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Oscars 2004: Backstage at the 76th Annual Academy Awards

Yes, that most fascinating of questions is answered–again and again–backstage.

In a year when there were surprisingly few surprises both at the winners’ podium on-screen and at the microphone in the interview room backstage, an inquiring journalist’s mind necessarily turns to more pressing questions than which frontrunner was just announced as winner. To wit:

When did the Kodak Theater become a standup comedy club? Why was Michael Douglas wearing sunglasses? When did the pressroom become a pickup spot for journalists on the make? How come the most interesting thing anyone can think of to ask was not where the stars are partying later, but (with minimal variation), “How do you feeeel?”

One thing at least was not up for debate…the food the Academy provided for the press this year was better than last year.

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Renee Zellweger was one of the first to appear for her backstage Q&A, and thank god her seriously brief interviews (we’re talking, three questions max) took place just as Sting was massaging that lute, or whatever that instrument was, as Alison Kraus crooned the first of what seemed like too many songs nominated from Cold Mountain (“You Will Be My Ain True Love”).

Short of stature but statuesque nonetheless in her vintage white gown, a breathless Zellweger gushed over her also-vintage Cartier diamonds and held her gleaming gold Oscar close. “I don’t know…I’m a little overwhelmed. As soon as I remember the moment, I’ll let you know.” We’ll be waiting. Here.

Of course, Best Supporting Actor winner Tim Robbins wasn’t able to avoid answering “How do you feeeel?” either. With an Oscar to match wife Susan Sarandon’s, he said, “We’re going to get them into a little room, turn out the lights, light some candles…little Oscars, wouldn’t that be scary? ‘My Oscar is pregnant!'” Pretty much what he said at the Oscar luncheon. Or was it the SAG Awards…or maybe the Golden Globes…or….

What was something of a surprise, albeit a not very exciting one, was Robbins’ relative apolitical-ness, when of all ’em, he’s the one you’d expect to say the most. Faced with such hey-that’s-not-loaded! questions as “What would you tell Americans concerned over the Bush administration stealing the election again with dirty tricks?” Robbins delivered diplomatic answers like encouraging people to vote. He even avoided much discussion over the controversy about the five-second delay–although any shenanigans were unlikely, really, given these ho-hum proceedings.

He also expanded on his acceptance speech, urging victims of abuse to get help. “We all have to look for ways to end these cycles of violence, whether it’s a victim of abuse of whether it is our strange willingness to go to war,” he said.

Even filmmaker Errol Morris, one of the winners for Best Documentary (The Fog of War), noticed the downbeat, business-as-usual mood in the interview room. “There seems to be very little applause in this room!” he cried, prompting some smattered clapping. He went on to make a few political statements about current U.S. policy in regards to world affairs, which also prompted some reluctant applause. Sorry, Errol, Michael Moore was the first on that scene.

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Then, Blake Edwards:”How do you feeeel?”

Lord of the Rings crew, writers, musicians, craft services staff (kidding): “How do you feeeeeeeel?”

After endless, countless minutes waiting for the last winners, the question was more for the journalists: “How do you feeel sitting glued to your seats?”

Finally, reserved, low-key Original Screenplay winner Sofia Coppola came back to face the sea of reporters. Although her manner belied it, she claimed to be thrilled. “I never thought my father would be able to see me win one of these,” she said, adding that she was really just nervous and trying to not jump up and down from excitement. “I’m shy, nervous, you know…I’m not used to being onstage.”


In maybe the most surprising moment of the evening, a polite, gracious Best Actor winner Sean Penn actually appeared backstage, holding a glass of what looked to be a vodka tonic or some such–begging the question that of course no one dared ask, “What’s in the glass?”

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Penn seemed unused to fielding reporter questions, no matter how unobtrusive–could he be even shyer than Miss Coppola? On his typical reluctance to appear at such awards shows, he said, “Well…It’s a question of degree of social embarrassment. You know there are things going on in the world, [I have] my concerns…and there’s this fashion show going on outside, you know?

“There are too many people in one room, that you know only a little bit,” he added. “That’s what this is for,” he said, holding up his glass (guess there’s the answer) and crunching ice cubes between his teeth.

Best Actress Charlize Theron, every inch of her nearly six feet an Oscar winner, started getting emotional as she explained that she knew she was already worked up enough, that if she looked at her mother when Adrian Brody read her name, she would have completely lost it. “It’s a little embarrassing, isn’t it, to cry in front of however many people are watching?” she said.

Some clever journo finally inspired some spontaneity in the pressroom when he asked how Theron felt about the difference in lip-smacking approaches to lesbian film kisses as opposed to those between men. “Did you really analyze [that] that much?” she asked him with incredulity. “I don’t think Christina and I had that much tongue going on”–she paused, and then started laughing–“OK wait, I can’t believe I’m talking about this holding an Oscar!” prompting applause by the rest of the room also reeling over the ridiculousness of the question in context.

Ultimately, Return of the King grabbed the brass–or gold, you could say–ring, as winners after winners in the technical categories were paraded back, as the epic film managed a first-ever Oscars sweep, winning every one of its 11 nominations–a mostly expected outcome, but no less thrilling to the extremely enthusiastic reporters reprezentin’ New Zealand.

Peter Jackson jokingly stumbled onstage, joining Rings writer Philippa Boyens, producer Barrie Osborne, composer Howard Shore and singer Annie Lennox. “Are you all playing video games, or doing work?” he joked, surveying the roomful of reporters, heads bent over laptops.

Best Song performer and writer Lennox admitted she’d celebrate with a few sips of champagne and then “probably crash out,” she said. “I’m so thrilled, grateful and privileged.”

Jackson was just happy the film was acknowledged for its good qualities. “The themes of forgiveness, courage, friendship, all that…all of that was in Tolkien’s books, and I’m just happy it was acknowledged.”

“It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my entire life. It nearly killed me,” the Hobbit-ish director added about making the films, laughing. “But right now it feels absolutely fine!”

“Right now, it feels like I could do it all over again.”

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