David Thewlis did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Johnny in Naked.
David Thewlis was not nominated for his performance despite winning Cannes and several important critic awards including NYCC for best actor. This I suppose it easy enough to explain as the Oscars sometimes aversion to negative characters, although it should be noted Laurence Fishburne was nominated for portraying an abusive husband, but I suppose his character was domineering. Thewlis perhaps is just a little too haggard and downtrodden for the academy, or maybe it is because he is not obviously evil like Ike Turner was in this film, and his character is in many ways one big gray area.
Thewlis in this film really does not learn any lessons as David and almost seems to be in the same place at the end as he was at the beginning of the film. His various experiences seem to effect him very little, and it seems almost everything that he does is basically because there is nothing better to do with his time. He recognizes the fact of his place in society and life, he is sort of angry about, but he is never going to do anything about it either. He really is a character without a purpose yet he is the character we follow through most of the film, and the only think that seems to really get a rise out of him is a random beating.
Thewlis therefore has quite a challenge on his hands in his performance as Johnny, as he must carry a film as a character who at times just regulates himself to a chair and stare to pass the time. Thewlis though meets this challenge with his performance as Johnny as he has a strange charisma and magnetism in the role. It's hard not to watch Thewlis as Johnny as there is a certain way Johnny moves, and talks that it is immanently watchable. Thewlis does not do this though by trying to show some sort of more likable aspect of Johnny, he consistently makes Johnny as shaggy as he should be, but he brings us in with his unique presence nevertheless.
Thewlis creates a vivid and memorable portrait of this drifter. He never quite says exactly what has brought Johnny there, but he does not need to because of his flawlessly creation of this man's current state. Thewlis never strives away from all of Johnny's flaws which there are many of. Thewlis is always very casual in the role, nothing seems to be the most important thing for Johnny at any moment. Whatever Johnny happens to be doing, Thewlis usually displays the slightest bit of disinterest in Johnny at all times. Even when he goes and seduces a woman for some immediate pleasure, Thewlis is clear at showing as not some big broad gesture of love, but just something to reduce boredom.
If there is a cause or basis for Johnny's behavior it might in fact be something he can not do anything about such as a clinical depression, and Thewlis suggests that this just might be the case for Johnny. Thewlis amazingly actually makes this possibility far more painful but subtly suggesting that having it as an overbearing factor. This depression always seem to be underlying in his eyes which leads to his lack of interest with so many things, and his inability to ever becomes something. Thewlis shows a certain pain always bearing on him that he never seems to shake in the way he is always so cramped in his stance like he is sick, or the way even when he smiled that even seems a tad forced even when he means it.
What is important about this performance though is that although Johnny usually is quite a bored individual this is never a boring performance by Thewlis. There is lyrical quality at times to his work that really brings to life Johnny uncommon outlook on life. I particularly love his long scene with a night security guard with tedious duties who invites Johnny in to talk. As odd as it might sound it is quite a joy to watch Thewlis bring out Johnny various opinions on so many subjects whether it is the end of the world, God, or the tediousness of the security guard's job. It is incredible and unique fashion that Thewlis goes off on all of these subjects and no matter how far off the deep end Johnny might be it is made fascinating by Thewlis.
Thewlis never becomes dull in the least in his portrayal even though his character is in a funk through almost the entire film. The only time he breaks out of this funk is actually caused by a group of men who randomly decide to attack and beat Johnny for awhile. Here Thewlis is absolutely amazing because he shows that his casual constant depression is broken, and all of his deepest fears held by that finally come out. Thewlis shows bluntly the pains of Johnny all coming out at the same in an absolutely striking sequence, as he falls apart losing that disinterest that permeated through the rest of his portrayal.
The important part of Thewlis's performance in the end is that he shows that even after the beating, all that Johnny decides to do is regain that form of distance and disinterest and revert to it. Thewlis is not afraid to shows that Johnny really has learned nothing from his various adventures, and meetings with the different people. All Johnny as been doing according to Thewlis is going about the same drift, the beating only breaks that for a moment it does not cure, as the way it should be. This is just an amazing performance by Thewlis, wit a role that very easily could have gone a numerous ways. Thewlis though keeps this as a truly compelling performance of a man lost in London as well as in his own mind.