Backstage notes at the Academy Awards
“I’ve just been used to not winning,” said Martin Scorsese. “It’s about getting the pictures made. But when you win something, you appreciate it.”
After “The Aviator” he said, he decided to “just relax and make the best film we can.” But he added “Good thing I didn’t get (the Oscar) before, because maybe it would have changed the kind of movies I would have made. I don’t know if I was strong enough. I’m glad it’s taken this long. It’s been worth it.”
His three longtime pals George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola startled him as they came onstage. “It was an extraordinary moment when the three of them came out and gave me a look. Particularly in that 10-12 years from the ’70s to the early ’80s, we worked together. It was like a private film school. I just went up to San Francisco to see Francis and his new film, at George’s new theater. To see them come out and give me a look before they opened the envelope, was a real surprise.”
He confirmed he is interested in the possibility of a sequel or prequel to “The Departed,” though he may not direct, and as for the idea of Robert De Niro appearing in it, he said “Not a bad idea.”
* * *
The first question backstage for producer Graham King: What did he think of the Producers Guild of America’s (and by default, the Academy’s) decision to deny Paramount chief Brad Grey a producing credit on “The Departed”?
“I will say right now, I think he deserved a credit on the film. He did so much for the picture,” King said. “But I don’t make the rules, and their decision is their decision.”
King said once Martin Scorsese won the directing prize, he was able to breathe easy. “I was pretty nervous up until the director award was given out. When that was (over), my nerves went down, because I thought if we didn’t win best picture, at least Marty’s won his Oscar.”
The producer said his decision not to flog “The Departed” as an Oscar contender was strictly a practical one. ” ‘Gangs of New York’ and ‘The Aviator’ really did need nominations, from a box office point of view. This one, there wasn’t a day on the set when we mentioned award season. … We just didn’t even think about awards on this, we didn’t. And here we are.”
* * *
Setting down her vodka gimlet backstage, Helen Mirren appeared as calm and collected as Queen Elizabeth II herself, at one point answering a reporter’s question in fluent French, and waxing poetic about her Christian Lacroix gown.
“This dress was made for me, built for me, and I have to say, it’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn,” she said. “I really do feel like a queen, or a princess, or a fairy godmother.”
On a more serious note, Mirren said, “I felt so deeply honored to be nominated in a year where there were great performances from women, and that isn’t always the case – not in the sense that there aren’t great actresses out there, but there are often not the great roles for actresses to play.”
But she had to know she was going to win, right?
“To win, win, it’s such a silly word, you know. We’re not athletes. The best thing was just to be here.”
* * *
Asked whether he thought his Oscar chances improved when “Norbit” ads (featuring fellow nominee Eddie Murphy) appeared, Alan Arkin said, “I feel in a sense like a hypocrite, because I don’t believe in competition among artists. I think this is insane. It’s a fun kind of insanity. But who’s to say who’s better? I’m happy I have this, it’s very nice, but I don’t keep score.”
Arkin, who said at the SAG Awards that no part should stick out, says he still thinks so. So why was he singled out? “I think it’s because of my age. Everybody thinks I’m about to keel over.”
With 38 years between noms, Arkin tied a record. The Oscars themselves may have changed since his last time, but Arkin said “I don’t remember. I’m 72, I don’t remember anything anymore, and I’m proud of both.”
* * *
It wasn’t easy for Forest Whitaker to immerse himself in the role of one of the great monsters of the 20th century, but in some ways it was easier than, say, playing a drug addict in 1988’s “Bird.”
“There’s characters I’ve played that didn’t want to live, and Idi Amin did want to live,” Whitaker said. “There was so much intensity, it was sometimes invigorating.”
The soft-spoken thesp said it was important for him to acknowledge his ancestors in his speech, as he has all along on the award circuit.
“I wasn’t sure what was going to happen tonight, but I thought something magical was going to happen, because I could feel the breath on my neck,” he said. “And to me, that’s like my ancestors speaking to me … telling me, ‘We’re with you.'”
* * *
Dreamgirl Jennifer Hudson said that she wasn’t overconfident, despite having been the favorite from the outset. When co-star Eddie Murphy was passed over, she said, “It makes you a little more nervous, and I was already nervous.”
As for what she thought about rumors of tension between her and the film’s other stars, “It’s not true, so there’s not much to think about it, how about that?” she said curtly.
She was warmer talking about her grandmother, who chose not to become a professional singer, “My theory is I have a voice, and it was my duty and my dream to do this for her,” and saluting the original Dreamgirls of Broadway, including the original Effie, Jennifer Holliday.
As for her celebration plans, “I’m going to go to the Vanity Fair party and the Governor’s Ball. That’ll be it, I’m not a partier. I’ll sit down with myself and have my own private party.”
* * *
Thelma Schoonmaker (“The Departed”)
Editor Thelma Schoonmaker of “The Departed” credited Martin Scorsese for teaching her “Everything really. To be truthful, to be brave, never to give up fighting for what you believe in.”
She said her biggest challenge on the film, was keeping the film a thriller despite all its comic elements. “It was very hard actually, and it took a long time to get the right mix. We had to restructure a few times and re-shoot a few scenes. It was a struggle to keep all that fantastic new stuff that had come into the movie and still keep it a thriller.”
* * *
Melissa Etheridge (“I Need to Wake Up”)
“This is the only naked man that will ever be in my bedroom,” said Melissa Etheridge, lofting her statuette for writing the original song “I Need to Wake Up,” adding that she thought the Oscars were like “a gay holiday.”
Etheridge admitted she was surprised that her tune, penned for “An Inconvenient Truth,” had beaten three nominated songs from “Dreamgirls.”
” ‘Dreamgirls’ is what music and movies are about. It’s a musical, and it’s what I grew up loving. Had there not been three songs … you might be talking to a different person here.”
* * *
Scribe Michael Arndt thanked the “Little Miss Sunshine” cast both onstage and backstage. “I was unemployed when I wrote this script and I didn’t have an agent, I feel like this is my first big shot, and the fact they did such a great job brining these characters to live really saved my life.”
Arndt is working at Pixar now, on “Toy Story 3,” and collected his Oscar on a night the Pixar gang was beaten out. But he said they’re still likely to tease him. “They’re a pretty merciless bunch. It’s the one place where you can get an Oscar nomination and they just say, ‘cool, you’ve got one,’ because they’ve won so many Oscars. I work across the hall from Gary Rydstrom who’s won seven Oscars. I’m sure I’ll get lots of ribbing when I get up to Pixar.”
* * *
-to-back wins for score, “Babel” composer Gustavo Santaolalla said the challenge of the film was “We didn’t want to make it sound like a National Geographic documentary, we wanted to have something in common between the stories.”
The answer came in the form of an obsure Arabian instrument, the ud. “It’s an ancestory of the lute, and therefore of the guitar,” he said, adding “It was really my companion for the score.”
* * *
Though the producers and the director of “An Inconvenient Truth” accompanied him backstage, questions focused on Al Gore and climate change, not on the film. Asked about his “rock star” reception from auds, he said, “William Hung was a rock star. I just give a slideshow.”
Gore, who reiterated that he is not a candidate for the presidency in 2008, said, “I really hope the decision by the Academy to recognize (“An Inconvenient Truth”) will convince people who did not go to see it before to go see the movie and learn about the climate crisis and then become part of the solution.”
He saluted the Academy for “going green” this year and said “this industry has been among the real leaders in American society about being among those to step up and address this crisis.”
“I’m starting to believe in miracles,” said director Davis Guggenheim, himself the son of an Oscar-winning docu helmer.
He said that before he left for the Kodak, he held one of his late dad’s Oscars, earned for a film on Robert Kennedy. Guggenheim said he went back to what his father said: “Every movie is personal, no matter what it is.” So by focusing the film on Al Gore’s personal journey, “I was stealing from my father’s playbook.”
The group was just leaving the room when Melissa Etheridge’s win was announced. Gore stepped to the middle of the room to watch on a monitor with his arm around Laurie David, pumping his fist in the air and beaming.
* * *
Speaking through an interpreter, honorary Oscar recipient Ennio Morricone said he was enormously moved by Celine Dion’s performance onstage.
“It gave me immense pleasure. She said (at first), ‘You know, I don’t know if I’m going to be capable because I’m feeling very moved myself,'” said the vet composer, who added that he treasured a record of Dion singing the theme from “Once Upon a Time in America.”
Asked which of his famous scores he liked best, Morricone said, “It’s like asking a father if he has a favorite child. I never answer that question.”
* * *
“Pan’s Labyrinth” lenser Guillermo Navarro had the misfortune to arrive backstage just as Germany’s “The Lives of Others” upset “Pan’s” for the foreign-language film Oscar.
“It was hard, because the foreign-language film (award) really represents the work of all of us,” Navarro said. “And we feel that we did a very, very powerful movie, and we’re very proud of it. I was hoping for that. I was really, really hoping for that.”
Navarro added, “I agree that the German movie is a very good movie. Don’t get me wrong.”
* * *
Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon
Docu short-subject winners Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon kept the focus backstage on their film, “The Blood of Yingzhou District,” a sobering look at the plight of Chinese children with AIDS.
“We have been doing a lot of public service announcement work in China,” Lennon said. “We’ve been working with the Ministry of Health and getting public service anti-stigma messages out to viewers within China, and we want to push forward and do more of that kind of work. I think this Oscar may help us do that.”
* * *
Milena Canonero dedicated her third career Oscar to Stanley Kubrick, who guided the costume designer to her first award, for 1975’s “Barry Lyndon.” Canonero said the late helmer continued to educate her, even on the set of the 18th-century period pic “Marie Antoinette.”
“Fashion sometimes influences cinema as well — it’s an exchange. It’s a continuous exchange, and Stanley used to say, you get your inspiration for cinema from all sorts of sources, and fashion can be one of them.
“To have the opportunity to work with a master like him, it’s great. It’s a great gift,” she added. “He put me there. I was nobody.”
* * *
“The Lives of Others”
“The Lives of Others” writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck slyly fended off a reporter’s question about whether he thought the Bush/Cheney administration was using the secret surveillance techniques depicted in his film.
“I can see where you’re heading, and I sometimes marvel, what can the Stasi have done with the kind of equipment that’s around today?” he chuckled, before replying in the negative. “If we were really in something like 1984 East Berlin, and you had asked this question here and now, and I called you tomorrow, somehow, no one would know where you were.
“There will always be abuse of power as long as there is power, but as long as we can speak out against it, I’m OK with that.”
* * *
John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall
The winning visual effects team for “Pirates of the Caribbean 2” is already hard at work on the next film, due out this summer. “We have a meeting with the director early tomorrow morning” said ILM’s John Knoll, adding that “Pirates 2 is just the starting point for where we’re going with ‘Pirates 3.'”
They promised a big battle scene, and lots and lots more computer-generated water, which Knoll said “is just making our life difficult and miserable.”
* * *
Despite Internet leaks, Sherry Lansing said she was genuinely surprised when Tom Cruise presented her Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. “I had seen him at an Oscar party a few days before and he was sort of cold.” So when he gave her the award, he whispered in her ear. “This is an honor, I really wanted to do this, you know how much I love you, and at the party I couldn’t say anything.’ It brought back a flood of memories, going back to “Taps” back at 20th Century Fox.”
She said “I don’t think Tom Cruise needs any career tips, he’s one of the singularly best actors I’ve worked with in my entire life and one of the singularly best producers I’ve worked with in my entire life, he doesn’t need any career tips.” She predicted Cruise would win an Oscar for producing within five years.
* * *
Beantown’s William Monahan, winner for “The Departed,” said that “(Boston has) never really been well represented. When I was a kid you’d see people from Boston and they’d be talking like the Kennedys or the Pepperidge farm man. We’re another country. That’s what I wanted to get into, having spent so much time trying to get out of it.”
He credited Jack Nicholson with sexualizing his Boston-Irish mob boss. “I had written Jack’s character originally as a standard issue 68-year-old Irish Catholic murderer. And 68-year-olds in my experience are not so much for sexual prosthesis and cocaine.”
* * *
Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Willie Burton
After the usual platitudes thanking the director and the studio for a “dream” experience, “Dreamgirls” sound mixing team of Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer and Willie Burton was confronted with the inevitable query about beating out 19-time bridesmaid Kevin O’Connell.
Burton said that O’Connell should “hang in there, your time will come” and Beemer said, “What he’s accomplished is mind-boggling.” But Minkler, apparently seriously, sniped at O’Connell for playing the sympathy card and said “he should find a new line of work.”
* * *
Ari Sandel, winner f
or live-action short for “West Bank Story,” said he wanted to make a movie that was hopeful and pro-peace. “I tried to make a movie that Israelis and Jews could watch and like the Arab characters, and that Arabs could watch and like the Israeli characters and feel equally represented. The reaction from Jews and Arabs has been overwhelmingly positive. So in that sense it’s been a success.”
* * *
George Miller, director of top toon “Happy Feet,” said he’s going back to live-action actors for a while. “But I’m hooked on animation,” he said. “This new digital age is so fantastic we’ll keep working in it.”
The “Road Warrior” helmer added, “I started off doing action movies and doing live action, I never thought I’d be holding an Oscar for animation.” As for getting the Oscar from Cameron Diaz, he said, “Except when I’ve stood next to George Clooney, I’ve never felt the intensity of those cameras. So I feel pretty good.”
* * *
Every Oscar winner thanks the Academy, but Torill Kove, director of animated short pic “The Danish Poet,” meant it from the bottom of her heart.
“What the Academy’s doing for animators, is that they’re bringing the animated-short form into … I hate to call it the mainstream, because that sounds a bit condescending,” she said. “The animated-short community is a wonderful, eclectic, inclusive community, but it is a little insular, and I think to have the Academy recognize this film form every year, it’s really, really wonderful.”
* * *
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman
“Letters From Iwo Jima” sound editors Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman were accidentally identified backstage as having won for “Flags of Our Fathers” — a mistake that led quite naturally into a discussion of the two WWII films and their very different soundscapes.
“In ‘Flags of Our Fathers,’ it was (on) a grand scale,” Murray said. ” ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ was more claustrophobic.”
“We were finished with ‘Flags’ before we even saw ‘Letters,’ ” Asman added. “We deliberately wanted them to be different. It was a different war from both sides, but we tried to make it feel like it was pretty scary for everybody there. It was pretty scary for us.”
* * *
David Marti and Montse Ribe
The bilingual theme continued as Spanish makeup artists David Marti and Montse Ribe of “Pan’s Labyrinth” collected their kudos. Marti said that they knew they were onto something special when helmer Guillermo del Toro met with them in a restaurant and told them about the film. “We thought this is an amazing story and we thought we want to be part of that movie. With Guillermo, it’s always in a restaurant.”
What kind of food? No, not Mexican or even tapas. Japanese.
* * *
Eugenio Caballero and Pilar Revuelta
Art director Eugenio Caballero and set decorator Pilar Revuelta were the first winners from “Pan’s Labyrinth” to appear backstage — but not the last.
“I’m very happy about what is happening with this movie,” Caballero said. “I think it’s important because … in this cruel world right now, it’s important to give a chance to fantasy, and in that fantasy find some hope. I think this movie is about hope.”