Backstage with the Oscar winners: The nominated movies may have been issue-heavy, but talking to reporters, the stars ditched the seriousness and got silly

By Gary Susman
Updated March 06, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST
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George Clooney: Kevork Djansezian/AP

Politics, schmolitics. Despite the vaunted high-mindedness of the issue-oriented Oscar-winning films, it was all about fun, frolic, and frivolity backstage. ”We’re pretty f—in’ happy right now,” enthused Paul Haggis, director-cowriter of the Best Picture winner, Crash.

Asked if he wished to draw any larger social conclusion about his Best Actor win for playing an openly gay man in Capote, Philip Seymour Hoffman said, ”No.”

Winners were patient with reporters’ often silly questions. The first question of the night, to George Clooney, Best Supporting Actor winner for Syriana, was a two-parter: Did he think he might ever make a Brokeback Mountain-style gay romance, and was he was dating Teri Hatcher? (Answers: Another Batman movie would be pretty gay, and no comment.) Hughes Winborne, who won the Film Editing award for Crash, had to respond that, no, he didn’t get entangled in any car crashes on the way to the Kodak Theatre; then he expressed mock disappointment that no one wanted to ask him about his troubled childhood.

Part of the silliness stemmed from Oscar winners’ tendency to lose their minds when addressing hundreds of millions of people. ”It’s so overwhelming that I couldn’t have hardly told you my name,” said Best Supporting Actress winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener). ”So I didn’t feel anything when I was up onstage. My brain is a bit like porridge. Anyway, I think I was a big blank…. It’s a very surreal, strange, strange feeling.”

Hoffman, noting that he’d neglected to honor his long-ago promise to a college pal that he would bark his acceptance speech, said, ”I literally lost all control of my bowels up there. I did think, like, maybe I’ll bark at the end for my friend or something, a quick ooh, you know, something, but I couldn’t think. I was swimming in my head. So I was lucky to get out what I got out.”

Many winners brought good-luck charms with them, from the stuffed penguins carried by the filmmakers of the Best Documentary winner, March of the Penguins (a present from the film’s Japanese distributor, they said), to the floppy bowties worn by Nick Park and Steve Box, the directors of the Best Animated Feature-winning Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Park, who had already won three Oscars, always wears a tie like that to the ceremony (he had British fashion designer Paul Smith make the ones he and Box wore tonight), but he pretended he and Box had made a fashion faux pas: ”We didn’t know we’re going to wear these ties,” he said. ”We should have called each other first.”

All of the winners were gracious to their fellow contenders. When she was asked about her big moment, Reese Witherspoon said she was too busy thinking about Ryan Phillippe’s victory as part of the ensemble cast of Crash. ”My whole mind is blank,” she said. ”I just found out my husband’s movie won the big award. So that’s exciting.” Hoffman said that what got him through the whole awards season was his camaraderie with the other Best Actor candidates. ”We all really had a great time together,” he said. ”And we really like each other.” Clooney, however, pretended to snipe at Ang Lee, who beat him in the Best Director contest. ”Let me tell you something right now,” he said. ”I don’t like that guy. I’ve seen him a lot; I’ve spent a lot of time with him. I caught him stealing at the last awards show.” Then he congratulated Lee, Steven Spielberg, and the other directing nominees, saying, ”I’m very proud to be even in a game with those guys.”

Although lifetime-achievement honoree Robert Altman often grumbles about the Hollywood establishment in interviews, he didn’t take the bait proffered in one pointed question: When he learned that he was going to be honored at the Oscars, did he ask himself whether the Academy members had ever seen his big raspberry to Hollywood, The Player? ”No, I was very happy,” he said. He then repeated his often-used analogy about his outsider status in the film industry: ”They sell shoes, and I make gloves…. We’re just in a different business. That’s all.”

The only person ornery enough to gripe a little about his movie’s Best Picture loss was Larry McMurtry, who shared the Best Adapted Screenplay award for Brokeback Mountain with Diana Ossana. He attributed Crash‘s victory over Brokeback not to a liberal-conservative divide, or straight-gay, but rather to a city-country schism. ”Members of the Academy are mostly urban people,” he said. ”We are an urban nation. We’re not a rural nation. It’s not easy even to get a rural story made. And in the four instances that I have had, Hud, The Last Picture Show, Brokeback Mountain, and Terms of Endearment, the urban story won, and the three rural stories didn’t.” (Sounding like a true country boy, McMurtry explained his casual attire by saying, ”I always wear jeans.”)

Three 6 Mafia, who gave the most exuberant acceptance speech of the evening after winning Best Song for Hustle & Flow‘s ”It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” resisted the temptation to find larger social significance in their victory. Asked how he’d respond to bluenoses fretting about Oscar giving its seal of approval to a profanity-laden song about a pimp, Jordan Houston said, ”I think I’m going to pray for those people.” Give the last word to Three 6’s DJ Paul Beauregard, who dismissed any notion of controversy or larger social import: ”It’s just entertainment.”

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