“I Was Absolutely Against Her Doing the Song.” Eleven-Time Oscar Nominee Diane Warren Opens Up on Breakthrough Star Chrissy Metz Winning Her Approval, Making Oscar History as a Female, and the Steven Tyler Moment That Made Her Cry.
Authentic. There is no better word to describe eleven time Academy Award nominee Diane Warren as we delve into her prolific body of work and her latest career milestone, being the most Oscar nominated female who has not won the award.
With Warren, there are no rehearsed answers or off-limit subjects, she’s incredibly open and not afraid to let her true feelings show, infusing so much of herself into her work. Her latest Oscar nominated song, “I’m Standing With You,” resonated with Academy voters enough to beat out big studio offerings in the original song category.
Warren wrote the song for the 2019 film Breakthrough, starring Chrissy Metz as a mother whose son fell through a frozen lake and spent fifteen minutes underwater. The film is based on the true story Joyce Smith and her son John Smith. Smith credits her Christian faith with miraculously bringing her son back from the dead after doctors had given up on him.
Beating the odds is nothing new to Warren, having spent her career as an underdog whose talent and determination paved her way to Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe awards as well as membership in the prestigious Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Ahead of the Academy Awards, Awards Focus spoke with Warren about her humble beginnings in Van Nuys, California, her highs and lows at the Oscars, her surprising friendship with Vice President Joe Biden, and originally not wanting Chrissy Metz for the film’s Oscar nominated song.
AF: When I heard you needed delay the interview for an urgent care visit, I was more than a little concerned.
Warren: It turns out that I fractured my hand when I fell yesterday, honestly I’m kind of a klutz. I hope this is as close to the “break a leg” mantra as I get. Hopefully I’ll have this brace off before the Oscars.
AF: When it comes to your ten previous trips to the Oscars, what some of the moments that resonate with you, good and bad?
Warren: Well being nominated is an incredible high for me. This year, I stayed up all night with my friends and waited on the announcements. I’m not someone who gets jaded by success and I’ve always been very grateful work in the medium I love.
AF: Your category saw some major upsets this year, specifically the songs from Disney’s Aladdin and The Lion King.
Warren: It was a surprise, Disney pushed hard for Beyonce and The Lion King. Being nominated is certainly not something I take lightly, we were all crying and celebrating at my house. For a film that came out at the beginning of last year, it’s great to see Breakthrough get recognized with the nomination.
AF: It doesn’t sound like there are many low points, if any at all.
Warren: To be open with you, I had a tough night when I thought I was going to win for the song I wrote with Lady Gaga [“Til It Happens to You” from Hunting Ground]. It was such a powerful song speaking on sexual abuse, and everyone was telling me that I was going to win, so it built expectations for sure.
AF: Totally understandable, and very honest.
Warren: Yeah, that was the only real sour note for me, but there were a lot of positives that came from that song and Gaga’s performance on the night. We helped usher in the Me Too movement and hopefully giving victims a platform for their voices.
AF: That’s when you first met Vice President Joe Biden.
Warren: Joe did a wonderful job announcing the song. He’s someone who is unfiltered like I am and that’s why we got along so well. He’s such a good man and he’s a caring leader, he just seems Presidential to me, and I’m hoping for a change in 2020.
AF: When it comes to your family, I’d love to know more about that. You shared a photo recently of you and your mother together. Was she one of your first supporters?
Warren: My parents are no longer with me, but I really had no connection to the business growing up in Van Nuys. My dad was certainly the one who had more belief in me, mom told me to take my songs to Ralph’s [Kroger owned grocery chain] and see if they’ll give me groceries for them. She wasn’t trying to be mean, she was just aware of how hard it was going to be in this business.
AF: As a former biologist from Kentucky who wanted to pursue writing, I know the feeling.
Warren: Exactly! You go by your own wits and when you have that passion, you don’t let anyone stop you.
AF: What do you think it is about your material, and you as a person, that allows you to connect with so many people.
Warren: I think my songs are real and emotional. My general requirement is that the song moves me. When I get it to that place, then I know it’ll have that effect on a wider audience. The last four songs I’ve been nominated for are part of a deeper emotional truth for me as an artist.
AF: Talk about working with Chrissy Metz on your eleventh nominated song. Were you aware of her vocal ability?
Warren: No, I was absolutely against her doing the song. I hadn’t heard Chrissy sing, and as I wrote it I was thinking of Pink or Kelly Clarkson for the vocal. When I spoke to the producer and it was shared that they wanted to have Chrissy to sing it as the film’s star, I said a few curse words in my head.
AF: Clearly your mind was changed.
Warren: Yeah, I vividly remember that day. Chrissy came into the studio to record her track and I had to leave that afternoon. When I came back a few hours later, I was really nervous that I would hate her vocal and I didn’t know how to respond with her in the room. The moment I heard the first line of it, I was sold. She really turned me around on it, and impressed me.
AF: She’s had quite the journey.
Warren: Yeah, I think she was an agent three years ago, then she got a hit show and now she’s singing at the Oscars… it’s quite a journey.
AF: When you wrote “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing,” you really captured the world with that song. The Oscar nominated ballad gave Aerosmith a massive hit and became one of the most iconic songs of the decade. What’s one of your best memories tied to that song?
Warren: It was such a great memory of when I was teaching Steven [Tyler] the song. He and I were in a bungalow at a hotel, I was playing piano and teaching him my song as he was singing in my ear. It was just like that when I heard Chrissy. Maybe mores because I was expecting Steven Tyler to be a pretty good singer [laughs].