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Oscar Nominees Luncheon: Eat, Drink and Be Merry

The Oscar nominees attending the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ annual Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton seemed to have put all nervousness and contention aside in favor of a common goal: to bask in the glory of being nominated.

Will Smith, nominated for Best Actor for his role in Ali, may have summed it up best: “The period of being an [Oscar] nominee is the most incredible period of an actor’s career. If you lose the award, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, damn, he lost–it was a good performance, but he lost.’ If you win, then people expect something from you,” he said. “Because of the way the Academy nominees are chosen, only actors vote for actors…so all of the actors, people who have done this their entire life, have chosen me as one of the five best performances of the year. That’s the ultimate acknowledgement…The nomination is the win.”

Still, Smith admitted he’d feel more comfortable if he was going for a Grammy rather than an Oscar. But he was taken with the notion that he is the first rap star ever nominated for the golden guy. “That’s kind of cool,” he mused. “I’ve made history already!”

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The lighthearted mood was infectious. Crowe (nominated for A Beautiful Mind) was much happier than he seemed less than a dozen hours earlier when he won a Screen Actors Guild Award, lampooning his much-discussed scuffle at the BAFTAs by reciting a slightly naughty limerick he picked up from the film Breaker Morant: “There once was a man from Australia/Who painted his ass like azaleas/The color was fine/likewise the design/But the aroma? Ah, that was a failure.”

He also described how he used his first Oscar to keep the mood light on the set of A Beautiful Mind. While filming John Nash’s Nobel Prize ceremony scene, in which he had to recite the physicist’s acceptance speech dozens of times before an audience of about 1,000 extras, Crowe kept clowning around to keep the extras’ energy up. On the third take, he held up his Gladiator trophy in place of the Nobel Prize plate. “We got a really good reaction,” he laughed.

For once, Crowe even seemed reluctant to give up an audience with the press, refusing to leave when his time expired. “Sissy Spacek was up here for an hour!” he protested. His blithe demeanor answered questions about impending Oscar night jitters. “As you can see, I’m really tense,” he said.

Nicole Kidman, who spent much of awards season alongside her Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann, was asked if he’d be her date on Oscar night. “I’m not bringing Baz,” she laughed, “but I don’t really have anyone to bring at this point. I’m looking.” She recalled finding out about her nomination on the set of her upcoming film Dogville, when one of the production crew held up a sign off-camera that read “Nominated, Best Actress.” The busy star of both Moulin Rouge and The Others described her first reaction: “What film?” She also playfully suggested what her beauty secret might be: “Champagne.”

Monster’s Ball star Halle Berry was in a self-deprecating mood, poking fun at her own tear-filled reaction to winning best actress the previous night at the SAG Awards. “I’m such an idiot,” she said with a giggle. “Wouldn’t you be? I never think I’m going to win anything. It’s been such a long journey, at least for me. And if you really love what you do


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and you appreciate any acknowledgement, I don’t know how I could not keep falling to pieces. I never think it’s going to happen to me…I plan on getting better as the years go on.” She confessed her agent urged her husband to bring some smelling salts with them to the ceremony, “just in case.”

Ethan Hawke tweaked his image as the “surprise nominee” for his supporting turn in Training Day. “I think I am the surprise nominee. Hey, I’ll take it.” He also recalled learning about his nomination as he dropped his daughter off at preschool and one of the teachers said his wife, Uma Thurman, had called the school with a message for him to return home ASAP. “I think you just got nominated for an Academy Award.” Hawke replied, “I think you’d better be sure, because she’s a little flaky sometimes and she could’ve heard wrong.” Thurman herself was nominated in 1994 for Pulp Fiction. “I’m so happy this happened to me when I was married,” he said. “She was more happy for me than I was for myself.”

Previous Oscar winner and frequent nominee Denzel Washington revealed what he thought when Will Smith and Halle Berry got major nods this year: “I’m getting old.”

Jon Voight (Ali) revealed that there was more than just awards show mania going on in his life. He said that day he learned that his Oscar-winning daughter Angelina Jolie had just adopted a baby boy from Cambodia. He said Jolie completed the adoption on her own in Africa while her husband Billy Bob Thornton was working on a film. “I’d be happy to go over there and babysit,” the new grandfather proclaimed. He also said how his director Michael Mann admonished him not to take the whole awards derby too seriously. “It’s a great piece of advice,” said Voight (who won Best Actor in 1979), “but it’s impossible to do!”

How has Sissy Spacek kept her Best Actress nomination for In the Bedroom from going to her head? “I have children. That puts you right in your place.”

Actor/director Ron Howard has followed the Academy Awards with great interest for many years–starting at age six, when he appeared in the multi-nominated 1962 film The Music Man. “I can remember being disappointed Robert Preston didn’t win,” he recalled. And now, attending his first nominees luncheon for directing A Beautiful Mind, he was clearly thrilled to be part of the big dance. “I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it means a great deal to me,” he said. “Like everybody else I’ve given the [acceptance] speech in the shower over the years, but now I can’t remember the speech!”

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“It’s sort of beyond your wildest dreams,” said In the Bedroom‘s Tom Wilkinson of his Best Actor nomination, “but you mean it to happen. You don’t play to lose.” Nevertheless, the British actor thinks perhaps Hollywood should consider doing away with awards competitions. “I’d say scrap them. Best actor? Is apple pie better than chocolate cake?” Then he added a caveat: “But they’re an awful lot of fun.”

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