As the black-tie crowd made its way down the red carpet, they were ready to roll with Rock.
Despite the debate the past few weeks over the choice of Chris Rock as host, not a discouraging word was heard as guests arrived at Hollywood & Highland.
“Chris will bring spontaneity, intelligence and a bit of irreverence,” said Samuel L. Jackson. “People take the Oscars too seriously, like it’s this career-making or career-breaking thing. It should be more of a celebration.”
“Having Chris might be the key to getting a younger audience,” said Graham King.
Sean Combs said, “I think he’ll bring the culture shock the world needs — it’s the new Oscars.”
“He’ll bring an edge, but every host brings an edge,” said producer Gil Cates. “Johnny Carson brought an edge the first time he hosted. He was the first host to talk to the audience like he was in their living room.”
(Asked how he would handle the passing of Pope John Paul II if it happened during the show, Cates reacted with an eye rolling: “Gimme a break!”)
As in the past, the arrivals seemed to function primarily as a means for the fashion press to report on who’s wearing what.
Perhaps the best answer to the ubiquitous “What are you wearing” query came from Warren Beatty who replied to Women’s Wear Daily with: “If I knew who made my tuxedo, I’d be in the tuxedo business.”
Another quick bit of repartee came from Cate Blanchett, who was offered a spearmint Tic Tac by the KTLA crew as they waited to go live. “Is that a hint?” said the supporting actress nominee.
As for the prospect of winning, there were myriad ways to handle the pre-show butterflies.
“If I don’t win tonight, I’m taking out an ad in the trades with my speech,” said “Million Dollar Baby” producer Al Ruddy. “I’ve practiced three times — for the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild and SAG — without having a chance to give it. I’m over-rehearsed.”
Martin Scorsese said he’d surely like to win, but “how long has it been since I was first nominated? It’s been a long time. I made all those movies without winning. God willing, I can go on making films.”
The red-carpet arrival setup seemed almost identical to past years; ditto the police presence. There did seem to be more fans across from the Highland entry, but some could have been just passersby who stopped to watch the circus. One teenage boy was actually heard to say: “Is this a music awards, or what?”
Early in the afternoon there was a “tussle,” in the words of one participant, over the interview platform Oprah Winfrey would have in the prime real estate adjacent to the Orchid Way — something to do with the steps extending too far into the red carpet. Presumably it was all settled before the stars arrived.
As in past years, the guests who seemed happiest on the red carpet were those who don’t indulge in much glamour throughout the year.
“For a bunch of animation geeks from Northern California, this is eye-popping,” said Pixar founder John Lasseter. Paul Haggis, the “Million Dollar Baby” screenwriter, joked that he could hear the crowd shouting: “The writers are coming! The writers are coming!”
Johnny Depp, who doesn’t frequently attend this kind of affair, said it was “not because I’m particularly antisocial, but I’m not good in large crowds.”
One “celebrity” who didn’t get much media response was L.A. Mayor James Hahn. If Hahn decides he’d like to work the red-carpet press line again, he might consider arriving earlier: Given the choice between Leonardo DiCaprio and Hahn, there’s not much competition.
And as for guessing who might win, the best pre-show response came from Focus Features co-topper James Schamus, who said: “My prediction is ‘The Lord of the Rings’ will not win 11 Oscars. So we have a much better chance of staying awake.”