Whoopi’s prepared for her fourth fling

Host reflects on past Oscar outings

‘This is not a show about me. It’s all about people hungry to step into the pantheon of Oscar notables.’ — Whoopi Goldberg

HOLLYWOOD — Whoopi Goldberg hadn’t planned on hosting the 74th annual Academy Awards –having hosted the 66th, 68th and 71st telecasts, she figured the third time was the charm — but that was before the events of Sept. 11.

“I probably wouldn’t have done it under any other circumstances,” she says. “Because I kind of felt like I would have had to top what I did last time and I don’t think that’s possible. But it’s a very different feeling this year so I feel comfortable coming in and doing what needs to be done. We’re coming in with a lot of weight this year. So there’s a reflective mood for all of us.”

Then, more strange things happened. In February, Goldberg sent her supporting actress Oscar (for “Ghost” in 1990) to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to be cleaned and replated. However, when the Academy forwarded the statue to the manufacturer for the repairs, it was stolen from its UPS shipping container.

Luckily, the statue was found in a trash bin by a California airplane security guard and brought back to its owner.

“It was pretty ridiculous,” says Goldberg. “But it’s secure now and I don’t think I’ll be taking it anywhere. Oscar will never leave my house again.”

Unforgettable moment

Goldberg says she’ll never forget the feeling of winning an Oscar, or rather she’ll never quite remember it. “I remember wanting it the first year so much I could taste it (she was nominated in 1985 for ‘The Color Purple’),” she says. “And I still wanted it. And then suddenly I did and I went up there and nerves just took over. The next time I was conscious of a thought was two days later. It was all a blur, a wonderful, wonderful blur.”

This year’s Oscars marks the first time in history that two African-American men have been nominated in the actor category: Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) and Will Smith (“Ali”). With an honorary Oscar going to Sidney Poitier and an actress nomination for Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball,” it’s actually been over 30 years since so many black actors have been honored. But Goldberg insists black America has a long way to go.

“It’s kind of a shame that we’re looking at it from that perspective. It really shouldn’t have to do that much with our complexion,” she says. “People are gonna vote the way they vote. That’s the bottom line. I think back to ‘The Color Purple’ when all kinds of black people were nominated. I like to think that things are possible.”

For her return to the podium, Goldberg says she’s excited to work with telecast aspects that are familiar and new. “I always love working with Bruce Vilanch. There’s just nobody who gets me as well as he does. He gets my voice. And I’m also very excited to be hosting at the Kodak Theater, Oscar’s new home.”

The 46-year-old standup comic-actress-producer whose next bigscreen role is in “Star Trek: Nemesis” and can be seen weeknights in the center square of hit syndicated gameshow “Hollywood Squares,” says it will be her job to stay out of the limelight on Oscar night.

“This is not a show about me. It’s all about people hungry to step into the pantheon of Oscar notables. That’s really what it’s all about.”

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