Backstage Notes

Honorees add thanks

“I wanted to have an audience never see him change,” said Kevin Spacey of his Oscar-winning portrayal of Lester Burnham in “American Beauty.” “He just evolved.” For that performance, Spacey credited Jack Lemmon, with whom he worked on Broadway in “The Iceman Cometh” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” “He’s been a big influence on me. Without his performance in ‘The Apartment,’ I don’t think I could have done this.

“My history with Jack Lemmon started when I was 13 years old, when I was a young actor and saw him do a production of ‘Juno and the Paycock’ with Maureen O’Sullivan … Jack has played Everyman type roles. (“American Beauty” helmer) Sam (Mendes) and I talked about achieving a subtle sort of change in the character I played. He never changed, he just evolved. Jack was really a model for Lester.”

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“I think everyone deserved to take home this Oscar. I would congratulate Denzel (Washington) for an extraordinary piece of work,” Spacey added.

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“American Beauty” director and Oscar winner Sam Mendes said he would be happy to work for DreamWorks principal Steven Spielberg again. “I would have done this movie for free and I practically did, so he owes me a couple of quid.”

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“DreamWorks did an incredible campaign for this movie. (Studio marketing maven) Terry Press (got) this film (out) across the country. Enough people saw it and they started to talk about it,” producer Dan Cohen said of best picture winner “American Beauty.”

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“Who could possibly say that Annette is other than a winner?” said Thalberg Award honoree Warren Beatty about his wife, thesp Annette Bening, who lost the best actress trophy to Hilary Swank. “I don’t think it’s such a great idea to make this into such a theatrical event. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about those things and I don’t think Annette does either.”

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“I forgot to thank my husband Chad Lowe (when I was onstage), for without him I wouldn’t be here,” said “Boys Don’t Cry’s” best actress winner Hilary Swank. “To see this movie get recognized like this is spectacular. I think this movie opens the door to putting an end to intolerance.”

Talking about the fun of being nominated and at the center of attention, she said: “I think ultimately through it all I have tried to remember why I go to these events and how important a movie this is. It’s a great honor.”

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“I am never concerned about going too far. It’s all amazing for me to see people just be free and not care too much,” said Angelina Jolie, who nabbed the best supporting actress award for her perf in “Girl, Interrupted.” “When I read a script and I am scared, I know it’s good to do it. I took on a personality that was so scared … I am a little crazy in comparison to (pic’s star) Winona Ryder. I am a little out of my mind.”

Explaining her closeness to her brother (her date for the evening), she said, “Friendship between siblings of divorced parents is very close. He’s the sweetest person I know. Dad (Jon Voight) has an Oscar and it’s a big deal for us. We have always watched the Oscars. We grew up around all this.”

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Veteran rocker Phil Collins, who won the original song Oscar for “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Disney’s “Tarzan” (his third Oscar nom), appeared nervous and excited: “There was so much pressure… well, you put it on yourself. I did it with Disney and I feel like I would have let their side down if I hadn’t won it. To get something like this… I hoped but I didn’t expect (it). I hope this now will give me some opportunities to write some movie scores.

“I have a party to go to,” he joked, seeming a bit fatigued by all the questions. And then he turned to the television screen, where Michael Caine was delivering his acceptance speech. “Right on. Another Englishman.”

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“Every single person in this category could have one. I am a survivor. I am just accepting this award for the others,” said supporting actor winner Michael Caine (“Cider House Rules”). “The standing ovation threw me. To be held with such regard here in Hollywood is just marvelous.”

Speaking of his “Cider House” role, he said, “(My character) has tremendous compassion for children. What it does leave with you is the hopelessness of children in the face of an adult. Any charity I may do is directed toward children.”

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“I will speak in Polish because I always think and feel in Polish,” said director Andrzej Wajda, who received an honorary award for his body of work. He thanked America for helping Poland “rejoin the family of democratic nations,” but Wajda said he had no interest in translating his award into plans to direct an English-language film. “This is the best a director from Eastern Europe could expect,” he said, “to make a movie in another language that is appreciated in America.”

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Enthusiastic — to say the least — best foreign-language film winner Pedro Almodovar had to be dragged from the stage through the combined efforts of presenter Penelope Cruz and fellow presenter Antonio Banderas. Backstage, Almodovar said that the win would not change the types of movies that he would do, but he said he would like to see change in another area: the voting rules for foreign-language films. “(The Academy) rules for this category (are) very discriminating,” he said. “It is almost humiliating to ask for the vote. The campaign is very hard, very strange and very weird.”

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Nine-time nominee Conrad Hall — who won an Oscar in 1969 for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” — walked off with the cinematography Oscar for “American Beauty.” “It was an incredible screenplay. It was hard to see it as a movie, because the people were not that likable,” he said. “But (helmer Sam) Mendes said, ‘If they are not likable, we don’t have a screenplay.’ All humans are kind of dysfunctional.”

On working with a director known for his theater work, he said, “I have never worked with a first-time director known for his theater sensibility. Sam is an accomplished dramatist. He was a control freak. I mean that in the best sense. He knew what he wanted. He is a brilliant dramatist and all good dramatists are good visualists. I accused him of looking like and acting like and being as talented as Orson Welles.”

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John Corigliano, best known as a symphonic conductor and composer of operas (“Ghosts of Versailles”) had only written two films scores — Al Pacino starrer “Revolution” and William Hurt topliner “Altered States,” for which he nabbed an Oscar nom — before his Oscar win for “The Red Violin.” Corigliano explained the difference between composing for the stage and the screen: “It’s a matter of vision. When I write my concertos, it’s my vision. But when you write for the screen, it becomes about the director’s vision.” The best thing about working in the movies? “They are the one thing that, around the world, everyone is interested in.”

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Arthur Cohn, director of best documentary winner “One Day in September,” thanked the Academy for recognizing his film not on the basis of box office but on the quality of the work. The kind words carried their own barb: Not only was “September” the only doc title in competition that currently has no distributor, but popular wisdom had “September” running neck-and-neck with Artisan’s “Buena Vista Social Club,” which has been a major hit for the indie — and likely received the best distribution of any documentary this year. Backstage, however, Cohn gave credit to all of the films in the running and said that he could not remember another year in which the documentary competition was so tight. He added that he would decide on a distributor for the picture in the next two weeks.

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Rick Heinrichs, who won the art direction Oscar for “Sleepy Hollow,” was asked to comment on “Hollow” helmer Tim Burton’s predilection for beginning or ending virtually every one of his pictures with snow, and offered this explanation: “Snow is a very magical element for him. He does love snow. I would presume to say it has a cloaking and blanketing effect for him in the same way as light and shadow provide.”

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Best animated short winner, Alexandre Petrov, the Russian-born creator of “The Old Man and the Sea” was charmingly at a loss for words onstage, but backstage he was more at ease, recounting through a translator the 2-1/2 arduous years of the film’s making. After praising Ernest Hemingway, who wrote the novel on which his film is based, Petrov downplayed the agony of painting images on glass by hand for the Imax pic, saying he felt “it was my debt to do this film.”

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Documentary short subject winners Susan Hannah Hadary and William A. Whiteford took home Oscar for their HBO docu, “King Gimp.” Asked if winning the Oscar meant that her docus would be getting longer, Hadary laughed and said “We’re staying in shorts; long form is a much harder field.” Whiteford disclosed that the duo is now at work on two new projects, one that focuses on “schizophrenia” and another that deals with “a young man who recently lost his father, sort of about death and dying.”

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