By Carrie Bell
Updated February 06, 2012 at 12:00 PM EST
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

George Clooney came for the “free booze.” Octavia Spencer was stoked to just be in the “room with all those luminaries,” while Kenneth Branagh claimed it was “the camaraderie” that brought him to the annual Academy Awards Nominees Luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. But no matter what their reason for attending, most of the folks in the acting categories first stopped by the press room to talk shop, give praise and, in the case of Nick Nolte, threaten to tell a joke (which never materialized).

Here is taste of what the actors had to say about their performances, awards season, and their fellow nominees:

Glenn Close: “The first time I went [to this luncheon] was for my first nomination for The World According To Garp. I remember being astounded that I met some people who were hyperventilating as to whether they were going to win or not. I have never understood that because if you do the simple math — the amount of people that are in our two unions, the amount of people in our profession who are out of work at any given time, the amount of movies made every year, and then you’re one of five — how could you possibly think of yourself as a loser? Being an actor is a privilege and a responsibility. Great art rearranges people forever. You come out a different person. That’s one of the basic powers of film.”

Octavia Spencer: “I hope I can be a symbol of hope for all the other actors who’ve been doing it as long as I have. It says something about perseverance and staying in the game. I’m an Oscar nominee. Whatever happens, I’m always going to sing that Oscar nominee part.”

Jonah Hill (on Brad Pitt): “I have been a victim of [Brad’s] pranks. I call him the Bobby Fisher of pranks because you try and prank him and he’s immediately three moves ahead of you. He’s playing a chess game with you. It’s the preemptive strike. Then when you think of an idea to get him back, he already knows what you’re going to do and retaliates before you’ve even spoken the thought. It’s a masterful art form with this guy.”

Brad Pitt: “As you travel around the world, you see so many struggles. Even in our own country so many people are hurting right now. I’ve always wrestled with that. I feel very fortunate that I’m in a position where I pass on some of that good fortune. It’s one of the nicest things about where I stand today.”

Bérénice Bejo (on picking out a dress for the Oscars): “You’re not going to wear jeans. You’re going to wash your hair and brush your teeth, but I just want to look pretty and feel good. The most important for me is that my husband likes me in the dress.”

Janet McTeer (on playing a man in Albert Nobbs): “The scariest thing was trying to portray an Irishman man in front of an Irish male crew. They’re a tough crowd. If you didn’t vaguely believe for a little bit that we could pass as men, then you lost the basis of the whole film really. At first, they were a bit, ‘What the f— was that?’ And then they eventually got into it and tried to help out and give me the right words. Then it was easy. We started off with what made me feel more male and what made me look more male so from the inside out and the outside in. The boots were a big thing. There was an awful lot of padding involved everywhere. I hid my hands a lot. My hands are quite girly and there’s nothing anyone can do about them. I didn’t wear male underwear because I was all padded up. It was mostly about the feel.”

George Clooney (on fellow nominee Damian Bechir’s performance in A Better Life): “A Better Life is a perfect example of where the Academy can make a huge difference. A film like A Better Life would not have been seen were it not for the SAG nomination and the Academy nomination. It’s a really wonderful film and he’s really wonderful in it. I think of all the actors nominated his is one of the great stories.”

Rooney Mara (on becoming Lisbeth Salander): “I pierced one nipple. I wanted to get as many of the piercings as I could. Between the piercings, tattoos, makeup, the hair and my body being smaller, it always felt like I was in costume. I never really felt naked. I’m going to keep it [the piercing] for now. I don’t want to have to re-pierce that should we do the other two films.”

Demian Bichir: “I wish this nomination could solve the problems in Mexico. I don’t think that’s going to happen but I keep my hopes high. This could make a big difference if the right people see the film. If the guys in Congress take a look at it and get touched by it like a lot of people have, hopefully this can send the right message out there, which is it is not a political issue. It’s a human issue. We hope with all this attention a lot more people will watch the film and spread the word. ”

Michelle Williams: “Somebody asked me once if I had a cup of coffee with [Marilyn Monroe], what would I ask her? I would just want to listen. There’s not one burning question in my heart. I would just want to listen to what she had to say.”

Gary Oldman (responding to a comment that he takes parts just for the money): “The Oscar’s better than money. I was being a bit glib. The villains are the ones you do for money. They’re expensive. Or they will be now.”

Jean Dujardin (on working in L.A.): “I loved the energy. The vibe of the city. I met amazing people. And the food. Cinnamon rolls. Oooohh the cinnamon. I never eat them in Paris. I love them here. My tastes travel too.”

Melissa McCarthy: “It’s been a pretty amazing, surreal year where I keep pinching myself. I’m really hoping I don’t get the call where someone goes, ‘Kidding!’”

Viola Davis: “I am not a glam woman. This is definitely a mask I put on for the public. My biggest fear is that papprazzi with some lens is going come in my backyard and see me when I get in my pool. That would be very unfortunate.”

Kenneth Branagh (on seeing the other nominees): “The general sort of camaraderie is as I imagined it might be at this point. You can just feel the delight of being at this stage. It’s not quite so pressurized today. It’s about celebrating what a lovely thing it is to be recognized.”

Max von Sydow (on getting to know his characters): “I’m very fond of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Sometimes you become friends with the characters you portray. The renter in this film is very close to my heart, as the father in Pele The Conqueror was. He was, and still is, a good friend.”

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