By Joey Nolfi
January 24, 2017 at 01:34 PM EST

Their cinematic stories unfolded before our eyes on the big screen, and now the stars of this year’s Oscar contenders are giving audiences a peek into their world, sharing perspective on what happened behind the scenes of their nominated works.

In the exclusive video above, EW chats with 23 of this year’s Academy honorees, like Jackie‘s Natalie Portman, Loving‘s Ruth Negga, Manchester by the Sea helmer Kenneth Lonergan, and Denzel Washington, the actor-director who breathed new life into the beloved August Wilson stage play with his big-screen adaptation of Fences.

“What was really special about that character is that she has so many lives,” best actress nominee Isabelle Huppert says of her role in Elle, which earned the French performer her first Oscar nod, in the clip. “She’s so multiple. I call her almost a post-feminist character.”

Barry Jenkins, the driving creative force behind Moonlight, reveals his motivation for casting Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes as the film’s focal character, Chiron, across three periods of his troubled life.

“We cast three different actors to play the same role. The eyes are the window into the soul. So I thought if I could find these actors with the same eyes, the audience will connect to this guy’s soul,” Jenkins says. Later, one of his supporting actresses, Naomie Harris, reveals she connected with her character’s drug-addled history via the internet, learning how to “handle a crack pipe” by watching videos on YouTube.

Damien Chazelle, writer-director of the hit movie La La Land, acknowledges he faced an uphill battle in attempting to sell a major musical in the contemporary market — a gamble that eventually paid off, as La La Land tied Titanic and All About Eve as the film with the most Oscar nominations in history on Tuesday morning.

“Musicals are a hard sell for today’s audiences — that full-fledged idea of people breaking into song because their emotions inspire them to,” he admits. “The challenge for this movie was to try to make that feel accessible and relevant.”

 

Watch the exclusive video above to hear the nominees — including Jeff Bridges, Nicole Kidman, Mahershala Ali, and Octavia Spencer — on their biggest fears, most challenging scenes, and more untold stories behind their films. For additional details from each of them, check out our full slate of PrizeFighter videos here.

Video directed by Kristen Harding, produced by Robyn Ross and Kristen Harding, edited by Hannah Hafey.

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