Center Stage with Oscar Winner Michael Govier

Michael Govier's shadow souls are manifestations of grief (courtesy of Oh Good Productions)

“I wish we were doing this interview at Rennie’s,” says the voice on the other end of the line.

On the phone from his home in Los Angeles is Michael Govier, BS ’00 (theater arts). It is May 6, and Govier is simultaneously missing Eugene and the popular campus-area pub while trying to find a home for the Academy Award he won on April 25.

“I just love Eugene,” Govier says. “I love hiking, and everything’s green. I did a lot of hiking Spencer Butte. The simple things, like going across that footbridge, walking to a game, those things are always so satisfying.”

Also satisfying? Winning an Oscar after bringing to life an idea that until a few years ago only existed inside Govier’s head.

“It was just so exciting,” says Govier. “In that moment it was, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and then you’re walking up and everyone’s cheering for you and you hit the stage and it’s, ‘Wow, this happened,’ and I felt so honored, felt so privileged, so grateful for all the wonderful people that helped us all get there.”

Govier and fellow writer Will McCormick won the Academy Award for best animated short film for If Anything Happens I Love You, a 12-minute look into the world of parents whose marriage is suffering under the strain of losing their only child in a school shooting. The powerful emotions stirred by the film amount to a rebuttal of the desensitization that can accompany these tragedies.

Govier attended the University of Oregon due in large part to the theater program, and says he became “obsessed” with the Pocket Playhouse, the student-run theater that gives Ducks the opportunity to experience every facet of putting on a show.

He performed in Nicholas Nickleby and several Shakespeare plays, and was a founding member of the UO’s Absolute Improv student troupe. “I am always so happy to see that Absolute Improv is still going strong,” Govier says. “I never thought that when we started it in 1996 it would still be around.” (Coincidentally, classmate Skye Fitzgerald, MFA ‘97 (theater arts), was nominated for an Oscar this year for his documentary, Hunger Ward.)

Govier is “really a very talented actor; Michael is very funny; he’s a very good comedian,” says Janet Rose, a senior instructor in the Department of Theatre Arts who taught the lighting classes Govier took as a student.

After graduating, Govier moved to Chicago and honed his craft on stage for a decade before heading to Los Angeles to break into the film industry. He starred in a number of short films and can also be seen on This Is Us, NBC’s award-winning family drama.

During an acting class, he struck up a friendship with McCormick, one of the writers of Toy Story 4. Govier told McCormick about an idea he had: shadow souls.

In Govier’s mind, shadow souls are the manifestations of grief that a person can’t connect to. They live in a person’s shadow, acting out what that person is thinking and feeling, but cannot express. It wasn’t long before Govier homed in on exactly what that grief could be caused by.

“Everyone’s constantly discussing school shootings,” says Govier. “Sometimes the world gets a little desensitized to these kinds of events, and it just kind of becomes a number. ‘Well, how many (dead)? That’s not that bad.’ We wanted to show that one is bad. I wanted to show a story about the loss that one family is feeling and that grief, and how that grief can be transcended. That grief, I think, is a point we can all relate to. It’s a touchstone. Everyone wants their kids, their families, their loved ones to come home safe. I think it’s a starting point, where we can all begin the conversation.”

Govier and McCormick spent a year on the script. Their animators—recent graduates from the California Institute of the Arts—created a world that is equal parts gorgeous and sparse. Govier wanted the art to be as empty as the worlds of grieving people who are suffering from the loss of a loved one.

While the husband and wife in the film largely go about their lives in silence, triggered by objects around the house that remind them of their daughter, their shadow souls project onto the walls behind them and act out their emotions and feelings.Govier (right), with Witherspoon and McCormick at the Oscars (credit: Matt Petit, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

If Anything Happens I Love You is such a tearjerker that fans who cried while watching it started a viral sensation on the social media platform TikTok, filming themselves before and after watching the film to show whether or not they shed tears. The hashtag #IfAnythingHappensILoveYou has been viewed more than 70 million times.

While Govier doesn’t know where he will end up keeping his statue—it’s currently on a chair in his living room, after spending time on his dining room table—the morning after the ceremony he took it with him when he went to get a breakfast burrito from Tacos Villas Corona.

“I’ve been coming to Tacos Villas Corona since I first moved to Los Angeles,” says Govier. “It’s a couple of neighborhoods from where I live, but I always go to it, and they’ve always been so supportive of me. The next morning, I brought the statue in to show them because they had asked, and it was so fun to see their excitement. ‘Hey, we believed in you from the beginning, we’ve always loved you!’ It was so nice; there’s those kind of reactions from people, and they get to share in the win because they’ve been so supportive.”

By Damian Foley, assistant director of marketing and communications for the UO Alumni Association