Ken Watanabe and Keisha Castle-Hughes: Jeff Vespa/

Preparing for Oscar: parties, rehearsals, and more -- Stars hit the party circuit (and the salons), cops hit Hollywood Blvd., and presenters hit their marks in rehearsals for the Big Show

February 29, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST

If you’re nominated for an Oscar, how do you prepare for the anxiety of the big day? Alcohol probably helps, which may be why there have been as many pre-Oscar parties as post-show celebrations. Elton John was hosting one of each, as was Vanity Fair magazine. The New Zealand contingent (up for 13 awards for ”The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and ”Whale Rider”) held a bash at the Beverly Hills Hotel that also drew the Douglas family (Kirk, Michael, and Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Donald Trump. According to the New York Post, Miramax held its annual pre-Oscar roast, where attendees performed skits making fun of the studio’s 15 nominees, including guests Jude Law and Sting.

Veteran agent Ed Limato held his annual star-studded soiree at his Beverly Hills home, though he disinvited venerable Variety columnist Army Archerd because Archerd had the temerity in his Wednesday column to quote ”60 Minutes” curmudgeon Andy Rooney’s dis of Limato client Mel Gibson, calling the filmmaker a ”wacko” for saying his direction of ”The Passion of the Christ” was divinely inspired.

On the red carpet, security has been tight, with police having blocked off the streets surrounding the Kodak Theatre since last Sunday. ”As the Oscars are extremely high-profile and well identified with American pop culture, they make an attractive terrorist target,” John Miller of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Homeland Security Bureau told the BBC. Still, the ceremony isn’t expected to be as somber as the lockdown shows of 2002 and 2003. Producer Joe Roth has vowed to make this year’s show funnier than in past years, booking such first-time presenters as Bill Murray, Jack Black, and Will Ferrell. (One star he wasn’t able to get: Mel Gibson, who begged off, saying he’s too busy promoting the opening weekend of ”The Passion of the Christ.”) Roth’s also hoping for an increased glamour quotient, though in rehearsals, Renée Zellweger has so far been the only high-heel-shod actress  courageous enough to agree to descend the massive staircase at the center of the Oscar set.

Stars began primping early. Keisha Castle-Hughes told the New York Post that after the New Zealand party, her first stop was going to be Frederic Fekkai’s hair and cosmetic salon on Rodeo Drive. Bluegrass star Alison Krauss, who’ll perform the two Oscar-nominated songs from ”Cold Mountain,” got fitted for $2 million stilettos — diamond-encrusted shoes on loan from designer Stuart Weitzman.

Some stars got a possible taste of Oscar glory at the much more casual Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, the last stop on the movie-awards circuit before Sunday’s Academy gala. Oscar Best Actress frontrunner Charlize Theron, who won a Spirit trophy for ”Monster,” kept her plans for the next day close to the vest. ”I have a date and a dress and we’ll just see what happens,” she told reporters. Fellow Spirit winner Shohreh Aghdashloo (who won Best Supporting Actress for ”House of Sand and Fog”) said that if she repeats her victory at the Oscars, she won’t make a political speech — say, chastising the mullahs who chased her out of Iran 25 years ago. The Oscars, she said, ”are purely artistic, I’m not going to ruin it with a political message. My presence is political; I don’t need to shout it out.” Nikki Reed, who won the Best Debut prize for playing a hard-partying teen in ”Thirteen,” said she won’t be attending the post-award festitivities this weekend. ”I’m not going to any parties,” she told E! Online. ”I’m going to stay home and eat pizza.”

Theron also noted that the glamour of awards season is fleeting. Recalling the day after her Golden Globe victory for ”Monster,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times: ”My dog needed to go to the vet. The fancy dress was history, and I was back in my sweats, driving my dog around like anyone else.”

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