controversial Kazan, who on March 21 will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy for his contribution to the art of filmmaking.
"You're talking about a man that taught me more than anybody else did about how to make movies," says Beatty.
Beatty to Bates to Billy Bob
The tie between Beatty and Best Supporting Actress nominee Bates goes back to 1990, when Bates got a break from director Beatty in "Dick Tracy."
Bates starred with Billy Bob Thornton in "Primary Colors." While Bates was nominated for "Primary Colors," Thornton will be hoping to win for Best Supporting Actor in "A Simple Plan."
Draw a line on the page from Thornton to Robert Duvall, who played father and son in "Sling Blade." This year the two duke it out for the Best Supporting Actor prize. Duvall was nominated for his role in "A Civil Action."
Complete Thornton's triangle with a line to Geoffrey Rush -- both men were Academy award winners in 1996. This year, Rush is up against Thornton and Duvall for Supporting Actor. Rush was nominated for his work in "Shakespeare in Love."
Rush is connected to Lynn Redgrave through their roles as husband and wife in "Shine." Now Redgrave is up for Best Supporting Actress for her work with Ian McKellen in "Gods and Monsters."
Past winners Rush and Thornton head the Academy Awards class of '96, but this year's nominees Emily Watson, Edward Norton, and Brenda Blethyn were also members of that class.
"I ran into Brenda Blethyn on a plane going to London and I went, 'Oh, I'm going to get to see you again,'" says Norton, who is nominated for Best Actor in "American History X."
So expect more than photo ops on this year's red carpet ... it's reunion time for the nominees!
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