Academy Awards are being presented at the Kodak Theater March 7. To those who have already attended, no explanation is necessary. To those who have never been there, no explanation is possible.
Still, that doesn’t deter me. Here is some handy advice for nominees, particularly first-timers:
• Bring a snack: You leave the house at 2:30 p.m. and it’s seven hours before you get a meal. Protein bars and trail mix are dandy little sources of brain food. And avoid the booze. Believe me, if you win, you don’t want to be light-headed.
• Make things easy for security: If you’re bringing your own car, just be aware that security people are very democratic, and scan all cars equally. In other words, clean out your trunk.
• Keep breathing: Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Concentrate on those breaths. It sounds obvious, but it can be deeply calming during moments of stress.
• Bring lozenges: If your throat gets dry, suck on a Halls or an Altoid. In theory, you could drink a lot of water, but that leads to other complications (lines to the loo during commercial breaks can be daunting). But don’t chew gum. Gum is fine for Lakers games, but it’s amazing how all that carefully chosen black-tie finery is undercut if the camera catches you lost in thought, chewing on your Wrigley’s.
• Prepare a speech: Ingrid Bergman, Sally Field and Cuba Gooding Jr. made memorable acceptance speeches that seemed totally spontaneous. That’s three people in 81 years. Most of us have forgotten (or happily repressed) the many other folks who’ve clambered to the stage and given rambling, stream-of-consciousness speeches because they hadn’t prepared anything (“I didn’t think I would win!”).
• Prepare a speech: In other words, no laundry lists. It’s boring. It’s also self-destructive: If you rattle off 30 names, there will still be No. 31 and 32 who feel slighted. At Monday’s Oscar nominees luncheon, Bill Mechanic, one of the show’s producers, warned against such a recitation, “It is the single-most hated thing on the show.” Second, if you’ve won awards this season, try to come up with a different speech for the Oscars. Many have lamented the fact that Oscar’s TV ratings have never equalled the “Titanic” levels during the past dozen years. But is it just the lineup of contenders, or is it the speeches?
When viewers have seen a star rattle off the same litany of thanks at the Broadcast Critics, the Globes, the BAFTAs and the SAG Awards, who wants to watch it again? So this year, nominees, you can start a precedent: A new speech for each kudocast. Talk about what it’s like to work in your field, give an inspiring thought to young folks, say what it means to be recognized after such a long (or relatively brief) career, or thank the one person who changed your career (a parent, a teacher, a mentor). Espouse a cause. Please, please. I don’t ask you for many favors, but please grant me just this one.
• Keep perspective: Some years ago, I was nominated for a journalism award. Frankly, I’d never heard of these particular awards, nor the org that was handing them out. So I was pleased but detached. However, once I arrived at the ceremonies, the chatter was all about the awards, the awards, the awards, so by the time my category arrived, my heart was pounding out of my chest. I had gone past “I want to win” to “I MUST win!” I didn’t. I was crestfallen. My whole world had collapsed. The next morning, I woke up mystified: I wasn’t sure how I’d gone from flattered indifference to this. Was I nuts? And the answer is: Yes, I was.
Awards have a way of undoing all sense of logic and priorities (i.e., they have ways of messin’ with your head, to borrow a phrase from my youth). So go on March 7 and have fun, enjoy the achievement, but try to keep things in perspective.
Read previous columns at Variety.com/Gray