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All Together Now

An All-star Selfie broke Twitter, Lupita Nyong’o broke hearts — and our writer and photographer had backstage passes for it all. Inside an Oscar night worth sharing.

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Oscars 2014
ART STREIBER for EW

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No one is ever calm backstage at the Oscars, except maybe Brad Pitt.

On March 2, the makers of 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, then rushed into the wings amid a frenzy of well-wishers. The film’s British director, Steve McQueen, looked delirious and elated but also a little lost in the chaos. Pitt, who acted in the movie and served as a producer, was happily tipping back a silver flask. He handed it to McQueen, who took a long, deep draft. Then Pitt reached out, grabbed the director’s face in both hands, and planted a Bugs Bunny-style smackeroo full on his mouth. ”I promised you that if we got here,” Pitt said, grinning, and then downed another gulp from the flask.

That kiss wasn’t exactly the sailor tilting back the nurse on V-J Day, but it did mark the end of a long, hard-fought battle between two formidable survivor tales: 12 Years, the true account of one man’s escape from bondage in the antebellum South, and Gravity, the technological marvel about an astronaut trapped in orbit while enduring a harrowing storm of debris. In the tightest Best Picture race in years, Gravity took home the most gold, racking up awards in seven categories, including Directing for Alfonso Cuarón, but it was 12 Years that nabbed the top honor.

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No one is ever calm backstage at the Oscars, except maybe Brad Pitt. On March 2, the makers of 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture, then rushed into the wings amid a frenzy of well-wishers. The film’s British director, Steve McQueen, looked delirious and elated but also a little lost in the chaos. Pitt, who acted in the movie and served as a producer, was happily tipping back a silver flask. He handed it to McQueen, who took a long, deep draft. Then Pitt reached out, grabbed the director’s face in both hands, and planted a Bugs Bunny-style smackeroo full on his mouth. ”I promised you that if we got here,” Pitt said, grinning, and then downed another gulp from the flask.

That kiss wasn’t exactly the sailor tilting back the nurse on V-J Day, but it did mark the end of a long, hard-fought battle between two formidable survivor tales: 12 Years, the true account of one man’s escape from bondage in the antebellum South, and Gravity, the technological marvel about an astronaut trapped in orbit while enduring a harrowing storm of debris. In the tightest Best Picture race in years, Gravity took home the most gold, racking up awards in seven categories, including Directing for Alfonso Cuarón, but it was 12 Years that nabbed the top honor.

For months, Oscar prognosticators (including EW) had speculated that 12 Years might be this year’s Brokeback Mountain — a challenging film that some Academy members would find too agonizing to watch. Brokeback lost to the more crowd-friendly Crash in 2006, but this year the fates were reversed and the so-called difficult film won. Appropriately, its journey ended with two dudes and a kiss.

It was a good year for the Academy Awards all the way around. Ratings for the telecast jumped 6 percent over last year, when producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan first oversaw the show. This time, the program had its third year-over-year boost, and was the highest-rated entertainment broadcast in more than a decade. Maybe it was the appeal of host Ellen DeGeneres, or the who-will-win tension of the Best Picture race, or the high wattage of nominees such as Jennifer Lawrence and Matthew McConaughey. It couldn’t have hurt that the ubiquity of social media made this a year that we could all share the Oscars in every sense of the word: Stars posted Instagram photos, DeGeneres broke the Internet with her star-studded selfie, and according to Twitter, there were 17.1 million Oscar-related tweets between the red carpet and the first hours after the show.

All of which served as a fresh reminder that stars are fans too. As obvious as that was on television, it was even more apparent behind the scenes. When Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emma Watson finished their presentation of the Visual Effects award, the actor asked the Harry Potter actress to pose for a selfie with him (”Now one with funny faces”). And while waiting in line for the bathroom, Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis got buttonholed by Zac Efron. ”Your work inspires like no one else,” Efron said as his idol nodded appreciatively. When the bathroom door finally opened, Day-Lewis used the opportunity to politely remove himself. ”If you’ll excuse me,” he said, ”I’m going to get into there before someone else does.”

Day-Lewis seemed to be making Oscar winners swoon as well. As Cuarón finished his Directing acceptance speech, he stepped backstage through black curtains and was unexpectedly greeted by the open arms of Day-Lewis, who was preparing to present the Best Actress award. The director gasped. ”Oh, señor…!” Cuarón said, then started chortling. ”What an amazing thing to come walking off and to see you!” Minutes later, Day-Lewis presented Cate Blanchett her award for Blue Jasmine, and they threaded their way backstage. The crew applauded for Blanchett, who waved her Oscar in the air in response. ”Do I have to do some sort of [dance]?” she said, smiling and swiveling her hips. A crew member directed the actress to the ”thank-you cam,” where winners could record additional messages for the online world. ”No, thank you, I’ve said enough,” she quipped, then added, ”Is that the ‘regret cam’ for all the things you didn’t say out there?”

During the Academy Awards, there’s always such a flurry of activity in the wings that sometimes the grandest moments — and gaffes — that the world sees on television go unnoticed backstage. Not too many people were talking about John Travolta’s garbled introduction of Frozen songstress Idina Menzel (a.k.a. ”Adela Dazeem”), even if it instantly lit up social media. Menzel certainly didn’t seem perturbed. After husband-and-wife composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez won Best Original Song for the Frozen hit ”Let It Go” — the former completing his EGOT with the all-important O — Menzel came rushing toward them. ”Idina!” Anderson-Lopez said, with tears in her eyes. ”Oh my God, you rocked it, girl. You sang the hardest song to sing of all of them.”

”Let me hold it for a sec,” Menzel said, meaning the Oscar, of course, and Anderson-Lopez placed it in her hands.

”Oh, that’s nice,” Menzel said. ”But this feels weird. You better take it back.”

U2 had a fan waiting for them too. The band exited the stage after singing ”Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and immediately found themselves being teased by Pitt: ”Is it over? I wanted to come do backup!” Bono had the presence of mind to call the actor’s bluff. ”There’s a tambourine waiting for you anytime,” he said.

By far the biggest emotional reaction of the night, on camera or off, was for Lupita Nyong’o, whose Supporting Actress win for 12 Years came with a tearful, inspiring speech that left few dry eyes backstage. The Kenyan actress, who had turned 31 the day before, was escorted back by last year’s Supporting Actor winner, Christoph Waltz. They pushed open the doors to a corridor where DeGeneres was in the midst of orchestrating her elaborate pizza stunt with an actual, unsuspecting deliveryman. ”Does he know he’s going on?” she called out to a crew worker. ”Grab him before he gets too far!”

DeGeneres then turned to Nyong’o, who still had tears streaming down her face. ”Yay! Yay!” DeGeneres said, trying to move the actress’ emotional needle from ”overwhelmed” to ”happy.” ”You won an Oscar! And it was such a beautiful speech. To give that with such composure!”

As the host returned to her pizza prank, Waltz chased after Nyong’o, finally catching up with her and holding her winning envelope daintily by the corners, like baby clothes. Presenters are tasked with saving the precious envelopes, and those who’ve received awards themselves are more conscientious about it because they understand their value. ”Congratulations,” Waltz told Nyong’o. ”This also belongs to you.”

Back when Oscar night began, Anne Hathaway had done the same kindness for Dallas Buyers Club‘s Jared Leto after handing him the Supporting Actor trophy, the very first award of the night. Things were still fairly quiet backstage at that point, so last year’s Supporting Actress and this year’s Supporting Actor had a moment of calm to let the meaning of it all resonate. ”Drink it in, man,” Hathaway said, surrendering the envelope. ”Enjoy.”

THE WINNERS
PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Steve McQueen, Anthony Katagas

ACTOR
Matthew McConaughey
Dallas Buyers Club

ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett
Blue Jasmine

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Jared Leto
Dallas Buyers Club

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o
12 Years a Slave

DIRECTING
Alfonso Cuarón
Gravity

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
12 Years a Slave
John Ridley

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Her
Spike Jonze

ANIMATED FEATURE
Frozen
Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Peter Del Vecho

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Gravity
Emmanuel Lubezki

COSTUME DESIGN
The Great Gatsby
Catherine Martin

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
20 Feet From Stardomm
Morgan Neville, Gil Friesen, Caitrin Rogers

DOCUMENTARY SHORT
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Malcolm Clarke, Nicholas Reed

FILM EDITING
Gravity
Alfonso Cuarón, Mark Sanger

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The Great Beauty (Italy)
Paolo Sorrentino

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Dallas Buyers Club
Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews

ORIGINAL SCORE
Gravity
Steven Price

ORIGINAL SONG
”Let It Go,” Frozen
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez

PRODUCTION DESIGN
The Great Gatsby
Catherine Martin, Beverley Dunn

ANIMATED SHORT
Mr. Hublot
Laurent Witz, Alexandre Espigares

LIVE ACTION SHORT
Helium
Anders Walter, Kim Magnusson

SOUND EDITING
Gravity
Glenn Freemantle

SOUND MIXING
Gravity
Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, Chris Munro

VISUAL EFFECTS
Gravity
Tim Webber, Chris Lawrence, David Shirk, Neil Corbould

THE BIG NIGHT
BY THE MINUTE
2:40 PM PST
The red carpet warms up. The crowd in the bleachers starts chanting, ”We want Ellen!”

4:29 Kevin Spacey offers his advice to nominees: ”A lot of drinking. I’ve been drinking since three. I’m pretty s —faced.”

4:30 Jennifer Lawrence exits her limo, trips over a cone.

4:56 Julia Roberts tells EW that being nominated for an Oscar is something she’ll never take for granted: ”If I ever do, I give you permission to slap me.”

5:25 Moments before the show begins, Oscar producer Craig Zadan warns that winners will be played off by ”gentle music” if their speeches go on too long.

5:32 Ellen Degeneres gives a shout-out to Best Supporting Actor nominee Barkhad Abdi: ”He is from Somalia. He is a sommelier, so he knows a lot about wine, and that is impressive. Who’s the wine captain now?!”

5:36 DeGeneres jokes about Lawrence’s penchant for tripping: ”If you win tonight, I think we should bring you the Oscar.”

6:00 In the wings, Jamie Foxx high-fives the young performers in Pharrell Williams’ ”Happy” number. ”Next time, the Source Awards!” he says.

6:10 In the press room after winning Best Supporting Actor, Jared Leto lets the assembled reporters pass around his Oscar: ”But if you have swine flu, please don’t touch.”

6:21 Backstage, Channing Tatum gives Matthew McConaughey a bear hug, then mimes a golf swing while predicting his Magic Mike costar’s win. ”It’s just a chip shot away,” Tatum says. ”Just lob it up onto the green, Daddy, and dance all the way home.”

7:03 DeGeneres takes a group selfie with Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, and half a dozen other stars (plus Lupita Nyong’o’s photobombing brother Peter).

7:14 In the lobby, Glenn Close cheers for Nyong’o’s win. ”She’s right out of drama school!” says Close.

7:15 DeGeneres’ selfie has already been retweeted more than 100,000 times.

7:20 Pizza arrives!

7:37 Pink receives a standing ovation for her rendition of ”Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

7:40 DeGeneres’ selfie passes the 800,000 mark in retweets, a new record. At press time, it was more than 3 million.

7:48 In the lobby, Abdi admits he doesn’t actually know what a sommelier is: ”That’s why I didn’t laugh.”

8:00 Watching the ”In Memoriam” reel on a screen at the lobby bar, Roberts is visibly moved to tears.

8:04 Amid reports of Twitter outages, DeGeneres declares, ”We just crashed Twitter…. We’re all winners tonight.”

8:08 John Travolta introduces Broadway star Idina Menzel, who is performing the Oscar-nominated song ”Let It Go,” as ”Adela Dazeem.”

8:22 DeGeneres collects money for the pizza in Pharrell’s hat. Indie honcho HARVEY WEINSTEIN chips in $200. Nyong’o offers her lip balm.

8:55 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture.

9:19 A Twitter feed for ”Adela Dazeem” appears. Sample tweet: ”THANK YOU, JORN TROMOLTO!”

9:30 At the Governors Ball, Michael Fassbender says he wasn’t surprised by the results: ”I should have been a bookie. I could have won some money.”

10:42 Asked if he’d spent a long time prepping his acceptance speech, McConaughey shrugs: ”Nah, not really.”

11:00 Standing with Bette Midler, Cate Blanchett clutches three chocolate Oscars in one hand and her gold statuette in the other. ”I can’t even remember what I said,” she says.

BURNING QUESTIONS
Who was laughing at Jennifer Lawrence?
When the star (below) walked on stage to present the Best Actor award, she playfully snapped, ”Why are you laughing?” at someone in the crowd. The culprit? Jared Leto. He was actually laughing at Ellen DeGeneres, who was pantomiming a joke off stage about Lawrence’s famous stumble at last year’s show. According to Matthew McConaughey, ”Ellen was on the side when Jen was walking out going [mimes falling], and Jared was laughing at Ellen.”

Did the pizza delivery guy know the order was for stars at the Oscars?
No. ”Ellen was adamant. She did not want an actor,” says producer Craig Zadan. So a stack of pies was ordered from Big Mama’s & Papa’s on Sunset Boulevard and delivered to the Dolby Theatre by owner Edgar Martirosyan. After security, he was hustled on stage. ”It was a surprise,” admits Martirosyan, adding that he was told the pizza was for the show’s writers. Any stage fright? ”F —, no,” he says.

Long speeches are usually cut off by music, but Cate Blanchett (3 minutes, 13 seconds) and Matthew McConaughey (3 minutes, 8 seconds) finished uninterrupted. Why?
Craig Zadan says that he and fellow producer Neil Meron decided to let the night’s big winners say as much as they liked — within reason. ”As long as the speeches were emotional, we weren’t going to [play them off],” Zadan explains.

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