Lurking in the shadows, behind Oscar's curtain

Juicy tidbits culled from author's times backstage at the Academy Awards


February 20, 2005|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,Sun Staff

Hanging around backstage at the Academy Awards for 10 years, you pick up a few things.

And, if you're a writer, you put them in a book, which is what Steve Pond has done in The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards.

Pond, originally granted permission to be a fly on Oscar's wall 10 years ago for a story for Premiere magazine, has been backstage at every Academy Awards since 1995.

With this year's ceremonies only a week away, he agreed to answer some questions about what goes on behind the scenes of the movie industry's biggest night.

Pond, 49, has been writing about music, popular culture and the entertainment industry for more than 25 years. He worked for Rolling Stone magazine as an editor and writer and has been a contributing writer at Premiere magazine since its first issue in 1987.

Let's start with your picks. Who is the smart money on?

History says the movie with the most nominations wins best picture. If that's the case, it's The Aviator. But a lot of people who tend to be pretty good at predicting are saying Million Dollar Baby. Best actor is as close to a lock as anything: Jamie Foxx. For best actress, Annette Bening is well liked, but the movie [Being Julia] isn't. I suspect Hilary Swank is going to beat her again.

Are the studios doing the sort of frenzied campaigning for Oscars that they have in recent years?

It has been relatively well mannered this year. The academy has made it clear they were fed up with campaigning and were prepared to disqualify a picture if it went over the line. There are still the constant trade ads, public appearances and parties, but they've figured out what the rules are and stuck to them.

There have been attacks against Million Dollar Baby, as being a pro-euthanasia movie. You have to wonder if any of that is being supported by opponents of the movie in the Oscar race, but I haven't heard of anyone tying it to that.

Chris Rock, this year's host, was quoted in a recent interview as calling the show "idiotic," just "a fashion show," and implying it is not watched by heterosexuals. What do you make of that?

I don't think his joke offended the academy, but there is a question about whether he has the right air of respect it likes. They definitely picked him to get a younger, more male audience. In that way, this kind of controversy is not bad at all. But he is the biggest wild card since Letterman.

Let's do our own awards now. I'll give you some categories and -- based on the 10 years you spent backstage -- you announce the winners:

Longest acceptance speech?

Warren Beatty's speech when he accepted the Irving Thalberg award in 2000. It went on for close to six minutes, by far the longest I saw, though the longest ever was one by Greer Garson in the 1940s.

Best acceptance speech?

Emma Thompson when she won in 1995 for writing "Sense and Sensibility." She started by talking about going to Jane Austen's grave to give "her my best and tell her about the grosses." It was just a wonderful mixture of poking fun at the business side of things and paying tribute to the woman whose work she was adapting.

Worst acceptance speech?

The first award of the night in 2002. Jennifer Connelly won for supporting actress for A Beautiful Mind. That award usually produces some real emotion, but she went up there, pulled out a list of names and just looked down and read.

Longest show?

That was in 2002 -- the first year at the Kodak Theatre. The producer was Laura Ziskin, who'd never produced the Oscars. She had a million ideas and was determined to use them all. It ended up being four hours and twenty-some minutes.

Best host?

At his best, I think Billy Crystal sort of owns the gig. ... Other than that, I think Steve Martin has an ease that is really remarkable. ... He was the perfect guy to do it the year of the war and sort of strike the right tone.

Worst host?

Rather than saying so and so was the worst host, I'll say that 1999 was the year that they decided Whoopi Goldberg should wear costumes from all the nominated movies. I think that really threw her off.

Most blatant Oscar campaign?

The big one was the battle between Miramax for Shakespeare In Love and Dreamworks for Saving Private Ryan. It was the first one that went completely nuts and turned into this blitz of ads and whispering campaigns.

Best gown?

Uma Thurman in 1995. She wore a lavender silk chiffon dress that helped put Prada on Hollywood's radar screen...

Worst gown?

It's way too easy to say Bjork's swan dress, which I think was cute. Oh, I know. It was Gwyneth Paltrow's dress from 2002. It had a mesh top that was completely see through and sent the ABC censor into fits. It was an ugly dress, and very see-through.

Most affectionate couple?

Ben and Jen [Affleck and Lopez]. In 2003, they showed up for rehearsal together and never let go of each other except when one of them had to go on stage and rehearse.

Least affectionate couple?

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