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Oscars backstage: Kate Winslet hugs, Sean Penn on Mickey Rourke, more!

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Katewinsletwins_l While the Academy Awards ceremony was full of musical numbers, visual innovations, and new ways of presenting old categories, the backstage press room was the regular mix of foreign tongues, tears, awkward moments and long-winded behind-the-scenes winners. Here are the highlights.

Most Poised: Heath Ledger’s Family

Heath Ledger’s father, Kim Ledger, mother, Sally Bell, and sister, Kate Ledger, were the picture of grace and calm backstage after accepting his award for Best Supporting Actor in The Dark Knight. When asked what she meant when she said onstage that she and her brother “had even talked about being here on this very day,” Kate Ledger took to the mic and admitted, “Firstly, I’m extremely nervous.” She went onto explain: “When [Heath] came home for Christmas a year ago, he had been sending me shots and bits and pieces from the film. No one had really seen [the completed film], but…I said to him, ‘I have a feeling this is it for you. You’re going to get a nomination for this, for the Academy.’ He just looked at me and smiled. So he knew.”

In looking back at Heath’s childhood, Kim Ledger admitted that his daughter Kate “was the actor originally, but Heath was forever the clown.” He also said that the Oscar statuette would be kept in a trust for his daughter Matilda until she turns 18. “Just to look at Matilda, she’s totally like her daddy,” remarked Sally Bell with a soft smile. “She has the same mannerisms. I really feel he’s in her.”

Best Trouble With Translation: Penelope Cruz

About half of Best Supporting Actress winner Penelope Cruz’s answers were in Spanish, but she was happy to translate what she’d said in her mother tongue in the Kodak Theater when she won her award for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. “I said that I want to dedicate it to all the actors of my country,” she told the press room, “and that I want to dedicate it to all the people that are now watching there at home and that our feeling that this also belongs to them.” Cruz became so effusive when talking about Sophia Loren, her costar in the upcoming musical Nine, that she got a little tongue-tied. “She’s become like my second mom,” said Cruz. “She’s a woman with a gold of heart. Wait, what did I say? A woman with a heart of gold!”

Most Touching and Political: Dustin Lance Black

After calling for a federal civil rights act for gays and lesbians, Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black was brought to tears when he was asked if he’d prepared his eloquent acceptance speech for Best Original Screenplay in advance. “I had an idea [of what I would say],” he said. “For me, the whole thing always was to pay it forward. Harvey [Milk] gave me his story.” Black began to well up. “Harvey gave me his story, and it saved my life. And I just felt like it’s time to pass it on. The only thing I really knew I wanted to say is tell those [gay and lesbian] kids out there they are going to be all right.”

Most Long-Winded: Simon Beaufoy

Maybe it was due to translating so much of his dialogue into Hindi, or maybe he’s just naturally chatty, but Slumdog Millionaire writer Simon Beaufoy — winner for Best Adapted Screenplay — talked, and talked, and talked to the backstage press. He talked so much, in fact, that after he was finished, the Academy official running the press room apologized for having to rush the line of winners waiting to take their turn through the room. Fortunately, Beaufoy did have some shrewd insights to share. “I learned to stop being English about things like love,” he said of what he took away from writing Slumdog. “If you make a film in England about love, it’s hugely complicated. It’s all about saying what the weather is like, and you’re secretly telling someone you love them. You know what the English are like; they’re very repressed people. You don’t get that in India. India is incredibly un-cynical about love. It’s a not a complicated thing. It’s me, you, love. Let’s go.”

Pithiest Winners: Kunio Kato and Yojiro Takita

The two Japanese winners, by contrast, were models of rhetorical efficiency. For a while, it looked like Kunio Kato, the winner for Best Animated Short La Maison en Petits Cubes, would not make it backstage at all, as his Japanese translator could not be found. Luckily, the stars aligned, and Kato made an appearance, to share this brief highlight about winning his Oscar: “Meeting Mr. Jack Black was the most exciting thing for me. I’ve always wanted to be funny as he is.” Meanwhile, Yojiro Takita, the director of surprise Best Foreign Language Film winner Departures, had a one word answer when a reporter asked if he was surprised when his film was announced instead of favorite Waltz With Bashir: “Yes.” Asked to elaborate, he added: “It was hard to believe and very unbelievable.”

Best Tease: Philippe Petit

Philippe Petit, the subject of Best Documentary Feature winner Man on Wire, told the press that at 60 years old he still plans to perform a high-wire walk in New York City this fall. “I am going to walk to a library, I won’t tell you where,” he said with a puckish smile. “It will be the beginning of a series of walks around the world for literacy.”

Most Reserved and Political: Sean Penn

Not exactly known for showing restraint when it comes to politics, Milk star Sean Penn was the picture of (relative) tact and discretion when pressed by multiple reporters to expand on his remark in his acceptance speech for Best Actor about the anti-gay religious protesters near the Kodak Theatre (an annual sight at the Oscars). “I’d tell [the protesters] to turn in their hate card and find their better self,” Penn said in a measured tone. “These are largely taught limitations and ignorances. It’s very sad, in a way.” Penn was just as diplomatic when asked about his “brother,” fellow nominee Mickey Rourke. “I’ve known Mickey for over 25 years,” smiled Penn. “He’s an excellent bridge burner at times, but we’ve had for the most part a very close friendship. Comebacks are funny, and we talk about it with him, but everyone in this room has to make a comeback every day. Life is tough.”

Most Refreshing Honesty: Kate Winslet

After a long lull, Kate Winslet emerged backstage as a breath of fresh air — with every answer she was wonderfully, charmingly herself. Does she worry that British people will continue to give her a hard time about showing so much emotion in her acceptance speeches? “I really don’t care,” Winslet replied to chuckles from the press corps. “And quite honestly, it makes me very sad that my own country can’t be pleased for the successes of their own kind in the way that America really seems to be able to be.” (When a British reporter subsequently told Winslet, “From the e-mails and comments we’re getting tonight, don’t worry, Britain loves you,” the actress sighed with genuine relief: “Oh thank God for that.”) When a gossip columnist insisted she give an answer for who she would pass the nude-scene torch to, she took her sweet time coming up with an answer, and then replied with a glint in her eye, “Susan Sarandon.”

And when London Daily Mail reporter, and awards season mainstay, Baz Bamigboye started to ask a question, Winslet perked up, raced from the stage, and gave Bamigboye a big hug, Oscar in hand. As Winslet made her way back to the stage, Bamigboye explained he’d been covering the actress since she was 17. “You were just a little girl from Reading,” he said. “So, just tell me how this little girl from Reading feels tonight?” “Like a little girl from Reading,” she replied with the utmost sincerity. “My mum won a picked onion competition in the local pub just before Christmas, and you know, that was a big deal. You just don’t think that these dreams that seem so silly and so impossible could ever really come true. And having been here before and lost, to be here and win, I’ve got to tell you, winning is really a lot better than losing. Really a lot better.”

Most Exuberant Winners: The Slumdog Millionaire Crew

As he’s been all awards season, Slumdog Millionaire director (and now Oscar winner) Danny Boyle was as boyish and jaunty as ever. When he took to the mic with producer Christian Colson, and the journalists shot up their bingo-style numbers to ask their questions, Boyle grinned, an almost empty champagne flute in hand. “Love the numbers,” he exclaimed. ” The numbers are unbelievable!” Asked what Slumdog‘s win means in the face of studios focusing ever more on massive franchise tentpole movies, Boyle said, “It’s a triumph for this kind of film, really. [The movie] is independent-minded and it’s working against the odds, really, in a way, and it’s very important to keep it…. That’s where everybody begins, in those small, independent movies. That’s where you learn your craft, and you don’t know what you are doing.” Colson broke in. “Even the studios will take note that we made this for £7 million,” said the producer. (In today’s market, that’s roughly $10.1 million.) “We’re going to cross $100 million in the U.S. [box office]. That’s good business for [the studios].”

The two were less bullish, however, about the prospects of a rumored romance between stars Dev Patel and Freida Pinto. “I have no idea,” answered Boyle, “and I wouldn’t wish to add to it or take away from it. Whatever is true, I have no idea.” Colson broke in again: “Actually, I know. Unless they are lying to me, it’s not true. But they have grown up in front of our eyes in the last seven or eight months, and it’s been extraordinary for us to watch that happen.”

Boyle summed up the feeling of the night with a quote he attributed to British poet W.H. Auden. “He talks in his poem about putting jukeboxes on the moon,” said Boyle. “I love that expression, and that’s what tonight feels like. The bringing together of things that are just so unlikely and yet wonderful and about entertainment and pleasure and exploring things and changing things.”

Image Credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images