Oscars 2014: Take our Best Actor poll

Excitement for the Academy Awards is building -- and with just a few days left before Hollywood's big night, we wanted to take a closer look at this year's best actor nominees.

One of them lost a lot of weight for the role, another one gained a lot. There's a lot of buzz around Matthew McConaughey for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" -- but at this point it's still anyone's guess.

Check out CBS News' interviews and profiles of the stars up for best actor, and then vote in our poll below for whom you think should take home the Oscar.

The Academy Awards will be presented this Sunday in Los Angeles.

Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"

Bruce Dern spent much of the frigid winter in Nebraska in 2012, shooting with director Alexander Payne. He turned in a performance that has already earned him the best actor Oscar nod.

The film is called "Nebraska." Dern plays the cantankerous and not-so-gracefully-aging Woody Grant, who insists on walking across four states to claim sweepstakes winnings, which his son (played by "Saturday Night Live" alum Will Forte) says don't exist.

"I knew when I saw the script on paper that I had to play the role," Dern said. "I don't mean THEY wanted me to have to do it, but Bruce Dern had to find a way to be able to play this role."

It's not that an Oscar would send Bruce Dern off happily into the sunset -- there's still more work to do. But using one of his famous sports analogies, he says it sure would be nice to make it into the playoffs.

"I mean, it'd be wonderful to win whatever you could win, obviously," Dern said. "But what I think about is that I got an at-bat in a crucial situation. A bunch of folks seem to be recognizing that among many other people, Bruce Dern could also play."

Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

Best actor nominee Leonardo DiCaprio fought hard to get "The Wolf of Wall Street" made.

"I waited until I got the right financing, [and] the right people that would allow us to make the movie we wanted to make."

It's a vibrant and polarizing look at the greed and excess of the bull market of the 1990s -- especially one charismatic, almost cult-like broker named Jordan Belfort.

DiCaprio was intrigued by Belfort's autobiography, an unvarnished tale of drug abuse and abuse of his clients, cheating investors out of millions before going to prison for securities fraud and money laundering.

DiCaprio spent "many months" with Belfort himself. "Certainly he helped me with the Quaalude sequences, because I had no idea what that stuff was like! He re-enacted a lot of that for me. He crawled around on the floor and showed me what it was like."

Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"

Chiwetel Ejiofor, known for "Love Actually" and "Slow Burn," is also in the running for a best actor nomination for his role in "12 Years a Slave."

The film is the true story of Solomon Northup, a free man sold into slavery before the Civil War.Ejiofor told the "CBS This Morning" co-hosts that, while the movie has a lot of violence, it approaches slavery differently than other films about the era and reveals many of the realities of what was actually happening then.

"I feel that there is something so healing about his story," he said. "It's a true story of Solomon Northrup. I think the man is a true American hero, and I know his story, and what he endured -- the way he endured it -- is so revealing about human respect, human dignity and what those words really mean."

Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

Matthew McConaughey didn't just star in "Dallas Buyers Club," he also put up some of his own money to help get the film made.

Based on true events, the drama centers on Ron Woodruff, a red-blooded Texan who goes to extremes to live longer after being diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s.

The 44-year-old actor, who is now starring on HBO's "True Detective," told CBS News' Lee Cowan in an interview for "Sunday Morning" that it was very difficult to secure financing for the project, given that the film focuses on a somewhat-unlikable homophobic drug addict fighting a grim prognosis. McConaughey says that the film was turned down 137 times by studios and financiers before it eventually came to fruition.

He also revealed that the filmmakers hit a major snag after the film was green-lit. "We think we have financing, we find out five weeks out that financing was not real," he told Cowan. "We have a start date, and everyone finds out that financing was not real, so we start to sweat and scramble."

Christian Bale, "American Hustle"

Based on the infamous Abscam sting operation, "American Hustle" finds Christian Bale starring as Irving Rosenfeld, a fictionalized version of real-life con-man Mel Weinberg. Rosenfeld gets hired by the FBI to help with one of their cases and partners up with agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper. Jeremy Renner, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence also star in the Oscar-nominated film.

Bale found himself again teaming with David O. Russell, the director of "Silver Linings Playbook." "We have a good relationship," Bale told CBS News about Russell. "We got together in my back garden and talked about what we wanted to turn [the film] in to...I like the turmoil. I like the spontaneity. I like the very creative chaos that is generated on all of David's sets."

Bale gained roughly 40 pounds for the part of Rosenfeld. "It's based on a real scandal -- I would study him endlessly and he had this wonderful comb-over...I loved the way he looked. I found it so charming and I just became obsessed with that. So, yeah, I had a lot of donuts," Bale said.

  • "American Hustle" director David O. Russell on collaborating with his actors (Video)
  • Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper do the "American Hustle"(Video)
  • "American Hustle" wins top SAG Awards honor
  • "American Hustle" named best of 2013 by N.Y. film critics
  • "American Hustle" (Official site)
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    Oscars 2014: Best Actor

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