Unlike sports stadiums, the Kodak Theater doesn’t have a press box for reporters to view the proceedings from above. We’re at the Oscars, but we’re not AT the Oscars—-we’re actually backstage in banquet rooms at the Renaissance Hotel, where we watch the proceedings much like you do, on television.
The difference is, we’re all sitting at long tables, hammering away at our laptops or jabbering into microphones. (If you’re doing that at home, we need to talk.) And while the telecast is going on, the winners are hustled backstage to take questions and to squint against the flashes of two hundred cameras. (When Halle Berry won for Best Actress, she came backstage and ran into Roger Ebert’s arms. I was like, hey, I liked the movie TOO.) So, while the Best Screenplay award is being handed out, the winners of the Best Documentary are meeting the press backstage. The Q-and-A session is broadcast over the speakers in the press room, and we can continue to listen to the televised proceedings via headsets. (We have to hand over our driver’s licenses before they’ll loan us a headset. I guess that’s to prevent us from walking off with a headset that would have absolutely no value outside that particular room.)
There’s a real traffic jam during the last half hour of the broadcast. The winner for Best Actress will be backstage talking to the press, and she’ll stop and say, “Wait, I want to see this,” as they announce Best Actor or Best Picture. Then she’ll have to go back to answering some inane question.
Most years I was seated between my Chicago Sun-Times colleagues, Roger Ebert and Bill Zwecker. We had a lot of fun commenting on the show as we filed our stories. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting near some of the best reporters in the business, as well as some real idiots and characters. One year, the ancient gossip queen Cindy Adams was across from me, and she spent most of the ceremony saying, “Who’s THAT?” and, “Oh, I don’t care for him.” Great, thanks for stopping by.
They feed us well backstage. A lavish buffet of sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, various kabobs, lasagna, salad, coffee, soft drink, bottled water and desserts. No booze though. You don’t want a liquored-up press corps hurling questions at Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
As it is, the questions range from the obvious to the stupid to the ridiculous. One of my favorite moments was when a reporter asked Cate Blanchett if winning the Academy Award would change her life and she deadpanned, “Absolutely, you asshole.”
Or how about this exchange between a reporter from E! and Thelma Schoonmaker, the editor who had just won an Oscar for “The Aviator”:
Q. “Hi, Ted from E! TV. The plane crash was just phenomenal. But forgive me, I do want to ask. Will the DVD have any more great shots of Leo’s backside?”
Q. “Not one?”
Or from the Clint Eastwood press conference:
Q. “Yes, Mr. Eastwood…you’ve got two [Oscars] in your hand. They match the two you had 13 years ago. How do you top yourself again? Where do you go from here? What are you going to be thinking about tonight in terms of future projects?”
A. “I can’t answer any of those…”
And just last year, a reporter noted that parts of “No Country For Old Men” and “There Will Be Blood” were filmed in and around Marfa, Texas, and asked Daniel Day Lewis: “How did that inform your role and how did that inform your performance?”, to which the Oscar winner replied, “In absolutely no way whatsoever.”
* * *
As soon as the Oscars would end, I’d hustle across the street to the historic El Capitan Theater for the two-hour post-show on KABC, which consisted of recaps, reports from the parties, LOTS of talk about the fashion choices (that was Randolph Duke’s forte, not mine), and an insane number of commercial breaks.
By then I’d be on about hour 13 of wearing the tux and the shiny shoes. Around 11:30 p.m. Los Angeles time, I’d finally be done working for the night and I’d hit the parties for a couple of hours, usually with a very understanding date who had spent the evening getting ready and watching the Oscars on TV somewhere and was finally getting to go out.
Here’s my description of the Vanity Fair party from a couple of years ago:
As always, the Vanity Fair event is like a Mad magazine sketch of a party. You cannot take two steps without encountering a famous somebody, from (deep breath) Donald Trump to P. Diddy to Usher to Halle Berry to the Hilton sisters to Reese Witherspoon to Chris Rock to Adam Sandler to Alan Alda to Cate Blanchett to Penelope Cruz to Tom Cruise. It’s fun to see Cruise-Cruz within yards of each other, but it’s cooler to talk to Michael Madsen while his “Kill Bill” nemesis David Carradine is just behind me. We’re a Daryl Hannah away from Tarantino heaven.
Also, chick singers are everywhere: Beyonce. Jessica Simpson. Christina Aguilera. Gwen Stefani. Mandy Moore. Janet Jackson.
Refreshments include booze, cigarettes and In-N-Out burgers.
Or as I like to call it, the breakfast of champions.
Another year at the VF party, an Oscar winner kissed me. Three times. I’m not saying who it is, but all I can tell you is, I’ll never watch “Good Night, and Good Luck” the same way again. (KIDDING.)
A couple of years ago I wound up at a post-post-post party at some ridiculous mansion. They had massage tables set up in one room, blackjack tables by the pool, open bars everywhere. Britney Spears’ dad was making omelets for everyone. By the time I left that party, still in my tux, I had to go straight to a TV studio to file the first of several reports for Chicago and East Coast outlets. Then I had to do some radio interviews and file a column—-and by then it was about 2 p.m. and I had to start getting ready for a taping of “The Tonight Show” later that afternoon.
So yeah, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun to be at the Oscars. Also a little bit of work, and sleep comes later in the week.
This weekend marks the first time this decade I haven’t attended the Oscars. We’re gearing up for a new show but we’re not back on the air yet, and I made numerous personal and business commitments in Chicago for this week—-and quite frankly, I didn’t think a year away from the Academy Awards would be the worst thing in the world. So far I don’t regret the decision for a moment. Because I’ve stayed in Chicago, I was able to participate in the annual tribute to Harry Caray Toast to Harry Caray (that’s me in the giant glasses, alongside Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, WLS-AM’s Roe Conn, Dutchie Caray, former Sox player Ron Kittle and former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, among others), talk Oscars with ‘civilians” who aren’t in the business, strike a deal for a new book, participate in a number of Chicago charity endeavors, set up an Oscar viewing party and do a few other things I’m not at liberty to talk about
Oh yeah, and I got to slog through blowing snow on my coffee walk this morning, and as I write this at my home office, it looks like I’m inside a giant Snow Globe. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice. (“Caddyshack” reference, two points.)
The most fun I had during the Oscars was when I was teamed up with Roger Ebert. He is the Mayor of All Film Critics, and just walking around with him, we’d get stopped for photos, autographs and interview requests. (When I first joined the show, fans would sometimes say to me, “Do you mind taking a photo of Roger and me?” Roger would always say, in a very friendly way, “Do you realize you’re asking RICHARD ROEPER to take your picture? I should be taking a picture of you and Richard!” He was so gracious about things like that.) The last couple of years, I was out there on my own. All told, I’ve been to eight Oscar weekends. Here’s a chronological walk-through of the process.
I’d usually arrive on the Thursday night before the Oscars and check in at the Renaissance Hotel on the corner of Hollywood and Highland, or the trendier, more historic Roosevelt Hotel just a half-block away.
Both hotels are steps away from the red carpet and the Kodak Theater, which believe it or not is attached to a mid-sized shopping mall with stores you’d seen anywhere in middle America. For the Oscars, the stores close and the display windows are covered by temporary wallpaper, the bleachers, the ABC signage, etc. No doubt many of the nominees making that magical walk down the red carpet and up the steps to the Kodak Theater don’t realize they’re passing by a mall with stores like American Eagle, Bebe and Oakley.
First thing Friday morning, I pick up credentials at the AMPAS offices in the Renaissance Hotel. You always run into interesting colleagues there, from print critics such as A.O. Scott of the New York Times and Christy Lemire of the Associated Press to TV types such as Mary Hart and Samantha Harris. Everyone’s gossiping about the possibility of a surprise at the telecast, or maybe a last-minute upset.
I get separate credentials for the days leading to the Oscars, the red carpet and the backstage press room. You go into a room that looks like the Department of Motor Vehicles, a friendly volunteer takes your photo, and a few minutes later you’re handed the newly minted, still-warm credentials that are worth their weight in, um, Oscar Gold. (There’s a warning on the back of the credentials saying that if you lose them, you might as well go home—-and if you knowingly give them to someone else, not only will you be banned from the Oscars forever, you’ll be prosecuted and you’ll be prohibited from ever watching a movie again, even at your neighborhood multiplex.)
I spend the rest of Friday doing blog entries about the Oscars and giving interviews to news outlets ranging from CNN and Fox News to local radio shows to the BBC. Sometimes there’s a translator involved, because my German isn’t what it used to be. I also have the option of attending a few pre-Oscar events like luncheons and low-key parties.
Friday evenings, I usually meet up with friends and hit the bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, among other spots where you’re likely to run into a nominee or two. More often than not, I’ll pick up a few tidbits worth writing about.
Saturday’s a long day. I get up at dawn and write, and then I head down to the red carpet for another round of interviews. By 11 a.m. I’m heading to Santa Monica and the Independent Spirit Awards, which take place under a large tent on the beach. This is the famously casual ceremony where the bar opens early and the fashion is blue-jeans casual, and the expletives fly. One year, I sat next to Halle Berry. Another year, Sean Penn elbowed me, twice, giving me shit because I called him a “short actor” on the “Tonight Show.” One of the most memorable moments occurred when Derek Luke accepted a best newcomer award for “Antoine Fisher,” and told the crowd that just a few years earlier, he had been a waiter at the Spirit Awards ceremony. Last year at the post-show party at Shutters on the Beach, Samantha Ronson was spinning. (I don’t think Lindsay Lohan was up for an Independent Spirit Award last year, so she was nowhere to be seen.)
I usually have to leave the post-party a little earlier to get back to Hollywood for more TV stuff and to get ready for the party circuit, which has quieted down a bit over the years. About five-six years ago, it was ridiculous. You’d hop from one spot to the next, and you’d wind up seeing pretty much everyone who was up for an award the next day. The highlight was always Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax party, where you’d get musical entertainment along the lines of Sting, and actors would participate in skits based on the five nominated films. (I can still see toothpick-legged James Woods in full costume doing his take on “Gladiator.”)
Sunday is Oscar Day, of course. I’d get up early and head down to the red carpet in jeans and sweatshirt to do a last round of interviews and to do prep for the live telecast later in the day. Around noon, I’d head back to the hotel and start getting ready, because by 1 p.m., I had to be in tuxedo and be in place on the red carpet, in my little station behind the cheap plastic shrubbery.
You go through all the security checks and you find your station, and you’re locked in there for the next many hours.
The red carpet experience is surreal and quite silly. I’ve got a director shouting in my ear, “Get Warren Beatty! Wait, forget Warren, grab Miley Cyrus!” while I’m trying to ask Clint Eastwood something and Clint is leaning forward, squinting and saying, “What? Say again?”
I always try to make it interesting for the audience without venturing into Stuttering John territory (the borderline-offensive or nonsensical question thing has been done to death by now anyway). I once made a wager with George Clooney pitting his Oscar predictions against mine (he still owes me a hundred bucks), I fended off a chokehold from Gary Busey, and I told Sally Kirkland she was clinically insane, which she didn’t seem to mind. But I have to confess, there was a moment when I was suffering from red carpet fatigue and I was at a loss, and I actually said to Jennifer Lopez, “Who are you wearing?”
Kill me now.
More behind the scenes stories later this weekend.
A great piece by Roger Ebert. And the photos are priceless.
Just posted my take on “He’s Just Not That Into You” and “Fanboys” in the Review section…
I’m told private citizen Rod Blagojevich does three segments on “Late Night with David Letterman” tonight. Blago’s PR firm says the ousted governor posed with fans and signed autographs outside the Ed Sullivan Theater, and took pictures with some of Dave’s staffers after the taping. Apparently the ex-governor is still more interested in soaking up the spotlight and acting like a celebrity than getting down to the business of mounting a legal defense to the pending charges against him. And if he’s so worried about what all this is doing to his family, why is he back in New York, enduring the jokes and playing the fool, instead of staying at home?
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that at the late afternoon taping, Dave has fun with Christian Bale’s now-infamous profanity-laced tirade, and Blago later compares himself to Bale. I’m assuming the comparison is limited to their mutual affection for f-bombs—-but with Blago you never know. He may see himself as the doppelganger to Bruce Wayne and/or Batman. After all, they’re both widely misunderstood anti-heroes, right? Dark Knights who dress in black and take to the streets—Batman in a super-charged vehicle and protective armor, Blago in sweats and running shoes—and dedicate themselves to fighting crime, only to be unfairly maligned as criminals themselves.
At the end of “The Dark Knight,” Batman is a wanted man. At the end of last week, Blago was an unwanted governor.
Hey wait a minute, maybe Blago IS Batman!
Though lately he’s been acting more like the Joker.
In Jessica Simpson’s music videos and photo shoots, and in the atrocious “Dukes of Hazzard” movie, Ms. Simpson often appeared in bikinis, short-shorts, or cleavage-baring tops. She had an amazing body and she flaunted virtually every inch of it, stopping just short of nudity.
Why not. She’s a bad actress, an OK singer—and that’s about it. One can’t really fault her for exploiting her pretty face and her awesome figure. She’s the All-American girl flaunting her All-American hotness. Nothing new there. What’s she going to do, write a novel? Simpson’s greatest fame was achieved via the “Newlyweds” reality show, in which she and now ex-husband Nick Lachey amused the public as the quintessential C-list celebrities floundering through a starter marriage. If not for her romance with Dallas Cowboy QB Tony Romo, Simpson would be rapidly falling off the pop culture radar.
Until we saw the “new” Jessica Simpson, that is. Wearing those high-waisted jeans and looking more like, well, a regular person than a Size 2 pop princess. Simpson had obviously put on a few pounds, though she was miles away from anyone’s definition of overweight.
A New York tabloid published a cruel cartoon that showed Simpson leaving Romo for Ronald McDonald. Some snarky TV shows had a lot of fun with the photos. More than a few bloggers made jokes at her expense. And of course the photos were hugely popular with the celeb magazines and on the Internet. Even the president of the United States was aware of the situation, joking with a reporter that he was hurt when his family was bumped off the cover of Us magazine by Simpson.
Heidi Klum, Kim Kardashian, Carmen Electra and Jessica’s sister Ashlee, among others, started rushing to her defense. Lots of comments about how shameful it is that the media and the public were focusing on Jessica’s weight gain, and how it sends the wrong message to young girls, and how we shouldn’t be judging Jessica simply because she put on a few pounds.
Of course, Ashlee’s had a nose job, Electra’s had her breasts done, Kardashian has posed nude for Playboy and Klum’s entire career has been a celebration of her incredible beauty. (In a commercial for Guitar Hero, Klum re-creates the Tom Cruise dance number from “Risky Business,” dancing atop a table in bra and panties.) Like most starlets, models, reality personalities, whatever, these women use their looks to get work—and work really hard to look great. (True, Kardashian has a big, sexy ass. And she never stops showing it off or talking about.)
Of course we’re going to notice Simpson’s body now, just as we were encouraged to notice it when she was oiling herself up and dancing around in a bikini. I don’t think we should be mocking her or resorting to cheap jokes, but when your body of work is so dependent on your body, it’s ridiculous to think the media and the public WOULDN’T make a big deal out of a rapid weight gain.
Now watch. Jessica will lose the weight—and she’ll give an exclusive cover interview to one of the celebrity magazines, touting her fitness routine and her diet, and talking candidly about how she felt through the whole weight-gain, weight-loss thing.
And the article will be accompanied by new photos Simpson in a swimsuit or form-fitting clothes, showing off her fabulous bod.
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