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Backstage at the 2001 Oscars

LOS ANGELES, March. 25, 2001 — The cool thing for journalists to do in the month of March is to talk Oscar. Gabbing, gushing and harumphing over who will win, who should win, who was robbed — and why.

And frankly, I’m just as guilty. It’s what makes this job fun, and what makes us sound, well, important. But by the weekend all analyses have been exhausted, and after picking up my Academy Award credentials for the backstage press room, I was ready to sit back in my department-store gown (because Mr. Armani just doesn’t return my calls) and take it all in. I want to pass through Secret Service-level security, get my plate of pasta, sandwiches and cookies they serve to the media, squeeze into my chair and watch the telecast on monitors set up all over the interview room, listening on wireless headphones.

Alas, I am sitting next to a reporter who will not let it go. I don’t know where he’s from, but he keeps tugging on my arm and intoning to others in this German accent, “O.K., kids [kids?], vat do you tink veel vin now? Of course Beneecio ees suppahsed to vin. I picked him all ah-lahng.”

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He sits sullenly when Marcia Gay Harden, whom he did not predict, arrives backstage. Radiant in ruby red and clutching her Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she reveals that she didn’t get to thank the waiters who covered her restaurant shifts in her New York theater days so she could go on auditions. “I swore that if I ever won an Oscar that I would say ‘thank you’ [to them],” Harden says. “[But] with 45 seconds you just can’t give it to the waiters.”

As more winners filter backstage, media inquiries range from the obvious “How did you feel?” variety to pesky downer questions about the possible actors’ strike. In between interviews, I put on the headphones and watch Steve Martin rip on Russell Crowe. I take off the headset to realize that Best Cinematography winner Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is answering questions in Chinese, so I return to the show. The next time I check, Irving G. Thalberg honoree Dino De Laurentiis is addressing the press in Italian. Since no one told me I was supposed to know five languages, I return to blink at Jennifer Lopez’s see-through Chanel.


Best Makeup recipient (and six-time Oscar-winner) Rick Baker (The Grinch) is now telling us that cast Christine Baranski looked so much like a Who to begin with that she needed no makeup – but director Ron Howard suggested they add some anyway “because she would feel bad.” Oops.

At 8:45 p.m., there is a lull backstage. This is because all winners (Ang Lee, Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts) are staying in their seats to cheer on their films in the final categories. And at 8:45 p.m., all time and space become one hazy blur.

That is because Tom Cruise as just taken the stage, hair cut short à la the first Mission: Impossible, to present Best Director. It’s a new Tom: clean-cut, intense — and single. Yummy.

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But German Reporter Guy shakes me out of my reverie by screeching, “Soderbergh vas not suppahsed to vin! Zey were suppahsed to split heez vote.”

Luckily Cameron Crowe brightens my day by striding in with his gold statuette and joking, “My brother Russell will be here in a moment.” Har, har. The Original Screenplay winner (Almost Famous) basks in his win and his dictated 45 seconds of glory. “You start to think of people you could’ve thanked — and still could on Oscar.com,” he chirps, referring to producer Gil Cates’ offer to winners that the official site will post their long lists in efforts to shorten their speeches.

Now the show is over, and I slide out of my chair and to the side of the stage for a better shot at getting the microphone. As I hold up my card reading 163 (our cards must be called in order to ask a question), I notice that German Reporter Guy has also snuck into chairs reserved for other press, waving his card in better view.

Sure enough, the Big Winners begin their entrance, beginning with Russell Crowe and his security entourage. At first the Best Actor seems to be ending his recent warming trend in public appearances, only fielding questions that can be answered with “yes,” “no,” or “short answers – and we’ll get along fine.” But he soon loosens up, jokingly demanding one reporter prove she is the called-upon Card Number 5 before responding to her question (at length) that Michael Douglas should have been nominated for “Wonder Boys.” He finishes his press session by declaring, “God bless America, God save the Queen, God defend New Zealand, and thank Christ for Australia.” German Reporter Guy is ignored.

The last one in is Julia Roberts, and cards are waving frantically. Roberts — who apologizes profusely for forgetting to thank the real Erin Brockovich — is beaming and trying to help call numbers. I hold my card up and smile in the direction of the moderator, but — you guessed it — the German starts talking.

“Wait, you weren’t called on,” the Best Actress protests, but as it turns out, his card had been called. He gets to speak, and I am still waving mine. I must succeed, I tell myself.

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Finally, the blessed phrase: “Number 163.”

“Right here!” I call, and the floor is mine. I congratulate the Pretty Woman, then address her long acceptance speech, in which she warned the orchestra conductor not to cue any exit music.

“Everybody tried to shut me up,” Roberts laughs in response. “It didn’t work with my parents, it doesn’t work now.”

“But did the orchestra guy actually try anything?” I ask.

“He had a couple of little twitches, yeah,” Roberts answers. “But a gal’s gotta have her moment. That’s what I think.”

She throws her Julia smile in my direction, and I beam back. The next day,
it’s our exchange that’s aired on the local news, E!’s Oscar
post-show and as “Access Hollywood’s” “Quote of the Day” segment.

Thanks, Julia. And by the way, I knew you’d win all along.

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