In a piece that ran yesterday (3.12), Toronto Star critic Peter Howell declared that “of the many conspiracy theories advanced for why The Hurt Locker beat Avatar at the Academy Awards, the only one that holds water is based on terrified actors.

“The actors’ branch is the largest single bloc amongst the academy’s nearly 6,000 voters,” he reminds, “and the thinking goes that flesh-and-blood thespians balked at giving Best Picture to a movie that triumphantly featured computers over humans. A vote for Avatar, rightly or wrongly, was viewed as a vote to put yourself out of a job.”

Not to take anything away from Howell, but he’s echoing a suspicion that The Envelope‘s Pete Hammond had reported about three days earlier, having spoken to various older thesps at a pre-Oscar party last weekend.

Update: Howell has told me he resents an implication that he may have borrowed the idea from Hammond’s column without giving credit, which, being a totally respected pro, he always does when appropriate. He didn’t see Hammond’s column, he says, and based his piece on “discussions with real live sources.” I only meant to point out that Hammond was the first to run an interview-supported article suggesting that the actors killed Avatar‘s Best Picture shot — that’s all. Nothing more than that.