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Tales From the Oscar Luncheon: The Alternate ‘Stepbrothers’ Ending, Mark Ruffalo’s Silence Retreat

Mark Ruffalo was on a “silence retreat” the morning of the Oscar nominations and had to whisper congratulations to his director, Tom McCarthy. One of Sam Smith’s favorite James Bond films is “Quantum of Solace,” also known as “the one nobody else likes.” Hank Corwin had never seen an Adam McKay movie before the director hired him to edit “The Big Short.” And speaking of McKay, there’s an alternate ending to his comedy “Stepbrothers” that was never shot.

These are just some of the fun facts revealed when nominees dropped by Variety’s studio at the annual Oscar lunch on Monday afternoon. Held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the luncheon is a time to celebrate all the nominees and have them gather for an official class photo.

Before and after the celebration, the nominated artists came by Variety’s studio suite to take photos and talk about the experience; you can view some of the photographs in next week’s special Oscar Innovators edition.

Other fun tidbits from the day:

McKay was asked to reveal a secret he hadn’t told yet and when he struggled for an answer, this reporter suggested he tell us “the real ending of ‘Stepbrothers.’” McKay responded, “There actually was an idea for an alternate ending! Ferrell and I started laughing at one point about the ending and we thought we’d end with the two of them saying, ‘We’re finally going to be grownups!’ And you cut to them in Army uniforms in the back of a truck rumbling down the back of a desert road looking at each other and you see a sign that says ‘Fallujah, 3 Kilometers.’ We told Judd [Apatow] and Sony the idea and they said you are not allowed to shoot that. But it made us laugh so hard. It would have bummed everyone out.”

McKay’s editor, the aforementioned Corwin, known for editing Terrence Malick’s movies, had never cut a comedy before “The Big Short,” a film that has brought him many kudos. “This is a kick in the head,” he admitted with a laugh. “I’ve been doing these art films nobody goes to see and all of sudden, holy sh–, people are seeing this thing!”

Roger Deakins, who scored his 13th cinematography nomination for “Sicario,” is currently at work on the “Blade Runner” sequel with Denis Villeneuve. “We’re working on storyboards now, but I can’t talk about it,” was all he would reveal.

Asked how she’s keeping her cool during awards season, Alicia Vikander admitted, “I think I have some cool people around me.” She also admitted that winning the SAG Award last month for “The Danish Girl” was a blur to her. “I don’t remember anything about the SAG Awards. I said something, right?” She also had to leave right after the show to catch a flight. “I was changing in the car. I got on the plane and was alone, so the stewardess had a drink with me to celebrate.”

The “Anomalisa” team of co-director/writer Charlie Kaufman, co-director Duke Johnson and producer Rosa Tran and discussed how difficult it was to make the stop-motion film – mainly because of lack of money. “We had so many problems. The repo man would show up and be banging on the back door,” said Johnson with a laugh, adding that even their water was in danger of being repossessed. “The Sparkletts guy came and wanted to take our water. We had to drag it off and hide it. We were in dire straits.”

Lenny Abrahamson, nominated for his direction of “Room,” is already onto his next gig: executive producing and directing several episodes of Hulu’s series “Chance,” starring Hugh Laurie. “It’s based on a novel by Kern Nunn and it’s really good, really original,” Abrahamson raved. “Hugh plays a fascinating guy; he’s a doctor, but a very different doctor from the one we’re used to seeing. It’s really exhilarating because I’ve never been in a writer’s room in the U.S. and I’m getting to see how great it can be.”

Many people admitted to being awake for the Oscar nominations; Lady Gaga said she tried to sleep but woke up early and was texting Diane Warren at 4 a.m. The pair are co-writers of the nominated song “Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground.” Andrea Berloff, a co-writer of “Straight Outta Compton,” revealed, “I wish I could say I got up, but the truth is, I couldn’t fall asleep. So I was up all night, if I can be honest. I was livestreaming it on my phone in my bed in the dark.” Phyllis Nagy, nominated for scripting “Carol,” admitted, “I was just glad they pronounced my name right!”

Carter Burwell finally receiving his first nomination for his score for “Carol,” said he was kept humble that morning. “My agent called and told me and the only person I had to tell was my 4-year old daughter, and I don’t think she was impressed,” he noted. “I took her to school and then went to a coffee shop and blabbed to the cashier there. I don’t think they were impressed either. I’ve chosen to live in a place where people aren’t impressed by that, which is a good thing.”

But perhaps the most comedic story was relayed by the “Spotlight” team of McCarthy and Ruffalo. McCarthy said he was texting and calling Ruffalo, to no avail. “I was like, ‘Typical Ruffalo, he’s forgotten about me!’ A half hour later I get a call in this whisper voice. ‘Hey buddy I’m sorry I’m on a silence retreat in Arizona! What happened?’” Ruffalo explained, “I’d been in a blackout, no phones, no nothing. Just in the quiet desert and off the grid, completely silent. I went into the deepest sleep I’d been in years. And the dude who owns the house comes in at 5 a.m. and is poking me telling me my wife is on the phone. I was so scared until she said, ‘Congratulations, you got a nomination!’ I’d actually forgotten they were that morning, and it was a good thing.”

The last visit of the day was from “Mad Max: Fury Road” director George Miller and his editor Margaret Sixel, who also happens to be his spouse of 20 years. Asked about the most challenging aspect of the 120-day shoot, Miller said, “The one that immediately comes to mind is the final truck roll. You have to get it in exactly the right spot for your cameras. And you only have one take.” He went on to praise Sixel as invaluable, saying, “Editing is a massive puzzle and Margaret’s got the superbrain that can handle it. It was almost too much for me.”

Sixel replied, “Well, we had two years, so you work each segment as hard as you can and start building the cut. The hardest part was handling the overall action and how much you could handle. Because we had a lot more action and people said it was too much!”

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