A small group of protesters gathered outside the annual Oscar nominees luncheon on Monday holding signs with the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite — and the question of inclusion was being asked inside as well.
But not right away. At least, not in the press room, where it took a little while.
As Academy Award contenders swarmed into the Beverly Hilton, the mood was more tense than festive. For the second year in a row, Oscar voters selected a list of contenders that was almost entirely devoid of people of color, which led the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to institute new efforts to double women and minority membership, while also removing voting rights from those the group deems no longer a viable part of the film business.
Into this charged atmosphere, the nominees had the choice to trek before a room full of reporters before heading into the afternoon party. It was supposed to start at 11:30 a.m. PT but … that didn’t happen.
Here’s a live run-down of who faced the press, and what they had to say. (All times are Pacific.)
WANT MORE EW? Subscribe now to keep up with the latest in movies, television and music.
11:50 a.m. — Alicia Vikander, Best Supporting Actress nominee for The Danish Girl.
As the first one out, she answered a question about the long journey of the film and process of campaigning for an Oscar. “I’m still trying to get used to it,” she said, adding that she was daunted by the many interviews. “With all these events, it’s suddenly wonderful to be introduced in rooms to actors and filmmakers and people behind the camera. It’s wonderful to hang out with them and talk about our films.”
As for what lies ahead: “I’m about to head back to London and wrap up the Bourne movie, which is really exciting,” Vikander said of the Matt Damon film now titled simply Jason Bourne. “Now, I’m doing something very different. which is I’m going to do a Wim Wenders [film,] almost like a two-hander. And that’s going to be very different. When it comes to work, suddenly when I move on to something else, it’s like having tunnel vision and I put my heart and soul into that.”
No questions were asked about the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominees, although not every reporter who was trying to present a question was called upon.
12:02 p.m. — Adam McKay, nominated for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for The Big Short, which is also up for Best Picture.
He talked about banks and ratings agencies and speculated about the possibility of another economic crash brought on by unsustainable Wall Street practices. Each interview tended to last about three to four minutes, and he also left before an #OscarsSoWhite question could be raised.
12:07 p.m. — Brie Larson, Best Actress nominee for Room.
The actress, the odds-favorite winner this year, was asked about what movies mean to her. She spoke about putting her own insecurities and doubts into her performances. “I was deeply worried that I was unlovable and I wasn’t normal and that the world was going to be this scary, hard place. I started taking those questions and putting them into the movies I was making. I found every time I did that, whether it was a comedy or a drama, I would get this response back from people saying, I feel like that, too.”
When asked about the dress she planned to wear to the Oscars, Larson wrinkled her nose. “Oh. Is that what you want to ask?” She said she’ll choose closer to the Feb. 28 telecast date, depending on where her emotions are.
Time up. No #OscarsSoWhite question.
12:10 p.m. — Eddie Redmayne, a Best Actor winner last year for The Theory of Everything, who’s up for the prize again this year for The Danish Girl.
Oscars diversity is finally addressed. Redmayne was asked: Given how many people are talking about #OscarsSoWhite, are the nominees discussing the issue among themselves? And what is their mood this year? “We haven’t actually sat down and met together until this occasion,” the actor said — despite the litany of other award shows this season that brought many of the same contenders together. “But certainly it’s something that’s on everybody’s mind. And I think you can see the way it’s been handled as a positive step.”
He was also asked about the impact The Danish Girl might have on the transgender community. “I would never pretend that our work would have any huge effect,” Redmayne said. “But I hope what we were doing was continuing the conversation. It’s an extraordinary thing that in the past year or two transitions have come to the mainstream media. … Change is happening, but what staggers me is how long it’s taken.”
12:14 p.m. — Sylvester Stallone, Best Supporting Actor nominee for playing Rocky Balboa in Creed, the character that earned him his only two other Oscar nominations — for Best Actor and Best Screenplay in 1976.
Stallone grabbed the elephant in the room by its tusks. He is the lone nominee from Creed, despite it being directed by a black man, filmmaker Ryan Coogler, and starring a black man, Michael B. Jordan (who made 2013’s Fruitvale Station together.) “Certainly, there is a universal law of existence. You either adapt or cease to exist. Adaptation and evolving were definitely necessary,” he said, referring to the Academy’s new efforts at inclusion, which were announced after the uproar.
“I remember I spoke with Ryan Coogler when this [#OscarsSoWhite controversy] happened. I said, ‘Ryan how do you want to handle this? Because I really believe you are responsible for me being here,” Stallone said. “Michael Jordan, every time I looked in his eyes as an actor, I said, he was making me better. I think he should’ve been given a lot more respect and attention. [Coogler] goes, ‘Sly, just go there, try to represent the film, and we feel you deserve it. Eventually things will change.’”
Stallone then reiterated: “I said, ‘If you want me to go I’ll go, if you don’t, I won’t.’ He said, ‘No I want you to go.’ That’s the kind of guy he is. He wants us to go and represent the film.”
The actor said he was optimistic that the after-effects of this issue will be positive. “Eventually all talent will rise to the top. It’s just a matter of, I guess, a new paradigm and a new way of thinking,” he said. “I really owe everything to these two young men, for sure.”
12:14 — Tom McCarthy, Best Director and Original Screenplay nominee for Spotlight, which is also up for Best Picture.
McCarthy acknowledged the #OscarsSoWhite conversation was both emotional and important one to have. “It comes down to, for me, accountability. Personal accountability. It raises the question what can we all do? Every writer, director actor, producer, and theater-goer.”
He was then asked if he thought it would change the way he made films in the future. “Yeah, I do. Not only casting, but writing. It starts there. It starts on the page,” he said.
Explaining why Spotlight, a true-life account of Boston Globe reporters investigating Catholic Church sex abuse cover-ups, didn’t have a more diverse cast, McCarthy said: “We’re portraying real people in real times, and we are dealing with an incredibly disenfranchised group – survivors of sexual abuse.
“But it’s Boston. It’s a very specific culture. That’s what we’re representing. The Visitor was a very different situation,” he said, referring to his 2007 drama about a meek middle-aged white man who befriends a young immigrant couple. “You always have to be true to the material, but also aware. What the society I’m presenting? These are all wonderfully challenging and creative issues and discussions, and I think what’s happening right now will further promote [them].”
12:29 p.m. — Rooney Mara, a supporting actress nominee for Carol.
Like Redmayne, Mara, who was previously nominated for best actress for 2011’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, said she hasn’t discussed the #OscarsSoWhite issue with other nominees. “I’ve been in my own little bubble. But I think it’s a conversation that we should all be having. On top of that, I read this piece in The New York Times yesterday, and they were talking about it, and talking about Carol,” she said. (She plays a woman Cate Blanchett’s title character falls in love with in the repressive 1950s.) “And they said there should also be a hashtag #OscarSoStraight. These are important conversations for us all to be having.”
She also came up with the perfect summation of award season: “Sometimes it feels like you’re celebrating the same person’s birthday for months on end.”
12:38 p.m. — George Miller, up for Best Director for Mad Max: Fury Road, and a nominated producer for Best Picture.
Asked if the diversity question will influence his future work, the Australian director answered: “To be honest, I hadn’t thought about it in terms of the next movies I hope to make. It’s there in the back of your mind. Casting is story driven, but I think what’s really good about what’s happened, if there’s a positive to come out of it, is it’s alerted everyone to the problem. “
He also said he thought the film world lagged behind in diversifying its storytelling. “It’s interesting to me that television has responded way earlier than cinema has, in all countries, in terms of diversity,” he said, before adding. “Films are story driven and if the story warrants it, of course there should be diversity of all kinds.”
For more film news, follow @Breznican. Sound off in the comments: How did you think the nominees handled the #OscarsSoWhite issue today?