Behind the scenes on Oscar weekend.
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.