Backstage Notes

This article was updated at 10:33 p.m.

After months of debate over whether he or Martin Scorsese would win best director, Clint Eastwood emerged triumphant with nothing but praise backstage for his fellow nominee.

“I kind of was a little bit disappointed when they started building a competition between Marty and myself, because I have the greatest respect for him and for the films he’s done over the years, right up through ‘Aviator,’ ” he said. “I was just happy that ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ which is a humble picture financially, captured the imagination of the public.”

Eastwood was similarly gushy over Alexander Payne, also nommed in the directing category for “Sideways.”

“I thought his film ‘Election’ was one of the best films of the last five to seven years,” he said. “I love to see starting new people, I love to see young directors coming along. … I think there’s room for everybody.”

Still, the 74-year-old legend said his victory — and Morgan Freeman’s win — was a sign of good things to come for Hollywood veterans.

“We’re takin’ over,” he said. “The AARP and me, we’re coming down there.”

In praising his fellow helmers, Eastwood quoted the best-known line from “Unforgiven,” for which he won picture and director statuettes 12 years ago – “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

“I don’t want to say I adhere to that,” he said. “But there’s a lot of movies that have won the Academy Award, and a lot of great movies that haven’t.”

* * *

With her second actress victory, Hilary Swank joined the ranks of two-time Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and Jodie Foster. But don’t tell her that.

“One of these does not belong,” she sang backstage.

Swank was not bashful about praising the rest of the “Million Dollar Baby” crew, however, singling out makeup artist Tania McComas and suggesting a change in Academy nominating procedure.

“There’s only three nominations for makeup when there’s five in every other category,” she said. “I think (McComas’) work was so good, it may have looked like I was really getting black eyes.

“You’re only as good as your weakest link, and we didn’t have a weak link.”

Swank, who conceded she hadn’t had a great part since 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” said she had new appreciation for the difficulty of finding noteworthy roles for women — namely, roles that didn’t involve prostitution. Not that she has anything against that.

“I would play a hooker, if it were the right hooker,” she said. “I just haven’t found a hooker who is … meaty enough, yet.”

* * *

Cate Blanchett got one of the night’s biggest laughs backstage with her emphatic, “Will the Oscar change me? Absolutely, asshole!” Mostly, though, the soft-spoken thesp was self-effacing about her kudos. “I was trained in theater school, and the more films I make, the more education I get in the medium. Certainly working with Martin Scorsese was a minute-by-minute education, and I can’t believe I’m standing here.”

She acknowledged she was sensitive about playing a Hollywood legend in Katharine Hepburn, who died just after Blanchett accepted the role. “So many people in the Academy worked with her or knew her.”

She worked hard to capture Hepburn’s famous athleticism, but admitted, “You can’t please everyone when you’re playing everyone’s favorite actress.”

* * *

If Jamie Foxx was feeling too full of himself as he prepared to accept his actor kudos, his 11-year-old daughter was there to keep things in perspective. “She said, ‘After this can we go to the big awards?,’ which is the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. She may not know the significance of this, but years from now she’ll be able to say, ‘One night my dad and I had a great time.'”

Foxx said he made a point of sending a message to his longtime managers in his acceptance speech. “In this business sometimes you get pulled in different ways, and people say to you, ‘Maybe you could do better with someone else, maybe someone of a different color.’ But after 17 years, you’re kind of like family, so I said the African-American dream just for them.”

He also defended his use of the word “black.”

“There was a young man by the name of Larry Elder who said, ‘Why does Jamie Foxx have to say black?’ For the young kids out in our community, there are so many negative things we’re influenced by. In our everyday life, why not have something positive and then stamp it with blackness?”

* * *

“Million Dollar Baby” producer Tom Rosenberg said he was willing to help get the picture financed, even after Warners had balked, because “I thought it had the possibility to be great. Most films, the best they can be is good, but this had a chance to be great. And when Clint said yes, everyone did.”

Fellow producer Al Ruddy said “Baby” was “the easiest job any of us ever had. It came in two days ahead of schedule. You’d almost work free for Malpaso. I say almost because I have two kids in college, but (Clint Eastwood) is never nervous., he’s the commissioner, he’s Mr. Cool.”

Ruddy remembered the night in 1973 when his friend Eastwood announced Ruddy had won best picture for “The Godfather.” Ruddy, who didn’t expect to win, had told Eastwood in jest that he should read out “The Godfather” even if it didn’t win. “I said, ‘Jesus ,what a friend.’ He had to show me that my name was on it, but I think he would’ve done it anyhow. If you have Clint for a friend, you’re richer for the rest of your life.”

* * *

Supporting actor winner Morgan Freeman, who kept his acceptance speech short and sweet, was as always calm and collected backstage.

This is the first win for the thesp, who has been nominated four times.

Ever since his actor nod for 1989’s “Driving Miss Daisy,” Freeman said, he has “become philosophical about the Oscars. It occurred to me that winning the nomination is probably the height of it. It is pretty much as far as you can go and the rest of it is pretty much arbitrary, (but) after you win all of that goes out the window.”

Freeman admitted the standing ovation he received when his name was called “was humbling.”

He had nothing but praise for “Million Dollar Baby” helmer Clint Eastwood.

“Different people will tell you different things,” Freeman said. “I am the kind of actor that likes to be carte blanche. He directs the picture (and) you do the acting. I love that. Most of the actors he works with love that. I think that is why he gets what he gets.”

* * *

What wine goes best with an Oscar for adapted screenplay?

“We’re having some tequila,” said Jim Taylor, who accepted the prize with “Sideways” writing partner Alexander Payne.

Not — as “Sideways” connoisseur Miles Raymond might suggest — a pinot noir moment?

“No, no,” Payne said. “Not efficient enough, if you know what I mean.”

Payne, also nominated for directing, took time out backstage to redress an earlier comment he made on the red carpet, when he referred to the concept of giving out awards for art as “bogus.”

“When you win, it’s fun. Goddammit, what the hell, it’s fun,” he said. “But honestly, the luck we have is having been born in a century when the cinema even exists. You think of all those people who lived and died, those poor sons-of-bitches who never got to see movies. To have that, and to be able to be a filmmaker — we’re so lucky.”

* * *

Chris Rock was all out of Jude Law jokes by the time he got backstage, but the first-time emcee still had more than a few barbs left over.

His plans for later that evening? “I’ll be doing various drugs,” he said. “Good question.”

His thoughts on the diversity of this year’s nominees? “Always good to see some color in the room that don’t have mops.”

But Rock was uncharacteristically subdued when he addressed the question of whether it had been hard not to swear during the kudocast. “I don’t curse in front of my mother, and my mother was front and center, in my view,” he said. “So if I could never curse in front of Rose Rock, why would I do it on television?”

However, Rock felt free to cut loose backstage.

“You give yourself a little pep talk,” he said, about pulling himself together before his hosting gig began. “It’s like you talk to yourself. ‘Hey, let’s do this shit, aight? Bring it, motherfucker, bring it!’ “

* * *

“The Incredibles” helmer Brad Bird slipped into his Edna E. Mode fashionista voice to note, “I am the oldest Bond girl,” and to quip, “Some people look good on the red carpet, but some would have looked better wearing the red carpet.”

In his own voice, he talked about why he enjoyed working at Pixar so much. “They are a director-driven place. They don’t give assignments to directors, they find directors and want to know what you’re passionate about making. John Lasseter loves toys and cars, and Andrew Stanton put his relationship with his son into ‘Finding Nemo.’ “

* * *

Jorge Drexler, who nabbed original song kudos for “Al Otro Lado del Rio” from “The Motorcycle Diaries,” gave his acceptance speech in song and broke out in song again shortly after entering the backstage area.

Asked why he sang his acceptance speech, Drexler simply explained, “I really wanted to sing my song.”

Drexler admitted he liked Antonio Banderas’ and Carlos Santana’s rendition of the song, but said he “wanted to give (his) version, too.”

* * *

Honorary Oscar recipient Sidney Lumet answered questions about his untitled project with Vin Diesel.

“(Vin is) one of the best actors I have ever worked with,” he said. “Vin got his break as a muscle car racer. (The) first picture that he did, $50 million, $60 million, and he’s been regulated to that. He’s a glorious actor, believe it or not, as opposed to a leading man. I’m not going to oversell it. Hopefully, in September, you’re going to see what he is.”

Lumet also touched on the different opportunities for men and women in Hollywood. “I think it really has to do with the nature of drama,” he said. “I mean, you start right off the bat with cop stories, jury stories, gangster stories, and you’re lucky if you’ve got a women’s part at all…. I don’t know that it’s any worse in movies than it is in any other segment of American society.”

* * *

Winning turned out to be a family affair for production designer Dante Ferretti and set decorator Francesca LoSchiavo, as the husband-and-wife team received their first art direction Oscars for “The Aviator.”

While the pair didn’t comment on the kudofest’s more contemporary set design, they had nothing but kind words for the new presentation format, in which all art direction nominees gathered onstage as their category was announced.

“I like to be there, up onstage,” he said. “Also, because we won.”

* * *

Going backstage is becoming business as usual for “The Aviator’s” Sandy Powell. The veteran costume designer was a second-time winner, having already taken home the gold for 1999’s “Shakespeare in Love.”

“That’s a big question, isn’t it? Be more specific,” she said when a reporter asked about her inspiration for dressing Howard Hughes. “Basically, the inspiration came from the man himself. We did a lot of research; we had a lot of reference material. There wasn’t any outside inspiration necessary.”

While she said she was “thrilled for the film and very thrilled for me,” Powell was none too eager to linger in the press room longer than necessary.

“I’ve been sick for the past three days,” she said. When a reporter suggested she medicate with champagne, she replied, “I think I’ll probably try that.”

* * *

Makeup artists Valli O’Reilly and Bill Corso, who took the Oscar for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events,” told reporters backstage to “get together and get one of these.”

Corso said of pic’s star, Jim Carrey, “If he could do his own makeup he certainly would.” Carrey is “one of the most talented men I’ve met,” he added. “This (Oscar) is half his, without a doubt.”

Winning the first award to be handed out and accepted within the audience area didn’t bother O’Reilly.

“(It was) easier,” O’Reilly said. “I am a flip-flop girl, (so the walk) to the mic (was) a lot better.”

* * *

After docu directors Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski snagged an Oscar on their first film, “Born Into Brothels,” Briski admitted, “We have no idea what’s going to happen next.”

“We haven’t made a dime yet,” Kaufman added. “Hopefully we will.”

In the meantime, they’ve returned to Calcutta to visit the prostitutes’ children who are the subject of the film. Briski said, “I’m sure they’re going to be very, very happy and excited.”

The helmers plan to build a school for the children and are bringing an architect with them in April to buy land. “Maybe we’ll show them (the Oscar),” Briski said.

* * *

Nominated for five Oscars, this was the second time “The Aviator” film editor Thelma Schoonmaker nabbed the little golden man. She expressed hope backstage that her longtime creative partner Martin Scorsese also would snag a kudo later.

“The last (Oscar) I won was (for) “Raging Bull,'” Schoonmaker said backstage. “Marty didn’t win (that year), which was kind of devastating for me. It kind of ruined my night a bit. I don’t know what is going to happen tonight.”

She explained that she “was just massaging” what Scorsese had already shot when she edited “The Aviator.” “I think we experimented a lot with the scenes in the screening room. We tried many, many different structures and finally just started breaking the structure and going for the emotions,” Schoonmaker said.

* * *

It was a rocky second trip back to the podium for “Aviator” d.p. Robert Richardson, who joked about his recent loss at the ASC Awards to Bruno Delbonnel for “A Very Long Engagement.”

“I went through collateral damage,” quipped the lenser, who previously won the cinematography Oscar for 1991’s “JFK.” “I survived.”

Despite having ultimately copped the big prize, Richardson was quietly humble about his work on “The Aviator.”

“Every time I look through a camera, I get that thrill. When I look back at this film, I cannot look,” he said. “The process of watching my work, it’s a bad nightmare. I’m not good enough. I need to get better.”

* * *

Chris Landreth, winner for helming animated short “Ryan,” saluted his subject, Ryan Larkin. “He was a famous animator in the 1960s and early ’70s. And the thing about his story is he lives in poverty, and he’s a panhandler today. So he was gracious enough to let me do this film about him, warts and all.”

Landreth said he has been in the “flirtation” stage with studios about directing, but said, “People who know me will tell you that I’m really slow to commit to stuff. It’s one of my faults, I guess, but it keeps me in survival mode, you know.”

* * *

Live-action short winner Andrea Arnold wondered aloud backstage if the end of her breathless speech — in which she referred to her moment in the spotlight as “the dog’s bollocks” — had been bleeped.

“It’s rude in England,” the beaming Brit said with a chuckle. “I’m not sure it’s rude here.”

Arnold, who won for her 23-minute pic “Wasp,” was less than enthusiastic about the Internet’s increasing role in the marketing and screening of short films.

“I’m not keen on the Internet,” she said. “I like to see films in the cinema. I know there’s a lot of publicity for the Internet, but I don’t really know what difference that makes.”

* * *

John Dykstra is one of the most famous names in the visual effects business, but his “Spider-Man 2″ Oscar was his first since the original 1977 “Star Wars.”

Over the last decade, he said, computer technology has changed the nature of the visual f/x profession. “We’ve become more evolved as filmmakers and involved in the art of the story as presented by the work that we do, where we were basically engineers before.”

* * *

Despite his 12 Oscar nominations (and one win, for 1983’s “The Right Stuff”), “The Incredibles” sound designer Randy Thom wasn’t getting tired of donning his tuxedo.

“I think if you’re jaded about being nominated for an Oscar, you need to seek professional help,” he said. “It’s a thrill every time.”

Thom accepted his award, for sound effects editing, with supervising sound editor Michael Silvers. Their resumes have cumulatively covered both toons (“The Polar Express,” “Finding Nemo”) and live-action features (“Hellboy,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”).

Thom said the demands and challenges of the two media are more similar than you’d think. “When you do the sound for an animated film, one of the first things a director tells you is he doesn’t want it to sound like an animated film,” he said. “Our goal is to make it sound like a live-action film.”

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