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‘Inspired hearts can change things’

Ongoing interviews of Oscar winners

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  • Halle Berry was decidedly more composed backstage than on, all agrin and taking deep breaths.

    “It’s a great night,” she said, of her groundbreaking win, adding “I just hope that maybe we will be judged on our merit… This moment, it’s really not just about me. It’s about people who came before me, and people who’ll come after…”

    Said Berry “This glass ceiling was broken wide open.”

    Would she do anything different?

    “Since I am standing here holding this Oscar, no I wouldn’t.”

    Berry was clear, and clear-eyed, about what the win meant for Hollywood. “Tonight means that every woman of color should be hopeful. Will it change the industry? I don’t know.” But she added for those black actors who would come after her, “those inspired hearts can change things.”

    For her the feeling of making history was “Indescribable really. Right now, I am filled with so much pride, joy, gratitude. I’ll probably know in a week, when you’re all gone. For now, we’re going to party… ’till noon probably, we’ll be in the streets.”

    * * *

    When whoops went up over Denzel Washington’s actor win, interrupting lifetime achievement winner Robert Redford during a backstage appearance, he stopped press questions briefly and asked to hear Denzel’s acceptance speech.

    “I think it’s great,” Redford said. “I’m a friend of Denzel’s and he’s on the board of Sundance.”

    Diversity seemed to be one of the night’s themes, as even Redford talked about the efforts of the Sundance Institute and film festival to develop and promote a range of artists and projects.

    “I think the beauty of it is, I don’t have to say much about Sundance; it sort of speaks for itself,” Redford said. “Each year, there are more and more films that move into the Academy process that started at Sundance. The fact that Sundance has succeeded as a contribution to keep diversity alive is a tremendous thrill for me. I think it has made a contribution.”

    Redford said being onstage for the honor was “emotional. There’s just the fact that I’m not really good at referring to myself. I can do it on camera. It’s a strange feeling. It’s obviously a joy to be honored. It makes me a little shy. I think the thing that moves me is to be honored by my colleagues and peers.”

    * * *

    “I thought either (Paul) McCartney or Sting was going to win,” first time winner Randy Newman said. “And then with the ‘Lord of the Rings’ wins, I thought Enya might take it. But don’t get me wrong, this is not undeserved!” Newman, who has previously been Oscar nominated 16 times, said. “This feels great. I am no longer in Hollywood, I have since left am and now on the moon.”

    * * *

    Howard Shore, who won for his original score to “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” sheepishly acknowledged that his wife had managed to flash a hello to their daughter on camera, by writing the salutation on the palm of her hand.

    He was upbeat about the relatively few wins the film collared, despite 13 nominations, saying it was unusual, and therefore difficult to judge against other films, because it was really the first of three acts in a massive, multiyear project.

    “I think the nominations were so amazing, there were so many that covered the spectrum of this amazing work,” Shore said. “We’ve gotten so many awards over the last few months. It’s been a wonderful kind of month.”

    * * *

    Akiva Goldsman addressed, for what seemed like the millionth time, the disparities between Sylvia Nasar’s bestselling book of the same name, and his screenplay.

    “We made choices that served the story,” he said, adding “I met Alicia and John after I’d read the first draft. She is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever met… I wanted to work with what stays with me.”

    * * *

    Gosford Park winner Julian Fellowes was ebullient, if in a state of disbelief. “I never thought it was going to happen at all,” he effused about the Altman pic, “Then the money came, and right up until February, was thinking that I wasn’t going to get made, not if it was going to win an Oscar.”

    * * *

    Producer Arthur Hiller seemed genuinely embarrassed to accept his prize, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

    “It’s humbling, because it’s… it’s embarrassing to receive an award for doing what you should be doing.”

    Asked about today’s stunning visual effects technology Hiller was circumspect. “I hope that we don’t lose the heart and soul of moviemaking, that creativity coming together.”

    * * *

    Lifetime achievement award winner Sidney Poitier was gracious, in his assessment of the progress Hollywood has made in the time between when he broke in half a century ago to Sunday, when three African-American performers were up for acting nominations.

    Asked if Hollywood’s openness to minority performers had changed enough, he said, “There’s a key word, isn’t it? ‘Enough’ is a key word. Things have changed clearly. I have a position on it but I don’t want to raise it because this is not the forum for it.”

    Poitier received a standing ovation from journalists backstage, and one of the more bizarre moments of the evening, when a young, French-speaking black journalist first told Poitier he was one of the first black actors the journalist had ever seen on screen, then asked if he could touch Poitier’s Oscar. He then briefly mounted the stage, held the Oscar and spoke briefly in French to the cameras.

    * * *

    Lisa Blount, exec producer of live action short film winner, “The Accountant,” expanded on her comment on stage that, “As one door closed for me, another opened.” Blount was blunt: “I am saying that ageism is a problem in Hollywood,” she huffed. Blount, of course, had previously been an actress, appearing in pics like “An Officer and a Gentleman.” She explained: “I just wasn’t happy with the roles coming my way. And producing this excited me, in a way that acting did as a kid. It revved me up.”

    * * *

    Visual effects winners Randall William Cook, Jim Rygiel, Richard Taylor and Mark Stetson promised even more effects in the second “Lord of the Rings” films, with double the F/X shots of the first installment.

    “There’s a fully CG character in this one who’s a villain, and who plays a pretty major role,” Cook said. “Plus there are huge battle scenes. This (first) one is just a warmup.”

    * * *

    Visual effects winners Rygiel and Taylor gave the Kodak Theater good marks for smoothly handling crowds.

    “This is a terrific place, a little small compared to the Shrine, but we didn’t have any trouble getting seated,” Rygiel said.

    “Compared to the sheep sheds back home (in New Zealand), it’s fine,” Taylor said.

    * * *

    What with having a child and picking up two Oscars for his “Lord of the Rings” work, it’s been a pretty sweet month for visual effects winner Richard Taylor.

    “It feels incredible,” Taylor said. “I just wish my dear partner, who has run the workshop with me for 15 years, could be with me.”

    * * *

    After letting out a squeal of joy after learning of Jim Broadbent’s supporting actor win, “Moulin Rouge” art director, and costume designer, Catherine Martin, who grabbed gold twice Sunday, was ready to talk about her own wins. “I love what I do,” she said. “It’s a wonderful vocation. But at the end of the day I am merely a condiment to the actors, writers and director.”

    * * *

    When Jerry Bruckheimer and Joe Roth decided in late October to push the debut of “Black Hawk Down” up three months so it could barely make Academy consideration with a Dec. 28 release, it meant a crazy nine-week work schedule for the winners in best achievement in sound, Michael Minkler, Myron Nettinga and Chris Munro to finish the film.

    “For two months, we didn’t see our families,” Nettinga said. “One morning, I asked my wife to get up and get dressed, so I could see what she looked like with clothes on.”

    Minkler said he frequently is asked if the compressed schedule helped or hurt the work, especially given that the trio had collared an Oscar for their work.

    “I get asked that all the time, for a lot of reasons,” Minkler said. “I don’t recommend (that kind of hectic schedule) but I think it made everyone think really accurately, because we didn’t have time to second guess our decisions. Maybe that’s why it did turn out good.”

    * * *

    Talking a bit about how it feels to be taking home the inaugural animated feature Oscar, “Shrek” producer Aron Warner commented that while the honor is “recognition of a collaborative art form, one which has been around for a long time,” he believes the Academy made way for the category mainly because “animation is being received better than ever. Let’s just hope the animation audience keeps widening at the rate it has been,” he said.

    * * *

    The subject of best documentary short “Thoth,” the fiddle-playing, gold-lame-loincloth-wearing Thoth, had a bit of a problem with security when he accompanied winners Freida Lee Mock and Jessica Sanders on the red carpet. Though the filmmakers had notified security officials he would be coming and capering, the word hadn’t quite filtered down to some of the junior guards.

    “I was laughing so hard, because I’m being barred from an event where I’m about to be celebrated,” Thoth said. “It was wonderful.”

    * * *

    Woody Allen made his first appearance at the Oscars not to pick up an award, or give one out, but to send a love letter to New York City in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

    “I’m not a big awards person,” Allen said. “So when I had an opportunity to do this for the city, it was a different thing. I was able to just talk about New York City and show it in a light that I sincerely feel about it. So it was fairly easy for me to do in that sense. I felt honored to do it.”

    Allen, who is starting another film soon, said he will not avoid shooting the skyline without the World Trade Center towers.

    “I’m one person who feels one has to treat this realistically,” Allen said. “I feel it’s ridiculous to pussyfoot around and reframe the shots and not show it. It’s a terrible tragedy, but it’s reality. New York still has a spectacular skyline, it’s a spectacular city, and I’m sure what they build in its place will enhance it.”

    Allen joked about the process of creating his comic monologue introducing the New York film tribute.

    “I didn’t write it out, but I thought about it in my shower for over two weeks,” Allen said. “I feel like I was better in my shower, frankly.”

    * * *

    Actor winner Denzel Washington, who had won once in four previous nominations, joked that when he heard Randy Newman had been nominated 16 times for Oscars before finally winning one, “I was getting nervous. I heard 16 times, my God.”

    Given his long friendship with lifetime achievement recipient Sidney Poitier, the night was particularly sweet, though the history-making part hadn’t really sunk in.

    “To me, it’s more personal. My feelings for him, I had long before this became news,” Washington said. “I just feel closer to him now.”

    * * *

    “A Beautiful Mind” helmer and co-producer Ron Howard, who in a matter of minutes went from no Oscars to holding two, joked “it looks like I am going to get a workout tonight.”

    “Each one of these awards mean different things to me; one represents me as a director, and the other my producing partnership with Brian (Grazer),” Howard said. “Both are equally special.”

    * * *

    Sally Kirkland nearly got turned away from the famed red carpet this because her gown was constructed of a silk-and-metal fabric that set off metal detectors at the entrance and gave security guards jitters.

    “They asked me if I would remove my gown and I said I would,” she joked in a reference to her voluminous champagne J. Gerard gown which had a skirt reminiscent of a balloon window shade which she repeatedly lifted with the help of an attached cord, exposing her thighs. “Then I said, ‘please frisk me!'” she said.

    * * *

    Documentary Feature winners Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and Denis Poncet said “Murder on a Sunday Morning,” which follows the trial of a 15-year-old boy accused of a murder in Jacksonvillle, Fla., says good things about the U.S. justice system.

    “In most cases in Europe, you cannot in any way film inside a courtroom,” Poncet said. “It’s one of the reasons filmmakers come to the United States to make those kinds of movies. It says a lot about democracy in the U.S. in one way.”

    “The problem with our film is that it’s about racial profiling,” Poncet said. “It’s something that happens here, but you know very well it happens in France, it happens in Germany, it happens in Italy. Arabic people are being arrested in France just because they’re Arabic, and we know that, and black people are being arrested in this country because they’re black.”

    * * *

    “Lord of the Rings” cinematographer Andrew Lesnie proved dead wrong the old Latin dictum “He who hesitates is lost.” Lesnie, who hesitated to accept the job, citing the enormity of the books. What made the difference? “Meeting Peter Jackson,” he said, adding, “But I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do a trilogy,” he cautioned, jokingly.

    * * *

    “The world just seems to be looking our way lately,” said Kiwi costume designer Angus Strathie, addressing the question as to why so many New Zealanders, and Aussies, are winding up in the winner’s circle this year. Strathie, who with Catherine Martin nabbed the Oscar for costume design for “Moulin Rouge,” told reporters backstage, “There is so much talent around the world, so many people who do their job as well as we do, maybe better, but this year for whatever reason the eyes are on us.”

    * * *

    Frosh winner Peter Owen, who, along with Richard Taylor, was feted for achievement in makeup for “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” said: “I said yes to the job without really knowing what I would be in for. It was just enormous. I had to scale it all up a notch from my previous work. Every person in the film had either false ears, false feet or a false nose. They were all painted and tortured to death; those poor souls.”

    When asked how he will celebrate his win, Owen said, “I just want to sit down and have a nice cup of tea.”

    * * *

    Italian-born Pietro Scalia, the film editor of “Black Hawk Down” said the film was a particular challenge because it involved trying to convey the chaos of a battle for two hours. “The best way I can describe it was fighting a grizzly bear. Sometimes it swipes you back. But I wouldn’t let it defeat me. I can’t believe it. I guess they recognized the suffering we went through.

    “My point was to elevate this war story and let the viewer know what the consequences of war are. One of the themes was no matter how powerful you are, you’re always vulnerable. After the tragedy of Sept. 11, it became even more obvious.”

    * * *

    Danis Tanovic, the young director-screenwriter behind Bosnia-Herzogovina’s winning entry as best foreign-language film, “No Man’s Land,” had pointed words for one Slavic journalist backstage who asked a lengthy question about his black comedy on the brutal ethnic conflicts that tore apart his country in the 1990s.

    “It’s people of your age who made war that people of my age got killed in,” Tanovic said. “That country is down on its knees. We’re not getting killed anymore, but Bosnia is on its knees. I just hope, ladies and gentlemen, you journalists will pay more attention to that country, because it needs it.”

    (Claude Brodesser, David Bloom, Jill Feiwell and Reuters contributed to this report.)

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