Backstage at the Oscars

The way Clint Eastwood has it figured, about all William Munny has on Josey Wales was timing. But, as with gunslingers, timing is about all that matters.

Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” captured four Academy Awards last night, including best picture and best director. He said he felt he had made other films that were “maybe as good” as “Unforgiven,” including “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” Maybe it wasn’t time for the Western genre “to be recognized by the Academy” when “Josey Wales” was released, he said.

The award means “more to me now” because “if you win early in your career, you might wonder where do I go from here. Maybe at that time in life, you might not be mature enough. You might get carried away with yourself and start wearing a monocle and leggings.”

Eastwood cited Sergio Leone, Don Siegel, Jack Arnold and Teddy Post as influences.

When asked about whether “Unforgiven” will generate a boomlet in production of Westerns, Eastwood said: “You never know. I always feel every film has its own life and its own momentum … but I don’t think it is going to bring a vogue in any more than ‘The Crying Game’ would bring in cross-dressing.”

Al Pacino was dazed and confused. Not to mention jet-lagged, having traveled from production in New York to get to the Oscars.

After missing out six times before last night, Pacino said he had an inkling that “this might be the right time or something. Receiving a nomination is one thing and receiving an Oscar is another.”

Pacino was nominated four times before for best actor and twice for supporting actor. He lost out to Gene Hackman for best supporting actor last night before winning as best actor for “Scent of a Woman.”

After receiving the Golden Globe Award earlier in the year, Pacino said he wrote a speech for the first time. “I had gotten used to not getting awards,” Pacino said. “I must have thought my chances were better this time.”

Emma Thompson, best actress for “Howards End,” managed to follow the advice of co-star Anthony Hopkins, who a year ago was best actor for “The Silence of the Lambs.” Quoth the beknighted one: “Don’t throw up and don’t fall over.”

Thompson’s analogy of coming to the Oscars: “A cross between a very severe virus and getting married. Like a big wedding with only one bridegroom and five brides and you don’t know who he’s going to pick.”

After Thompson revealed that her shimmering emerald gown was “made for me by Caroline Charles of London,” the graceful, witty, no-nonsense thesp quickly got down to more serious business, noting seven of her eight films were independent productions.

Asked if she thinks the British could ever change the way Hollywood pix are made, she said: “It’s a mistake to want to change anything. If you think about David Puttnam, who came in with intentions to change the system, well, it’s very difficult. I can’t imagine how you would change Hollywood.”

Since none of the scribes backstage (who were offered the chance) gave Thompson a question to follow up on her strong pro-women speech, she took it upon herself to make the point.

“This is a year that celebrates women. If it’s supposed to create more roles, that’s very good. I’m very aware I had one of the very best roles around. I don’t kid myself that I would have had this kind of attention with all the great actresses around (if there had been better roles around). We really must do something about that.”

While presenter Barbra Streisand looked forward on stage to the day when the “Year of the Woman” won’t be necessary, backstage, Jean Hersholt honoree Elizabeth Taylor also saw something lacking in this Year of the Woman. “Writers have to write scripts specifically for the women,” she said. “There are wonderful women out there, and it’s a shame they’re not working.”

And if there was a script written just for her? “If something came along,” she said, “I would do it.”

An emotional Gene Hackman, in winning the best supporting actor award for his performance in “Unforgiven,” dedicated the honor to a man who, years ago, was unconvinced acting would pay his nephew’s bills.

“He died last night … and I just found out,” Hackman said of Orin Hackman, who was 88 when he died Sunday.

“He was an interesting newspaperman out of Rochester, N.Y. Also a painter, sculptor. He did have some influence on me early on. I remember one time he met me in New York when I was still struggling, and he said, ‘You know, you should have something else’ — like a regular job.”

Hackman offered a theory for why “Unforgiven” has been such a powerful box office draw and sparked a revival of the Western. “It doesn’t romanticize the Western like we grew up with, the same kind of romantic Westerns, which were wonderful. This one is different in approach. I can’t give you an intellectual answer on this.”

For Hackman, 63, this was the second Academy Award for a performance as a tough cop. In “Unforgiven,” he played sadistic sheriff Little Bill Daggett. In 1971, he won best actor as Popeye Doyle in “The French Connection.”

“The Crying Game” writer/director Neil Jordan was whisked in for interviews after Clint Eastwood and barely given time to speak. He apologized for “forgetting” supporting actor nominee Jaye Davidson in his speech. Pushed to know if that’s why he also forgot to thank Miramax, he only grinned a “maybe” and offered no apology whatsoever.

Jordan, winner for best original screenplay, said he won’t do a “Crying Game” sequel, but quickly added he would do “another movie with Jaye Davidson.”

Jordan, whose next outing is “Interview With the Vampire,” said that the only decision he’s made as a newly hot director “is not to do any films that I don’t write myself.”

Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington were among the attendees to wear purple ribbons, which are symbolic of the effort to combat urban violence.

Washington said he would have talked about the anti-gang effort had he won an Oscar for his performance in “Malcolm X.”

Marisa Tomei, winner of best supporting actress for “My Cousin Vinny,” admitted to being as surprised as anyone that she won. “Yes, yes, I almost tripped on the way up there,” she giggled.

Asked several times about her age, Tomei quipped, “Oh, like what, I better just leave the whole ceremony and go have a baby?”

Tomei, who previously co-starred in the NBC sitcom “A Different World,” laughed out loud when asked if she felt a prejudice going from TV to film. “No, I don’t think I was very recognized at all in the community, so I kind of bypassed that.” Winning, she said, “was just absolutely surreal.”

Alan Menken, winning for the “Aladdin” score, said it was good to be backstage again, and he should know. He’s been a winner three years running, twice with the late Howard Ashman, and this time with lyricist Tim Rice.

Sunday didn’t offer quite the honor. Menken’s score for “Newsies” featured “High Times, Hard Times,” deemed the year’s worst original song at the Oscar-spoofing Razzie Awards. “I’m proud of the score to ‘Newsies,’ ” he said. “It is far from a perfect film, but I’m proud of the movie.”

Winners for best sound effects recording, Tom C. McCarthy and David E. Stone, said the foundation of the “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” sound was set at Sony/Columbia and finished in Francis Ford Coppola’s personal mixing room in Napa.

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