The Oscars: Backstage Diary

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Kevork Djansezian / AP

Jennifer Hudson in the pressroom after winning the Academy Award for her performance in Dreamgirls.

4pm PST: I arrive at Hollywood's Kodak Theater. The crowd in the bleachers roars. It turns out it has nothing to do with my stylist's choices (BCBG sale rack dress, laptop bag by Targus), but rather the arrival of Al Gore. Enjoy your moment, Mr. Vice President. Rumor on the carpet is that Leo is about to exit his hybrid.

4:20: I make it through 12 security checkpoints to the press room at the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel. Esteemed members of the Fourth Estate are fighting over dial-up lines and a starch-laden buffet and debating in which Star Trek series Best Supporting Actress nominee Jennifer Hudson's dress belongs.

4:45: Journalistic consensus has been reached on at least one subject: Helen Mirren is a stone cold fox.

5:46: Reporters in the second row applaud vigorously when Pan's Labyrinth wins for Best Art Direction. I'm pretty sure Helen Thomas doesn't behave like this….

6:04: Art direction winners from Pan's come back stage. Bilingual journalists start acting macho.

6:43: Ooh, snap! The trash-talking sound mixers of Dreamgirls address an apparently hot button issue in the sound community: Apocalypto mixer Kevin O'Connell, the Susan Lucci of the category, who has never won an Oscar despite 19 nominations: "I just wonder what Kevin's trying to do out there by trying to get an award using sympathy," says Oscar winner Michael Minkler. "Kevin's an OK mixer, but enough's enough about Kevin." And you thought actresses were catty.

7:10: Everybody's looking at Gwyneth Paltrow's dress on the monitors when Bill Monahan, Best Adapted Screenplay winner for The Departed, says something about 61-year-old Irish Catholics, a sexual prosthesis and cocaine. We're pretty sure he's talking about Jack Nicholson's character. Darn that Gwynnie for distracting us.

7:29: A Spanish-language journalist tosses Pan's Labyrinth cinematographer Guillermo Navarro a soccer jersey after it is upset by The Lives of Others for Best Foreign Language Film.

7:39: Former Paramount executive Sherry Lansing, just given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award by her friend Tom Cruise, deflects a question about Cruise's ugly send-off from her old studio last summer. "It's hard for me to comment," says Lansing, who made many movies with Cruise before leaving Paramount 2 1/2 years ago. "I'm very good friends with [Viacom President] Sumner Redstone." She does make a prediction about Cruise's career: "He will be here winning an Oscar within the next five years."

7:49: The Pirates of the Caribbean visual effects guys tell us the third Pirates movie, due this summer, has close to 2,000 effects shots, more than the first two Pirates films combined. Clearly these fellas aren't resting on their laurels.

7:53 Biggest press room applause so far follows the entry of Lives of Others director Florian Henchel von Donnersmarck. Those German journalists sure are nationalistic! I repress the urge to stand and declare, "I am a jelly donut." Someone asks a question comparing Dick Cheney to the KGB. The director wisely points out that said journalist would be killed for asking that question were the comparison really apt.

8:14: Multiple reporters address Gore, whose film, An Inconvenient Truth, has just won Best Documentary Feature, as "Mr. President," but the Veep doesn't take the bait to further politicize the night. "I do not have plans to become a candidate for office again," Gore says. One of the film's producers, Laurie David, wife of comedian Larry David, says she's not entering the Democratic fundraising fray yet. "It's very early in the race," David said. "I'm just gonna hang around and see who else might enter. You never know." Gore declines to give the film as much credit for increased awareness of global warming as the press wants to give it. "We have had a big ally," Gore says. "Reality."

8:29: Just as Gore & Co. are exiting the press room, Melissa Etheridge wins Best Original Song for "I Need to Wake Up" from their film. The Veep hoots, beams and nods while watching Etheridge's speech on the monitors before exiting to make way for Maestro Ennio Morricone and his translator.

8:54: Etheridge comes back stage and fields questions about all things gay. She declines to come up with a song for Grey's Anatomy's resident gay slur hurler, Isaiah Washington, talks sweet about Ellen hosting, calls the Oscars "a gay holiday" and raves about breaking new ground by thanking and kissing her wife: "I was kissing her because that's what you do. You kiss your loved one when you win an Oscar." She also reveals where she'll keep her Oscar: "This is the only naked man that will ever be in my bedroom."

9:10: Jennifer Hudson addresses being the third African-American actress to win an Oscar: "This represents change." Press room cheers as Martin Scorsese wins the Best Director Oscar on the monitor behind her for The Departed. That represents change, too. Then the inevitable happens — someone asks the first Britney Spears question of the night. Says Hudson of the pop star's meltdown, "I don't know what's going on and it ain't my business."

9:29: Asked no fewer than four different ways to illuminate how he feels, including picking a note to sing that would describe his mood, Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker says, "I could feel the breath on my neck, the tingling in my body." Perhaps that was fellow nominee Peter O'Toole's unsuccessful voodoo hex.

9:46: More than two hours after collecting his trophy for Best Supporting Actor, Alan Arkin finally arrives. Asked if seeing billboards for Eddie Murphy's maligned comedy Norbit gave him confidence that he would beat Murphy tonight, Arkin says, "This is not about furlongs. I don't believe in competitions between artists. Who has the authority to say who's better?" Speculating on why he won, Arkin, 72, says, "Everybody thinks I'm gonna keel over."

9:54: Dame Helen Mirren enters the room drinking a vodka gimlet and wearing her spangly Christian Lacroix dress. She waxes about the "theatah," confesses, "I really do feel like a Queen — or a fairy princess" and answers a question in fluent French. The room's earlier stone cold fox assessment is elevated to living legend.

10:04: Martin Scorsese arrives, clutching his first Oscar after approximately 7 bazillion years in the biz, Best Director for The Departed. "People say it's your year, your year," Scorsese says. "This comes as an extraordinary surprise. I'm just used to not winning."

10:12: Marty's still here. Regarding rumors of a prequel to The Departed, he says, "I don't know if I would direct." Would Robert DeNiro be involved? "That's not a bad idea." Scorsese's final assessment of Oscar: "It's good to be standing here. But you gotta get on with your life." And then we take his cue and depart.