1:12 p.m. PT in the Kodak Theatre: The theater is totally reconfigured — basically 13 or so semi circle seating sections in place of the usual orchestra seats. It’s very tight and jam-packed full of big names.
There will be some A-list singers performing on the show. Ones our audience is familiar with. And for the first year I recall, the show will feature men handing out the statuettes. The show producers are Broadway-trained so expect it for overall look and feel. Host Hugh Jackman is looking very jacked-up/muscular, more so than usual, since he was shooting “Wolverine.”
1:14 on the red carpet: We’ve assumed our positions, a 4-foot wide, 6-foot deep, two-level riser roughly halfway down the red carpet. There are far too many men wearing far too much makeup. (One fella in front of me is wearing a white bow-tie turned orange.) At this point, the audience is in place and cheering on cue, but the celeb quotient is zero. Press outlets are interviewing each other.
2:04: First celebrity interview? “America’s Best Dance Crew” host Mario Lopez.
2:48 (from Larry Carroll): As Wolfgang Puck and the Price-Waterhouse guys give their obligatory interviews to effervescent red-carpet host, AMC vet Robert Osbourne, four guys with “Applause!” signs run up and down. Osbourne greets the stars when they hit the carpet and announces their names over a PA system.
2:53: Ryan Seacrest, the first “star” to do an interview on the red carpet, tells the host this is his third Oscars. I have him beaten by five. Suck it, Seacrest!
2:59: The carpet officially begins with … Danny Glover? The “Lethal Weapon” star waves to the red-carpet host, then blows off his attempted interview. Maybe Danny is getting too old for this sh–.
3:07: Osbourne introduces the gospel choir that will be “performing tonight with Peter Gabriel.” Could it be that the former Genesis frontman has changed his mind about attending?
3:10: “Last year, I presented and this year ’Bolt’ is nominated, so hopefully we’ll win,” Miley Cyrus says. Then, mentioning that the “Hannah Montana” film hits theaters soon, she says maybe it will be nominated for something at next year’s Oscars. “I’m just putting it out there,” Miley grins.
3:16: Danny Glover tells an interviewer, “It’s wonderful that there are so many fine films here at the festival.” Huh?
3:19 (from Vanessa White Wolf): The Oscar arrivals MC just called out “Salma Hayek!” but it was actually Phoebe Cates. Phoebe did a double take, looking behind her in confusion. The announcer then quickly said, “Sorry … Phoebe Cates!”
3:27 (from Larry Carroll): ABC News has a tiny 5×4-ish stage at the corner of the carpet, where their interviewer crams 21 “Slumdog Millionaire” actors around Danny Boyle and Anil Kapoor, the film’s cheesy game-show host. I’ve never seen so many people smiling so widely in such a crowded space.
3:28: Anthony Hopkins has lost a ton of weight!
3:29: Miley Cyrus looks beautiful in an off-white, ruffled dress with sparkles all over it.
3:37: Taraji P. Henson walks past me, wearing the sparkliest necklace I’ve ever seen in my life.
3:38: Viola Davis is wearing a pretty gold dress. She’s certainly hoping for a nice new gold accessory to go with it.
3:40: Lou Gossett Jr. makes his obligatory Oscar appearance. The “Iron Eagle” star must be slipping; he’s usually the first one here.
3:41: Mickey Rooney says: “I was here when this street was nothing but sand, and Charlie Chaplin and Tom Mix ate down the street!”
3:44: (from Benjamin Wagner): Here’s who’s in eyeshot right now: Anthony Hopkins, Louis Gossett Jr., Danny Glover, “Man on Wire” star Philippe Petit, and Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Such odd juxtapositions.
3:47 (from Larry): Zac Efron walks past me looking classy, with a tiny bow tie, old-school tux and slicked-back hair. Vanessa, in a matching black-and-white dress, has to stop for mid-carpet repairs when someone steps on her train.
3:48: Osbourne can be heard over the loud speaker being asked if he wants to interview John Legend. “I have no idea who that is,” he replies.
3:49: Zac gives the press bleachers one of his patented winks. Audible gasps are overheard.
3:58: Richard Jenkins walks past me and smiles. I believe that is officially one time more than the veteran actor has smiled in all his movies combined.
3:59: Vanessa Hudgens, clearly having major issues with her dress, walks into the theater holding up the front and fidgeting with whatever’s going on underneath. Zac seems to have abandoned her somewhere around the three-quarter mark on the carpet.
4:00: My first spotting of a guy in a tuxedo top and kilt, walking in the back “we’re not famous people” lane of the red carpet. There’s always one.
4:07: Taraji Henson says she was more nervous when she was at the Oscars to perform the song from “Hustle and Flow” a few years back, because she was afraid to “sing about pimps and whores.”
4:08: Heidi Klum and Seal step onto the carpet. Klum says that they’re pulling for Mickey Rourke and Kate Winslet, whom Seal calls the “finest actress living.”
4:06 (From Benjamin): Gus Van Zant looks like he got his jacket at the Gap. Great tie, though.
4:15: “Everybody,” the announcers says over the din of helicopters, “Robert Pattinson.” Shrieks drown out everything.
4:09 (from our spy inside the Kodak Theatre: And first — literally first and only — in the house: Miley Cyrus.
4:15: First to the lobby bar: Zac and Vanessa, and Miley just joined them. And Miley’s mom. Only soda. I promise.
4:09 (from Larry): The awesomely creepy Michael Shannon claims that this is his first Oscars, but “I’ve been to several in my imagination.” And he says he recently underwent intensive “smiling lessons.”
4:10: Bridget Fonda and Danny Elfman hit the carpet.
4:11: Judd Apatow reveals that he made a secret short film that will air during the ceremony tonight.
4:30: Robert Downey Jr. arrives on the red carpet and says, “It’s odd to be nominated.” He prefers to present or watch from home, he explains.
4:33: “This is pretty cool, I’ve never been to one of these things before,” Mickey Rourke says. “This is rock ’n’ roll.”
4:34: Queen Latifah reveals that she’ll sing the classic song “I’ll Be Seeing You” during the annual “In Memoriam” segment.
4:35: Meryl Streep arrives. She promises that even after 15 nominations, this never gets old. “This is like the Super Bowl,” she marvels.
4:36: Rob Pattinson, wearing a classy old-school tux and a skinny bow tie just like that of Zack Efron, gestures to the stands. The fans lose it. I’ve never seen his hair so … well … combed.
4:39 (from Vanessa): Josh just interviewed Robert Pattinson, whose hair has grown wayyyy back. We’ll file much more shortly, including his thoughts on “New Moon” and the scene he’s most excited to shoot. He also talked about how nervous he is to present at tonight’s ceremony. What’s most important, though, is that he made a point to say hello AND goodbye to me. It might be love …
4:40 (from our spy inside the Kodak): With this new seating configuration, one thing definitely lacking is leg room, 6 inches less per seat to be exact. That was required to meet building code.
4:43: Ben Kingsley says people ask him most about his roles in “Gandhi” and “Sexy Beast.” He calls his career “bipolar.”
4:44: Red-carpet host Robert Osbourne introduces his next guest: “Evan Rachel Wood from ’Twilight’!”
4:45: Daniel Craig, looking very Bond-ish in his tux, stops for a young “Slumdog” star who promptly hands him an autograph book. 007 grins and signs happily.
4:49 (from Larry): The “Slumdog” kids pin down Meryl Streep, get her autograph.
4:50: Amanda Seyfried walks by, looking like she’s lost a bit too much weight. Maybe she has a guest spot on “90210” coming up.
4:51: Pixar honcho John Lasseter walks past me wearing a classy tux, funky tie.
4:52: Angelina and Brad Pitt get attacked by a woman running towards them and hugging them. Don’t call security yet; it’s just Taraji Henson.
4:53: Mickey Rourke walks past me with a woman on his arm who is definitely not Courtney Love. Chris Nolan is walking in on his other side.
4:55 (from inside the Kodak): Jack Black locked in convo with Gus Van Sant at the lobby bar. Vanessa and Zac, hand-in-hand, weaving through the lobby bar as if it were their wedding reception.
4:57: Philip Seymour Hoffman is sporting long hair and wearing a ski cap. Like he’s ready for the slopes.
4:59: Hoffman, Cyrus and Mickey Rooney are the only A-listers in the house. All the others don’t heed the call to enter the theater and instead continue to drink and shmooze.
4:56: Kate Winslet hits the carpet, says she needs to get inside quickly because the show is about to start.
4:57: Alicia Keys walks by me looking beautiful, with long hair and a purple dress.
4:58: Now that Hurricane Brangelina has blown past, the press stations are being rapidly abandoned.
4:59: Peter Gabriel is here after all. He will be performing tonight, despite earlier reports that he had turned down the Academy because they wouldn’t give him more than a minute to sing his Oscar-nominated song. I’m heading inside to the media interview room backstage.
5:15 (from Benjamin): Carpet’s empty. Cameramen are packing up. And the announcer says, “Please take your seats. Tonight’s Academy Awards will begin in five minutes.”
5:30 (from inside the Kodak): There was a last-minute frenzy as the seconds counted down before show started. A-listers enamored with fellow A-listers. … Meryl Streep walked in past Sean Penn. She was then greeted like the queen.
5:39: Standing O from all sections after Hugh Jackman’s opening number.
6:03: Many, many are wearing white ribbons to call attention to equal rights for gay marriage.
6:09: “Milk” producer Bruce Cohen and Sean Penn ran out to the lobby for a minute and returned literally seconds before Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay for their movie.
6:28: Anne Hathaway returns backstage after using the washroom. Awaiting allowance to re-enter, she says, “I’m having such a great time here.”
6:30: “I’m going to call Woody right now,” Penelope Cruz says of her immediate plans to telephone her director after winning. “He’s so funny, charming, peculiar and unique.”
6:35: Spotted in green room on smoke breaks: Mickey Rourke, Sean Penn and Josh Brolin just ran in.
7:07: Jennifer Aniston’s date is … John Mayer.
7:25: Funny moment of the night: During the commercial breaks people stroll around and schmooze, and this time Seth Rogen’s laugh was impersonated by Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard. “We love your laugh, heh heh heh.” Seth stood back and you could tell had one of those, “Wow how cool was that?” moments.
7:29: You know in typical Hollywood form, those raw stage walls on tonight’s stage to make it look like an empty stage are actually part of a set. They are totally fabricated so they can fly in and out; none of it is real.
7:31: Due to the super-tight seating conditions, most cameras are wireless and robotic, many popping out from the stage or stage-left and right positions. People just don’t know when the cameras are on them as opposed to other years when each camera was on a cameraman’s shoulder.
7:35: Asked if we want Heath Ledger’s family to come backstage after accepting the Oscar on his behalf, the crowd in the press room resoundingly screams, “Yes!” Once Heath’s mother, father and sister come on stage to speak, they’re very appreciative, and you can feel the emotion in the room.
7:36: “Obviously, it belongs to Matilda,” explained Heath Ledger’s sister Kate, with his father Kim adding that the Oscar statue will be placed in a trust until Heath’s daughter is 18. “Whatever has to happen in the meantime, will happen. But I’m sure it will go somewhere secure and then it will end up with Matilda.”
7:38: Asked if they knew they were raising an Oscar winner, Heath’s father Kim remembered, “[His sister] Kate was the actor originally, but Heath was ever the clown. All my kids watched films for some reason, and Heath was like that. He was always acting the fool and playing around like any kid does … the one thing that stuck out was that he was extremely talented … we didn’t know which way he was going to go, but he said he had a huge passion for this.”
8:25: Obviously an over-excited Hugh talked to the audience during most commercial breaks.
8:59: A beaming Kate Winslet comes backstage with her Oscar and addresses all those in her home country who’ve complained that her awards acceptance speeches have been too emotional. “I really don’t care,” she insisted. “And quite frankly, I’m sad that my country can’t be pleased with the successes of their own kind, as the U.S. does.”
9:03: “It’s just dawned on me that I’ve won an Oscar,” Winslet says, interrupting herself during an answer to take a deep breath. “It’s only beginning to sink in now, honestly. Oh my God.”
9:06: Breaking protocol, Kate Winslet runs off the stage, across the press interview room, and gives an enormous hug to a veteran reporter who first interviewed her when she was 18. Wrapping her arms (and the Oscar) around the man she calls “Baz,” she held the hug for a very long time; an emotional hush fell over the pressroom.
9:12: Asked about the gay-bashing sign-holders Sean Penn saw on the Hollywood streets — one of which read “Heath is in Hell” — while driving to tonight’s ceremony, the Oscar-winning actor addressed them directly. “I’d tell them to turn in their hate card and find their better selves,” he said. “These are largely taught limitations and ignorances. It’s very sad in a way, because it’s a demonstration of such emotional cowardice.”
9:34: Clutching his Best Picture Oscar and smiling from ear to ear, “Slumdog” director Danny Boyle is the king of the world — and the last person to come into the press interview room backstage. “One of the lovely things about this evening and in the Academy giving us this is that it is an independent film; it won against the odds,” he marveled. “You see Heath Ledger’s work acknowledged in ’The Dark Knight,’ and it was extraordinary work, but like everybody Heath started in small films … The studios have to protect [independent films], because that’s where everybody begins … it’s very, very, very important. The first film I made cost a million pounds. It’s where you learn your craft.”
9:38: “We had been thinking about it, because you want to share the experience,” Boyle said of the decision to fly the whole “Slumdog” cast to Hollywood. “We were concerned about distorting their lives, because they’re all in school … It’s impossible to imagine what they think of coming here tonight.”
9:42: “They’ve gone to the Governor’s Ball, or the party afterwards — I very much doubt they’ve gone to bed,” Boyle said, noting that many of the young “Slumdog” stars cried while on stage, and will be partying well into the evening. “It’s an extraordinary sense of all these communities converging tonight.”