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Monday, February 27, 2017

Backstage at the Oscars: 2017

Okay, so where am I? 

It's the last Sunday in February which can only mean that I'm walking the Academy Red carpet (which is actually a burgundy shade) of the Academy Awards®, snapping pictures with my new Canon 70D and trolling backstage looking for juicy quotes and pictures for this annual report.

Before I go much further, let it noted at my picks were correct to the tune of eight for nine. And, if Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty had their way, I would have been none for nine. Regardless that makes me 45 out of 53 in the last six years!

So, in case you missed it, La La Land joins the Hillary Clinton, the Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Falcons, and the Golden State Warriors in the list of sure winners who clutched defeat from the jaws of victory over the last year.

Without further droning on, here's my take on the happenings backstage at the 89th Academy Awards:

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW WITH:
Emma Stone, La La Land
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Q. I just wonder how will you celebrate tonight and who will you call first after the show?

A. My mom for sure. And I'm going to go out with a bunch of my friends and dance and drink champagne. That's pretty much the only plan.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Stone backstage at the 2017 Oscars.
Q. What does it mean to you as one of the ones who dreamed to have won this award for playing this role that mimics what so many people in this city go through to get to the point of where you are standing right now?

A. Well, it's I guess surreal is probably the only way to describe it.  It was ‑‑ I mean, to play this ‑‑ this woman, I knew this ‑‑ I've lived here for 13 years.  I moved when I was 15 to start auditioning, and I knew what it felt like to go on audition after audition. So I mean anything like this was pretty inconceivable in a ‑‑ you know, in a realistic context. So right now, it still feels ‑‑ I had a really creepy little moment backstage ‑‑ not to change the subject ‑‑ but I was just like looking down at it, like it was my newborn child. This is a statue of a naked man. Very creepy staring at it. So hopefully I will look at a newborn child differently. But I mean it's, yeah, it's incredibly surreal. I don't have the benefit of hindsight yet. Sorry if that's a terrible answer.  Turned it into a naked man story.

Q. How are you doing? You know it's a dream you have to get an Oscar. Did you ever dream like that? And what is the dream when they announce you as the Best Picture, La La Land, and it didn't win?

A. Okay.  So yes, of course.  I'm an actor.  I've always dreamt of this kind of thing, but again, not in a realistic context.  And for that, I fucking love Moonlight. God, I love Moonlight so much. I was so excited for Moonlight. And of course, you know, it was an amazing thing to hear La La Land.  I think we all would have loved to win Best Picture, but we are so excited for Moonlight. I think it's one of the best films of all time. So I was pretty beside myself. I also was holding my Best Actress in a Leading Role card that entire time. So, whatever story ‑‑ I don't mean to start stuff, but whatever story that was, I had that card. So I'm not sure what happened. And I really wanted to talk to you guys first. Congratulations Moonlight.  Hell, yeah.

Q. Could you just speak a little bit to what the atmosphere was like after that nightmare?  I think the atmosphere in here was crazy.

A. I think everyone's in a state of confusion still.  Excitement, but confusion. So there's no real ‑‑ I don't really have a gauge of the atmosphere quite yet. I need to, you know, check in.  But I think everyone is just so excited, so excited for Moonlight. It's such an incredible film.

Q. How much does an Oscar cost in terms of sacrifice and discipline?

A. Oh, my God. Is that measurable? I don't ‑‑ I don't know. I guess it depends on the Oscar. For ‑‑ in my life, I have been beyond lucky with the people around me, with the friends and family that I have and the people that have lifted me up throughout my life. So in terms of sacrifice, those people are all sitting back in a room right now and I get to go celebrate with them, and it's felt like the most joyous thing. So, I mean, being a creative person does not feel like a ‑‑ like a sacrifice to me.  It's the great joy of my life. And so, I mean, I don't know if that's a, you know, a good answer to that question, but I've been very lucky in terms of that.

Q. I'm just wondering as a performer, as someone who's been in Hollywood, you've experienced many things before. Are you able to give us sort of a word picture of what it was like?  I timed it by the way, two minutes and 30 seconds La La Land was Best Picture of the year. What was it like on stage when you first thought you won, you didn't win? I know you are taking it in good stride and everything.

A. Again, I don't know if this is a measurable question? Is that the craziest Oscar moment of all time? Cool. We made history tonight. Craziest moment. And again, I mean, I don't ‑‑ I don't even know what to say. I think I'm still on such a buzzy train backstage that I was, you know, on another planet already. So this has all just felt like another planet.  But again, God I love Moonlight. I'm so excited. So, it's, you know ‑‑ I think it's an incredible outcome, but very ‑‑ a very strange happening for Oscar history.

Q. My question is do you feel like owing Emma Watson a drink or dinner to thank her for turning down the role?

A. Oh, my God, you know what?  She's doing great. She's the coolest. She's Belle. I mean I think it's all ‑‑ right? It's all good. I think she's amazing.

Q. Being on the top of the world right now, what does it humble you?

A. Well, you know, we had a nice little jarry moment that's just, you know, it's very ‑‑ it feels like real life. But everything kind of feels like real life.  Like this is an incredible, incredible honor. And you know, and in many ways game changing for me, personally, but it's also just still me. And again, back to the people that I love, nothing changes when I go home.  Nothing is going to change at all. So I don't know that there's a humbling moment. It's just already like feels ridiculous.  In the best way.

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW WITH:
Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea
Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role


credit: Mike Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Q. Congratulations on your win tonight.  I'm really curious. What did you like about making this in Boston and, Casey, you returning there to make this film there?

A. Well, I like to work there because I know it so well and it still feels like home, so that's sort of a bonus of getting to work on a movie that is in Boston. There's also a certain familiarity that helps the work, I think. But, you know, Kenny [Kenneth Lonergan] writes with such incredible authenticity and specificity that it really was on the page, the whole feel of the place and the characters and everything. So I could have been from anywhere else and I think I would have got it.

Q. You said something along the lines of you wished you had something meaningful to say. You said something fairly meaningful yesterday at the Independent Spirit Awards, but we were led to believe that this was going to be a very political Oscars, but it didn't quite turn out that way. So why do you think that was?

A. Why was it that there weren't that many people who made remarks that were political? I think there were quite a few people who made some ‑‑ said some things that were sort of about their current global political situation and they're also about ‑‑ you know, but were from a point of view of artists and they spoke about the importance of arts and so forth. I don't know why
more people didn't. It doesn't entirely seem like an inappropriate place given the state of things. It seems like this is just as fine a platform as any to make some remarks so long they are respectful and positive. Personally, I didn't say anything because my head was completely blank, the shock of winning the award and the terror of having a microphone in front of you and all of those faces staring at you. So if I said I wish I had something meaningful to say, that was my inside voice coming out. I wasn't even aware that I actually said that out loud. I didn't thank my children, which is something that I'll probably never ever live down. About three seconds after I made it backstage, my phone rang and my son said, "You didn't even mention us."  And my heart just sank. So, you know, that probably would have been the most meaningful thing I could have said and I failed.

Q. During your speech they took a shot of your brother, Ben, in the front and it looked like he was having tears in his eyes and started to tear up so I was wondering what it was like accepting the award in front of him and sort of a group of your loved ones, just the group right there?

A. It was very moving, and I include Kenny in that group of loved ones. And, obviously, my brother, to have him there, yeah, it was a nice moment. I wasn't sure if he was just ‑‑ I saw those tears and I thought maybe I'm just not making a good speech and he was really disappointed. But I think he was probably touched, and I think that we are ‑‑ I mean, not to brag or anything, but I think we're the only two brothers to win Academy Awards, ever.

Q. From almost the first major showing of this film, you were predicted to win this award, and I'm sure that that whole ride has been kind of crazy.  But how has it changed your expectation for what you could do as an artist?  How has it fed your future thoughts for where you're going?

A. It's only just reinforced the idea that I had going into it which was if you want to have a good performance or do good work, really, then you'd better work with good directors and good material because, let's face it, that's really what a good performance is, 90 percent of it. And this man is the best.

Q. We really enjoyed that brotherly moment between you and Ben, the great hug. What did he say to you before you took the stage or did he give you any advice before coming into this evening?

A. No, he didn't. He didn't actually say anything. He just hugged me. A lot of people have been giving me some grief for not thanking him in the past, but in a friendly way. He may have said "Have fun" or something.  It was really insightful, it was, "Be yourself." You know, what is there really to say? I think that he has given me ‑‑ I've learned a lot from him because he's been through a lot in this business and ups and downs and been under‑appreciated and, I don't know, and then it's been proven how great he is. So I definitely have had ‑‑ it's been an advantage to be able to watch someone you love and you know so well go try to navigate the very tricky, rocky, sometimes hateful waters of being famous. And so I have learned a lot from him. But in that moment, I don't think he said anything at all.

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW WITH:
Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

credit: Michael Yada / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Q. Good evening. Over here. Congratulations.  Wow.  I guess we should have known that Moonlight was going to be the Best Picture when you walked away with the first Oscar of the evening. That was a good sign. You are the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. This says a lot at this particular time in our history.  Could you speak to that, please?

A. Well, regardless of one's theology or however you see life or relate to worshipping God, as an artist my job is the same and it's to tell the truth, and try to connect with these characters and these people as honestly and as deeply as possible.  And so one's spiritual practice I don't ‑‑ I don't necessarily feel like it's as relevant unless it gives you a way into having more empathy for these people that you have to advocate for. So, but I'm ‑‑ I'm proud to own that. And I embrace that, you know.  But, again, I'm just an artist who feels blessed to have had the opportunities that I have had and try to do the most with every opportunity that's come my way.

Q. The material is so personal to Tarell and Barry. How much pressure did you feel to get it right?

A. I think I always want to walk away from any project feeling like the writer, director was pleased with what I had to offer. And considering the personal nature of this project, I think that there was a heightened sense of ‑‑ there was a need that felt a little heightened to me to ‑‑ to get it truthful where they could walk away and feel ‑‑ feel like I really contributed to their film and didn't screw it up considering that, you know, I was playing someone who had a ‑‑ who played a ‑‑ who had an extraordinary impact on Tarell's life, and I'm actually glad I didn't know till later more the details of that ‑‑ of Blue or Juan's contribution to Tarell's life, but it did.  It added a layer of pressure.

Q. First off, kind of what went through your head when you read the script to begin with because it was such a beautiful film? And, two, I obviously have to ask you about the Best Picture and kind of what went through your head hearing La La Land and then hearing Moonlight after all?

A. Well, I sincerely say that when I read the script, look, I don't get to read everything, because there's things that I'm just not remotely right for, you know.  Ryan Gosling and I read different scripts.  It's just what it is, right? But in terms of the ‑‑ as far as the scripts that I've read in my 17 years of doing it professionally, Moonlight was the best thing that I've ‑‑ that has ever come across my desk. And that character for the time that he's ‑‑ that he was on the page really spoke to my heart, and I felt like I could ‑‑ I could hear him, I could sort of envision his presence, and I could ‑‑ I really had a ‑‑ I had a real sense of who that person was, enough to start the journey. And I really wanted to be a part of that project, and I'm just so fortunate that it ‑‑ that Idris and David Oyelowo left me a job. You know, very, very kind of them.  So yeah, and then the second part of your question, you know, Moonlight ‑‑ excuse me, La La Land has done so well and it's resonated with so many people, especially in this time when people need a sense of buoyancy in their life and need some hope and light. So that film has really impacted people sort of in that ‑‑ in a different ‑‑ in a very different way than Moonlight. And so when they ‑‑ when they ‑‑ when their name was read, I wasn't surprised. And I am really happy for them. It's a group of some extraordinary people in front of the camera and behind the camera.  So I was really happy for them. And then when I did see security or people coming out on stage and their moment was being disrupted in some way, I got really worried.  nd then when they said, you know, Moonlight was ‑‑ Jordan Horowitz said, Moonlight, you guys have won, it just threw me a bit because ‑‑ it threw me more than a bit, but, you know, I just didn't ‑‑ I didn't want to go up there and take anything from somebody, you know, and it's very hard to feel joy in a moment like that, you know. But because somebody else just in front of them.  So, but I feel very fortunate to ‑‑ for all of us to have walked away with the Best Picture award. It's pretty remarkable.

Q. And as home base for House of Cards, I have to ask you, what do you think your former boss, Frank Underwood, would have to say about your win tonight and about the way the whole thing ended this evening?

credit: Mike Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.
A. "Bah humbug."  No. Kevin, he's been really supportive. I think it's a film that ‑‑ that he really loved, and he's told me. So, and they've been ‑‑ House of Cards is the reason I'm here, you know.  I've been working to that point 12 years, very steady employment for the most part, and then was finally able to be on something that ‑‑ that really resonated with people in a way that honestly was a real shift in ‑‑ in the culture.  House of Cards was the first binge‑watched show that was ever binge watched, and so to be a part of that and that being something that feels really authentic for our culture and a real option in how we view and absorb and embrace content, that was that show. And so that's the reason I've been able to put certain things together and even have this moment because of the ‑‑ the four years I spent on House of Cards.

Q. Congratulations. I want to say congratulations. Remy Danton in House of Cards, Cottonmouth, Luke Cage, and now Moonlight, you seem to have very eclectic taste when it comes to picking your roles. Do you ‑‑ are you working on a project that you could share with us?  It will stay between you and us.

A. Well, there's a project called Alita: Battle Angel that Robert Rodriguez is directing and James Cameron did in Austin. And I'm really excited about that.  I actually play two parts in that film. So ‑‑ so that ‑‑ that was a blast, and I literally wrapped that maybe two weeks ago. But then after that, I'm going to start something in a couple of months, you know, and just honestly excited to read scripts and to have meetings and hopefully work with some more extraordinarily talented people like Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, and this wonderful cast and crew of Moonlight and Hidden Figures, you know. So I just feel very, very blessed to have had this award season and this experience.

Q. So then, therefore, what is next for you? And also, who are some of your role models that you have idolized and you have patterned yourself after?

A. Okay. You don't play. You ask those heavy questions. So as far as what's next, I think I'm going to try this way. I'm going to just look for material that I am inspired by and that I respond to and just try to do my best work, you know, and keep it about the work, working with great directors and writers and other extraordinary talented actors, because, you know, you want to be around people who are better than you and who can lift you up where you have raise your game.  And I want to be inspired and just improve and do work that makes me uncomfortable, that scares me because anytime you get into the unknown, you get into that fearful space, that's when you're in new territory and you have the greatest opportunity to grow and improve as a talent or as an actor, an artist, and as a human being.  So I don't really ‑‑ it's very difficult to separate them for me, you know? So that's how I would like to approach moving forward.  And I think you asked me about who inspired me?  Well, look, you know, we could talk about it till I'm some version of blue in the face, but the diversity topic, it's very real in that when I was growing up ‑‑ I'm 43 years old, I was born in 1974, and there weren't a lot of people on TV, you know, and there weren't a lot of films. It was a big deal when ‑‑ when Billy Dee Williams was in Star Wars, like that was a big deal in my house and in my family, and it was somebody who was in the story that I could kind of attach to and say, Oh, wow, we're present as well.  But for me, that person has always been Denzel Washington because, one, he's just so damn talented; but, then, two, to see someone who comes from your tribe, so to speak, play at the level of all the other great ones and do it so well and be able to have ‑‑ articulate his voice and his talent in a way that was on par with the very best and he looks like you, too. You know what I mean, in that like, wow, there's somebody who could be an uncle of mine. Like, those are things that ‑‑ that play in your mind as you ‑‑ as you move forward, you know. And also what I love about Denzel is not that he's a great black actor, he's a great actor. And I've never ‑‑ I've never looked at myself as a black actor. I'm an actor who happens to be African American, but I just want an opportunity to respond to material and bring whatever ‑‑ whatever I bring to it in some unique fashion, and that's it. But basically short story long, Denzel.

BACKSTAGE INTERVIEW WITH:
Viola Davis, Fences
Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

credit: Robert Gladden / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Q. You talked about how much your parents have supported you, and I'm just curious if there's anything that they said to you when you were growing up that you kept with you and that you pass onto others.

A. That they loved me.  And my mom always said, "I knew the difference between an accountant and an actor," but she was always okay with it.  You know, someone told me years ago, they said, "You have the best parents."  I said, "I do?" And they said, "Yeah, because they're okay with just letting you fly. They're not stage parents." And I think that's the biggest gift my parents gave to me is to kind of allow me to live my own life. They weren't living their dreams through me. So, yeah.

Q. How did playing Rose challenge you?

A. Everything about Rose challenged me. Rose just kind of seemingly just being sometimes at peace with being in the background was hard to play. Rose getting to a place of forgiveness was hard to play. I never hit it when I ‑‑ that last scene when I did 114 performances on stage, I didn't understand the last speech when she said, you know, "I gave up my life to make him bigger." I didn't get that.  But what Rose has taught me is a lot of what my mom has taught me: That my mom has lived a really hard life, but she still has an abundance of love. And that's the thing, you know.  That's the thing about life. You go through it, and you ‑‑ just terrible things happen to you, beautiful things happen to you, and then you try to just stand up every day, but that's not the point. The point is feeling all those things but still connecting to people, still being able to love people. And that was the best thing about playing Rose because I'm not there yet. Even at 51, sometimes I just kind of live in my anger.

Q. What would your TV alter ego Annalise Keating from How To Get Away With Murder might say about your Oscar win?

A. Oh, she would most definitely say, "I deserve this." And then she would have some vodka. And in that we are very similar.

Q. I've heard about you. I've heard about August Wilson. I've heard about your parents. I've heard about the everyman. I want to know what Viola Davis ‑‑ not the black woman, not the woman ‑‑ but Viola, what are you feeling right now? What is going through your head right now? What is your experience?

credit: Mike Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.
A. It's easier to ask the alter ego. I feel good. You know, it's not my style to just kind of wake up and go, "Oh, I'm an Oscar winner. Oh, my gosh, let me go for a run."  You know. I'm good with it.  I'll have some mac and cheese, and I'll go back to washing my daughter's hair tomorrow night.  But this is the first time in my life that I've stepped back ‑‑ and I'm going to try not to cry now. All of a sudden.  Be cheesy.  And I can't believe my life. You know, I mean, my sister is here somewhere, and I grew up in poverty. You know, I grew up in apartments that were condemned and rat‑infested, and I just always sort of wanted to be somebody.  And I just wanted to be good at something. And so this is sort of like the miracle of God, of dreaming big and just hoping that it sticks and it lands, and it did. Who knew?  So I'm overwhelmed. Yeah.

Q. You said you wanted to be good at something.  You're absolutely fantastic at it.  You completely tore me apart with your performance, and I absolutely love the film. What I want to know is what moment was it during those performances on stage when you started back in 2010 that you and Denzel said, "Maybe we should make a film out of this. Maybe we could do that."

A. There was no moment, one moment on the stage. It's the whole, every moment on the stage. The thing that I love about August Wilson is that he let's people of color speak, and a lot of times I'm offered narratives where people will say a whole lot of things are happening in this scene, but it's just not on the page. There's no words. There's no journey.  There's no full realization of who we are. There's no boldness. There's no taking risks for being anything different. I love every moment of this film is about the beauty of just living and breathing and being human. And not didactic, not being a walking social message. They do that with us a lot, as people of color. Audiences love us when we represent something.  I just want to represent me, living, breathing, failing, getting up in the morning, dying, forgiveness. August was the inspiration. You know, and Denzel decided he was going to do the movie from the moment he was given the script. He just said, "Let me do the play first." So that's it.

Q. I'm very excited about your production company, JuVee Productions.  So tell me what you love about being a black woman.

A. Everything. I love my history. I love the fact I can go back and look at so many different stories of women that have gone before me who seemingly should not have survived, and they did.  And I love my skin. I love my voice. I love my history. Sometimes I don't love being the spokesperson all the time, but so be it. That's the way that goes, right? But at 51, I ‑‑ I'm ‑‑ I'm sort of loving me.

Q. What makes a great story?

A. What makes a great story? What makes a great story most definitely is fully realized characters, great writing, definitely, where you can ‑‑ where a character is introduced to you from the very beginning and they go on a journey that's unexpected, and then they arrive someplace completely different from where they started. What makes a great story is the element of surprise.  And what makes a great story absolutely is if it has a central event that helps people connect to a part of themselves.  And in that, Fences had it all.  Because that's what it's about, right? You want to connect when you go and ‑‑ I mean, sometimes you want to eat the buttered popcorn and the Milk Duds and the Sour Patch Kids. I do that a lot too, and Diet Coke. But more often you want to be shifted in some way in your thinking in your feeling about who you are in the world, you know. That's ‑‑ that would be a great story, yeah.

ACCEPTANCE SPEECH:
Damien Chazelle, La La Land
Directing

credit: Mike Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Thank you so much. This is such an honor. I just want to first thank my fellow nominees. I was absolutely honored and floored to be in your company this year. So, Barry, Kenny, Mel, Denis—like, my eyes are searching, but I know you’re here somewhere. Just thank you for what incredible filmmakers you are and for inspiring me with your work every day. I want to thank the people who helped me make this movie. My crew, my team, everyone at Lionsgate for taking a chance on it. Ryan and Emma, for bringing it to life. John, for acting alongside them and now doing me very proud here on the stage. Thank you, John. And I want to thank Justin, who I’ve known since we were both 17, 18, I think. Justin, thank you for riding with me on this and carrying this dream forward and for never giving up. Thank you. I want to thank my family—my parents are in the crowd, my sister Anna—thank you for always believing in me. And finally, I want to thank Olivia, my love, sitting there. This was a movie about love, and I was lucky enough to fall in love while making it. And it means the world to me that you’re here sharing this with me. Thank you. Thank you so much.

NOTES ON THE SCORECARD:

Past Media Guy Oscars Backstage Columns: 2016 - 2015 - 2014 - 2013 - 2012

The Big Four -- Oscar-winners Ali, Stone, Davis, and Affleck pose backstage with their Oscar for Achievement in acting:

credit: Mike Baker / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Charlize Theron and those amazing earrings:


Sting almost smiled:


The happiest couple I saw -- Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux:


Note for the 90th Academy Awards: It's not over until the fat lady sings:


Finally, my favorites from the red carpet:

The calm before the storm...


Leslie Mann's flirting...


Tanna's co-directors and stars...


The effervescence of Moana's Auli'i Cravalho,...


At some point, I sneaked across the red carpet to the Oscars' step and repeat… What a rush… I feel like I robbed a bank!:


Terrance Howard steals a kiss from Kirsten Dunst...


The moment I had with Brie Larson...


Matt Damon, ready to take on Jimmy Kimmel...


The PDA from Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban...


The moment I had with Felicity Jones...


The wow-factor supplied by Taraji P. Hensen...


And my #1 favorite: Justin Timberlake...


With that, I'll see you next year on the red carpet with an update from my new agent -- because current one didn't even pick up my call this year!