Oscar winners react in the press room

Moments after Emma Stone won best actress for her role in “La La Land” she walked back on stage to celebrate that film’s victory for best picture, too – though that only lasted until – in one of the most bizarre moments in Oscar...

Oscar winners react in the press room

Moments after Emma Stone won best actress for her role in “La La Land” she walked back on stage to celebrate that film’s victory for best picture, too – though that only lasted until – in one of the most bizarre moments in Oscar...

27 February 2017 Monday 15:05
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Oscar winners react in the press room

Moments after Emma Stone won best actress for her role in “La La Land” she walked back on stage to celebrate that film’s victory for best picture, too – though that only lasted until – in one of the most bizarre moments in Oscar history – it was revealed that “Moonlight” not “La La Land” had won that top prize.

“I don’t know if this is a measurable thing but is that the craziest moment of Oscar history of all time?” Stone said after arriving backstage with her Oscar in hand. “Cool! We made history!”

Stone said that despite the rug being pulled out from under the “La La Land” crew she wasn’t disappointed.

“Of course it was an amazing thing to hear “La La Land,” Stone said. “But God, I (bleepin’) love ‘Moonlight.’”

As for what happened? Warren Beatty, who’d presented the best picture award with Faye Dunaway, said on stage that when he opened the envelop it said Emma Stone and “La La Land,” and Dunaway then announced the best picture was “La La Land.”

“I was holding my best actress in a leading role card the whole time, so whatever story that was, I don’t know what that was,” Stone said backstage. “I think everyone’s in a state of confusion still.”

And as for her little fella, she’s in love, sort of.

“I had a little creepy moment back there where I was looking down at this like it was a newborn child,” Stone said. “This is a naked man! Hopefully I’ll look at my own newborn children differently.”

* * *

Barry Jenkins, who won Oscars as the director and writer of “Moonlight,” followed Stone to the stage in the press room. He and the rest of the team that won -- eventually -- the best picture award seemed still stunned.

“I think all the movies that were nominated were worthy, so I took the results, I applauded like everyone else,” Jenkins said. “It made a very special feeling even more special but not in the way I expected.

“The last 20 minutes of my life have been insane.”

Asked if anyone had explained what happened Jenkins said no one had.

“Things just happened,” he said. “I wanted to see the card. And Warren refused to show the card to anybody before he showed it to me.”

The card Beatty showed him said “Moonlight” as best picture, Jenkins said.

“I will say the folks from ‘La La Land’were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their postion and having to do that. I wasn’t speechless because we won, I was speechless because it was so gracious of them to do that.”

A few questions later, Jenkins paused, grinned, and said what everyone who worked on the film must have been thinking: “Hot damn, we won best picture!”

* * *

Mahershala Ali, who won best supporting actor for his work in “Moonlight,” also talked about the shock that came with the way his film ended up the best picture of the year.

“When (‘La La Land’ producer) Jordan Horowitz said, ‘ “Moonlight,’ you guys have won,’ it threw me more than a bit,” Ali said. “Because I didn’t want to go up there and take anything from anybody.”

Ali said the script for “Moonlight” was the best thing that’s ever come across his desk and he wanted to play the part of Juan, a drug dealer who takes the main character under his wing when he is young, from the moment he read it.

“I’m really fortunate that Idris (Elba) and David Oyelowo left a job for me,” he says, laughing. “Very kind of them.”

Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar, but asked about it back stage in the press room he said he didn’t really think about himself in that context.

“Regardless of one’s theology or however you see life or relate to worshipping God, as an artist my job is the same,” he said. “It’s to tell the truth and try to connect with these characters as deeply and honestly as possible.”

The diversity of roles honored by the Academy Awards this year, both nominees and winners, seemed a more important deal to Ali.

“The diversity topic, it’s very real in that when I was growing up, I’m 43 years old, there weren’t a lot of people on TV, there weren’t a lot of people in films,” he said. “It was big deal with Billy Dee Williams was in ‘Star Wars.’ It was somebody in the story that I could attach to and go, ‘Oh we’re present as well.’”

* * *

Viola Davis arrived backstage beaming at her Oscar and beautiful in a red gown. Happy, but still adjusting to the fact that she’s an Oscar winner now.

“I feel good,” she said. “You know it’s not my style to just kind of wake up and go, ‘Oh, I’m an Oscar winner!’ 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,” she said, pausing to compose herself and fight back tears. “And I can’t believe my life. I grew up in poverty. I grew up in apartments that were condemned and rat-infested and I just always sort of wanted to be somebody.

“I just wanted to be good at something,” Davis said. “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.”

A few questions later she seemed to be getting used to her new status, ending one answer with this: “At 51 I’m sorta lovin’ me,” she said, and the reporters in the room applauded.

* * *

It takes nearly an hour after the start of the Academy Awards for the first winners to make their backstage, shiny gold Oscars in their hands, and unlike most years, it’s not the supporting actor or actress, whose category always opens the show.

No, Mahershala Ali, who won best supporting actor for his role in “Moonlight,” went back to his seat in the audience, and so when winners do arrive they’re from the below-the-line categories of makeup and hairstyling – a win for the DC comic book movie “Suicide Squad” – and costume design – which goes to “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,” which unbelievably is the first Oscar to ever go to a film from the Harry Potter canon.

“I didn’t realize that, that’s shocking,” said Colleen Atwood, the Oscar winner for best costumes. “There’s so much incredible artistry in the Harry Potter movies.”

Atwood had arrived on stage to accept her award seeming flustered. “Sting told me I was going to win tonight, I was like, ‘What?’” she said, probably having expected that “La La Land” with its 14 nominations would take her category too.

Asked backstage about the pressure of following up eight Harry Potter movies with one built from new characters and different era and setting, Atwood said that once she conferred with her director she was given free reign.

“I was totally set free,” she said.

The Oscar for hairstyling and makeup went to Alessandro Bertolazzi, Giorgio Gregorini and Christopher Nelson for “Suicide Squad,” and given that two of the three are Italian – you can guess which two – it wasn’t surprising that the first question and answer backstage was in that language and all we got was the final “viva l’Italia!”

Asked – in English – about the pressure of creating characters for a comic book fanbase notoriously picky about how their heroes and villains are portrayed, Bertolazzi said he shut that kind of idea out.

“Yes, of course it’s incredible pressure, but with the pressure you can do nothing,” he said. “You just start in the moment and use your experience, your talent. You forgot everything, you forget the pressure, you do the best of your best.”

* * *

Ezra Edelman, who won best documentary feature with Caroline Waterlow for “OJ: Made In America,” said he was in high school when the O.J. Simpson case captured the attention of the world. Asked why it still has such a hold on the public, he talked about how it remains an unfinished chapter in history for many.

“History is the present,” Edelman said. “It's past but it’s present. When we were offered the chance to make this movie it was very clear that the story that was covered and told 20 odd years ago was missing something.

“There was room for more of this story to be told,” he said. “It's got race, celebrity, class, gender. It's sports, sex, murder. I think that's why it's always something that's going to fascinate us (as well as) the lack of resolution from the trial.

“There's always going to be a sense of intrigue around the story,” Edelman said.

* * *

Sound mixer Kevin O’Connell put an end to his unwanted Oscar record – 20 nominations without a single win – when he and three others won the Oscar for best sound mixing for “Hacksaw Ridge.”

“I have to tell you it was the greatest experience in my entire life,” O’Connell said backstage after winning. “I wasn’t expecting it to happen but I feel as though I’m eternally grateful that it happened, especially for the project that it’s for.”

His partners in the honor seemed particularly happy to be sharing the moment with him.

“We’ve idolized films that he’s mixed,” said Robert Mackenzie, who shared the award with O’Connell, Andy Wright and Peter Grace. “To be standing beside him tonight winning an Oscar is just amazing.”

O’Connell, whose first nomination came in 1984 for “Terms of Endearment,” and whose other nominated films include the likes of “A Few Good Men” and “Pearl Harbor,” said that “Top Gun” was probably the most difficult movie on which he’d worked, largely because the technology that exists today in his field simply didn’t exist back then.

* * *

Director Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar for best foreign language film for “The Salesman,” but was not at the ceremony as a statement against President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the United States by residents of seven Muslim-majority countries including Farhadi’s Iran.

Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian astronaut who flew on the International Space Station, and Firouz Naderi, a former NASA director for solar system exploration, came backstage to speak on Farhadi’s behalf.

Naderi said many Iranian-Americans could have accepted the Oscar for him, but he believes Farhadi chose him and Ansari for a reason specific to their own endeavors.

“She’s an astronaut, I work for NASA,” he said. “I think the reason is if you go away from Earth and look back at Earth you don’t see any borders or lines. You just see one whole beautiful Earth.

Farhadi likely could have come to the Oscars once the courts suspended the travel ban but chose not to do so as a gesture of solidarity with all others who were caught up by it.

“When you stand on your principles you have to make hard choices and he just made one,” Naderi said.

* * *

Disney’s “Zootopia” won best animated feature film, telling a story about bias and discrimination through the characters of cartoon animals.

“We got this idea about five-and-a-half, six years ago to talk about bias with talking animals,” said Byron Howard, who shared the Oscar with Rich Moore and Clark Spencer. “The great thing it allowed us to do was let the audience not prejudge the characters.”

Asked a moment or two later about what most inspired them in their work as storytellers, Moore talked about his realization as an adult that the movies and stories that affected him most as a child were those that worked on multiple levels.

“I remember as a kid I always loved the movies that made you think after the story was over,” Moore said. “So many of the lessons that I’ve learned in life were from stories, and it feels very good as an adult to be able to give that back.”

* * *

David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco grabbed the first Oscar of the night for “La La Land,” the married couple winning for best production design, and answered questions backstage about how their work helped create the romantic, vintage vibe of the movie.

“There’s such a magic to Los Angeles, a magic when young people first come here,” Reynolds-Wasco said. “You’ve seen images of the city before you arrive, but when you get here you’re still running into things like the Laurel and Hardy steps, or you’ll walk by some archives of the past or the recent past.”

Wasco said the goal was for “La La Land” to be a beautiful movie set in a beautiful city.

“We used as a template the Jacques Demy movies of the ’60s like ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,’ which showed Paris in a beautiful way.”

As for all those street lights in different scenes?

“It’s a low-budget movie,” Reynolds-Wasco said. “We rented 12 street lights and took them everywhere, but they turned out to be a beautiful thread throughout the movie.”

Contact the writer: 714-796-7787 or plarsen@scng.com

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