A Top Oscar Contender's Unlikely Stars

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Marlene Gorkiewicz, left, Art Hill, at back, and Kevin Pilla, right are laid-off U.S. workers
CBS

One of the year's most acclaimed films features some unlikely movie stars. They never took an acting class. In fact, they don't act at all. Yet, as CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, they wound up with key roles in a top Oscar contender - "Up in the Air."

Behind the Hollywood glitz and the six Oscar nominations are three regular people who pack a dramatic punch with their real life stories of being fired.

"This is what I get in return for 30 years of service to my company?" says Art Hill in the film.

"I'm disappointed," Marlene Gorkiewicz says at another point, "that I've given so much of my life. "

"How am I supposed to go back as a man and explain this to my wife that I lost my job?" Kevin Pilla asks.

These three speak to the 8.4 million jobs lost since the start of the recession. They all answered local calls from filmmakers looking for people who were out of work, thinking they'd be in a documentary not an Oscar-nominated feature film

"As a director my job is to look for authenticity - to look for real," "Up in the Air" director Jason Reitman said.

Reitman got it, weaving into his film true stories that still sear.

Hill worked at Chrysler for 32 years, starting on the assembly line and working up to inspector before being let go - just like that.

"One could say, 'Well, hey, don't take it personal,'" Hill says. "We can't take it any other way but personal because when you're losing your job, it's like losing your life."

Pilla, a father of four, was a sales director at an electronics company in St. Louis where he'd worked for 11 years.

"I felt betrayed to be honest with you," he said. "I had not the slightest inkling."

And Gorkiewicz spent 27 years at a major airline, working in human resources of all things. She lost her job nearly a year ago.

"That's when it sets in that you're not going to see your work friends, that you're not going to, um…" she trails off, sobbing. The pain is still with her.

But they'll all be watching on Oscar night, proud to tell the story of millions of Americans to millions more.

"This is so much more than just a movie because you know when someone is watching this movie they can relate to it because it is a true sense of reality," Hill said.

Three ordinary folks breathing life into statistics - in a way no actors or scripts ever could.

  • Jim Axelrod
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    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning" and other CBS News broadcasts.