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Lucky De Laurentiis, Crowe’s VB

Backstage with the winners

“I think I looked pretty surprised, didn’t I?” said Steven Soderbergh, who took home the gold for directing “Traffic.”

The film has proved surprising on a number of levels, perhaps most significantly in that a drug drama has earned more than $100 million at the domestic box office.

“None of us anticipated what would happen to ‘Traffic,’ a film that we were told time and again had no commercial potential,” Soderbergh said. “All of you must know I didn’t anticipate this. I really didn’t see it coming.”

* * *

Frustration reigned in the newsroom when Russell Crowe wasn’t brought backstage. Best director Steven Soderbergh was rushed along, because of mike problems.

But Cameron Crowe tried to lighten the atmosphere with a joke: “My brother Russell will be along in a moment.”

Russell Crowe emerged, finally, to answer questions. Eager for refreshment and celebration, Crowe lamented, “You can’t buy VB (Victoria Bitter ale) in Los Angeles, which is a criminal thing.”

Crowe seemed by turns cheeky and anxious to leave. Asked what made the character real, Crowe demurred: “I’m an actor. I just put on the costume, read the script, learn the lines and Bob’s your uncle.”

* * *

During what she described as “my out-of-body experience,” Julia Roberts forgot to thank Erin Brockovich, the woman she won an Oscar for portraying in the film of the same name.

“I didn’t acknowledge her, shamefully,” Roberts said backstage. “She was the center of our universe that was our movie. She knows the esteem in which I hold her. I don’t know how people act cool and calm, because this is so huge.”

Asked for the secret to her performance, Roberts was at something of a loss. “I don’t know. It was all kind of a wonderful dream, a mystery and a push-up bra.”

Roberts had been nominated for Oscar twice before, but she said winning the statuette was never a goal in itself.

“My goals are smaller, dare I say, slightly more complicated and less public,” she said. “This is a little bit beyond my reach. I won’t have a proper thought for the next six to 10 days, which is unfortunate because I start a movie in the next three days.”

That film is “Ocean’s Eleven,” which will reunite Roberts with her “Brockovich” director, Steven Soderbergh.

“I am so grateful to know him,” she said. “He teaches us that filmmaking can be totally enjoyable and collaborative and utterly expedient.”

Roberts was less so with her acceptance speech, in which she ignored all stopwatch and orchestral attempts to shut her up.

“It didn’t work with my parents and it doesn’t work now,” she said. “A gal has to have her moment.”

* * *

Getting serious, Cameron Crowe said, “It’s probably appropriate that the feeling when they announce your name is otherworldly.”

On the strike: “We just finished making ‘Vanilla Sky.’ I do not know the issues that well. But I have a lot of sympathy for the writers and am also a member of the Directors Guild. I am not sure which hat I am going to wear.”

Stephen Gaghan spoke humbly about his own past as a heroin addict and how it influenced his work on “Traffic.” “I live my life today in an entirely different way than I used to. It’s such a cataclysmic shift. I wasn’t that way in the past. I was killing myself. I did it daily and I didn’t have the courage to do it all at once.

“One day I hit the wall and I reached out my hand and said I need help. These people taught me an entirely new way of living. I can’t tell you how great it is. I am lucky to be alive.”

* * *

In receiving the Irving G. Thalberg award, Dino De Laurentiis expressed his gratitude to “six beautiful women” — his wife and five daughters.

“I’ve been very lucky in my life,” said the producer of “Hannibal.”

Indeed, De Laurentiis said that he got a bank loan for an early film without collateral because he told the loan officer, “If you like my face, give me the financing.” The officer did and he got the loan.

Said the 82-year-old producer: “Let me dedicate this happy hour to the Italian film industry with the hope that they come back with new talent and fresh ideas. Don’t be afraid of new talent. New minds are the future of the film industry.”

* * *

Queried about his cryptic, onstage thanks to Nogales, Mexico, and Nogales, Ariz., “Traffic” supporting actor winner Benicio Del Toro explained: “As an actor, the location is so important. The people were so humble, so beautiful. It made it easier. It’s my way of giving something back.”

Asked for his opinions on U.S. drug control policy, Del Toro paused, then responded: “I think it (“Traffic”) says something: We need to educate. We need to educate kids early in school. I think those kids need to be educated in grade one, because they will some day be grandparents. That’s my thought on it. Education is the ticket.”

* * *

Marcia Gay Harden set the oddsmakers roiling when she won the Oscar for supporting actress for her performance as Lee Krasner in the Jackson Pollock biopic “Pollock.”

“I swore that if I ever I got one of these, I would thank all the waiters and waitresses in New York, who used to cover my shift for me so I could run downtown on the subway and audition, but with 45 seconds you just don’t get to the waiters,” Harden said.

* * *

Ernest Lehman received an honorary Academy Award for a body of work that includes “North by Northwest” as well as some of the best adaptations in film history, such as “Sabrina” and “The Sweet Smell of Success.”

“I appeal to all movie critics that all movie productions begin and end with a screenplay,” Lehman said. “However, this glorious night is demonstrating that film belongs to many. I am having one of the most exciting nights of a long lifetime.”

* * *

Peter Pau, Hong Kong-born d.p. of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” who answered some questions in Chinese, lost the Golden Horse Award in Taiwan. “Oscar is such a wonderful thing,” said Pau, who won for “Tiger.”

* * *

Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker, who won for “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” said: “It’s just that I am a makeup geek. I am still amazed that I made it, let alone that I have six of these things.”

* * *

Tracy Seretean, who won the Oscar for documentary short with “Big Mama,” also took the prize for beginner’s luck: This was the first foray into filmmaking for the former KCRW-FM producer, whose previous experience was limited to a USC summer production workshop.

She caught the directing bug after reading a Los Angeles Times article about Viola Dees, an 84-year-old woman who struggled to get legal guardianship of her drug-addicted grandson but initially was refused because of her age.

Seretean’s relationship with Dees began after she sent her a check in support of her effort, which began a correspondence between the two. Holding her golden statuette, Seretean showed a flair for understatement, “I’ve been very lucky,” she said.

* * *

John Nelson, visual effects supervisor and part of the Oscar-winning team that designed effects for “Gladiator,” called the movie a good tonic for the f/x industry, saying it shows the full range of the field’s capabilities.

“You don’t need to go out to space, you can go back in time,” Nelson said. “The next frontier is in the service of story and character, to move beyond eye candy. That’s our goal: to make the stage suitably large and suitably detailed. That’s what we did here, I think.”

* * *

Janty Yates took home that statuesque, well-dressed man for her costume design on “Gladiator.”

Asked about her inspiration on the film, Yates said: “Inspiration came in a multifaceted way. Like any movie, you need to do a lot of research. We dug deep.

“You can just walk around Rome and find inspiration. But Ridley (Scott) was my biggest inspiration. He wanted to do a new take on the gladiator movies of the past,” she said, smiling. “We turned men into men with the Scottish kilt look.” No easy feat, that.

* * *

Stephen Mirrione, who took home an Oscar for his editing of Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic,” said the drama’s intertwining storylines actually made it easier to cut the picture.

“In a lot of ways it allows a lot more freedom,” he said. ” ‘Traffic’ was probably one of the easiest things I’ve ever put together.”

* * *

Deborah Oppenheimer, who won the feature doc statuette for “Into the Arms of Strangers: Tales of the Kindertransport” with Mark Jonathan Harris, said, “After my mother passed away, I decided to pursue what had happened to her and with the Kindertransport.”

* * *

Tan Dun, winner of the original score Oscar for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” said, “I have been trying so much to make film music more artistic, and classical more accessible to younger audiences. There shouldn’t be so much of a gap now.”

(Claude Brodesser, Dana Harris, Charles Lyons and the Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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