Onstage drama and backstage delight at the Academy Awards

One of the most emotional moments backstage came after screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher won for his adapted screenplay of Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire and Mo’Nique won supporting actress for playing the film’s malevolent mother.

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Known for her brassy and blunt comedy, Mo’Nique humbled the audience by thanking the academy for showing that the awards “can be about the performance, not the politics.” And she thanked Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Oscar, for playing Mammy in 1939’s Gone With the Wind. “I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to so I would not have to.”

Mo’Nique had been criticized by some Oscar pundits for not aggressively campaigning throughout awards season. It didn’t seem to hurt her; she won almost every major prize before also taking home the Academy Award.

Waiting just behind her in the shadows was Fletcher, his Oscar demurely held at his side. Onstage, Fletcher said, “This is for everybody who works on a dream every day. Precious boys and girls everywhere.”

One of the ABC pages came by and said, “Does anyone know where Geoffrey Fletcher is?” while looking directly at him. “Do you have eyes on Geoffrey Fletcher?”

Fletcher raised his Oscar into view and with a stunned look asked, “Me? Do you mean me?” But before he would let the page take him to the pressroom in the hotel next door, he wanted his moment with Mo’Nique. A long hug ensued. But it wasn’t silent.

“Oh, baby! Oh, baby,” Mo’Nique repeated again and again, as they clutched their Oscars at the other’s back. “Look what we did!” As they pulled apart, they raised their Oscars and clinked their heads like Champagne glasses. “To you,” Mo’Nique said. “To you, my baby.”

As they walked down the corridor to the elevator that would take them to the pressroom, Robin Williams jumped in front of them to lighten the mood, making “swish, swish, swish” noises as he swept an invisible broom in front of her slow walk.

“It’s curling, curling!” Williams said, finally getting Mo’Nique to laugh out loud.

A bridge for Bridges

Kate Winslet was a bulldozer for Oscar winner Jeff Bridges. The actress, a winner last year for The Reader, presented Bridges with his Crazy Heart trophy and pulled him backstage, waving aside stagehands and declaring Bridges needed the place “to say other stuff, to thank the people he didn’t thank out there.”

She was referring to the academy’s thank-you cam, an Internet-only camera that records winners’ voluminous lists of names of people who need to be mentioned but were left out onstage. It’s meant to encourage winners to give more heartfelt speeches rather than read a litany of managers, agents, lawyers, friends and family.

“And here,” Winslet said, thrusting the open envelope with his name into his hands, “don’t lose this!”

Clearly, her take-charge attitude came from being a veteran.

Though he’s had a long career, Bridges didn’t seem to know what she was talking about. As he wandered about, clutching his trophy, he passed the thank-you cam and its team. He laughed and said, “I don’t even know what a thank-you cam is.”

Soon he was swarmed. Tim Robbins first, then Michelle Pfeiffer, his co-star from 1989’s The Fabulous Baker Boys, who introduced him onstage, and whatever focus he had left was gone. But eventually he made his way back to the camera, and he had a lot on his mind. He even pulled up a chair and sat down for the long haul.

Sandra at sea

Sandra Bullock, after winning best actress for The Blind Side, came backstage clutching Sean Penn‘s arm. “Sean, what do I do now?” Penn, last year’s best-actor winner for Milk, shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

She could have used some of Winslet’s mother-hen-like expertise. “Well, I don’t know either,” Bullock said.

Just then, the best-director category came up on the monitors, and they watched as the action unfolded live right behind them.

Well, Bullock watched. Penn made a quick exit, leaving the baffled actress unsure what came next. To her rescue came Forest Whitaker, the best-actor winner for The Last King of Scotland three years ago. He asked her what she wanted to do, the options being go back to her seat, go to the pressroom or just stay put.

Bullock’s response: “I want a cheeseburger and french fries and a milkshake.” Whitaker nodded. “Ahhh, a little In-N-Out tonight,” he said, with an expression of someone who knows good, post-Oscar burger dining.

As Kathryn Bigelow accepted best director for The Hurt Locker, Bullock took a moment to peek into the envelope Penn had given her. “Oh, I better double-check the name,” she joked. “Oh, good, it does say mine.”

No sooner was Bigelow headed in their direction than Tom Hanks announced The Hurt Locker as best-picture winner.

“Ahhh! She’s gotta go back,” Whitaker said, laughing and clapping. Bigelow, the first woman to win the best-director award, is known for her tough, no-nonsense films. But after winning two of the top prizes for her movie about an bomb defuser in Iraq, she looked like her own mind had just detonated.

“I’m in such shock!” she said, walking off the stage with an Oscar in each hand. Passing her was Hanks, who summed up the feeling of the night.

“What a moment,” he said with a laugh.

And with that, the 82nd Academy Awards came to an end.

But before the show…

Hollywood’s biggest night got rolling with the same nervous hustle as a high school play, albeit cast with the most famous faces on the planet.

An hour before showtime, Oscar winner Javier Bardem (2007’s No Country for Old Men) was the first celebrity floating around the empty corridors behind the elaborate Kodak Theatre stage.

But one by one, the stars made their escape from the red carpet, and soon Bardem was hanging out on the loading dock smoking corner alongside girlfriend and Oscar winner Penelope Cruz and The Hurt Locker‘s Jeremy Renner.

Just inside, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were secluded inside their dressing rooms, but one guest brought them out, Baldwin still in his street clothes and Martin with his tuxedo shirt untucked and unbuttoned.

That would be Williams, who at first lingered in the hallway, unsure whether to knock. “Is it all right to say a quick hello? I don’t want to bother them,” Williams said, sounding a little hoarse. He recently had heart surgery, and though his manic energy was more subdued than usual, he rallied for the two co-hosts of this year’s Academy Awards.

When Baldwin, all smiles, greeted him, Williams said, “Let’s do one of these,” chest-bumping the much taller Baldwin. “Whoa!” Williams said, getting a faceful of Baldwin’s burly chest.

Outside, with rain coming down in drizzles, foodie celeb Wolfgang Puck lifted spirits by handing out little chocolate Oscars to the crowd of fans.

Ripped from the hemlines

Backstage, there’s always a last-second wardrobe emergency, and this year, Amanda Seyfried and Jennifer Lopez, each wearing Armani gowns of shimmering silk with the strength and density of bubble wrap, needed pit stops for hurried repairs to torn material.

The trouble: fragile fabric and long trains, in a tight space, with lots of people not looking where they’re walking. Marc Anthony put a hand on Robert Downey Jr.’s shoulder to stop him from snagging Lopez’s gown. “I need to be following along with orange traffic cones on the back,” Anthony told the Iron Man.

Close encounters

Helen Mirren, Oscar winner for 2006’s The Queen, was surprisingly hanging around with teen starlet Miley Cyrus. And when Cyrus stopped for a touch-up at the makeup table corner, the older actress pointed to the greenroom and yelled, “Miley, we are forging ahead in here!” And the Hannah Montanastar quickly followed after her.

Earlier, Mirren was having fun on the red carpet with The Last Station co-star Christopher Plummer. Both were nominated for their roles as Leo Tolstoy and his wife, Sofya. Of her companion, Mirren said, “It’s fun to have a friend on the red carpet.”

When asked who made his suit, Plummer said: “I did. I stayed up all night.”

She chimed in, “I hemmed the trousers for him.”

At this point backstage, the already cramped entryways started to fill up significantly, and even the biggest stars were being nudged and pushed along.

Ryan Reynolds, extending his hand to Steve Carell, got to say, “I’m a big …” before they were pulled apart. He caught up to The Office actor and added: “Hey, let me finish the sentence. I’m a big fan, not just a big.” Carell said he understood.

Before the curtain rises

The clock continued to tick until just a few moments before show time.

The main acting nominees began pouring out onto the stage for the opening introductions, a presentation of them all onstage as the curtain went up that was unique to this year.

In the midst of the March of the Nominees, Crazy Heart‘s Bridges caused another gown accident, planting his foot on the train of An Education star Carey Mulligan and yanking her to a halt. Luckily, no damage.

“Awww! Oh, no,” Bridges said, putting his hand on his bearded cheeks in embarrassment. “Just when I thought I had perfected my ability to walk.”

Directly behind him was Up in the Air‘s George Clooney, his rival for best actor.

Clooney put his hands on Bridges’ shoulders as they walked and said, “All I know, Jeff, is if you lose tonight, you’re in such (expletive).”

Winners overwhelmed

Christoph Waltz, supporting-actor winner for Inglourious Basterds, couldn’t have been surprised by his victory since it had been predicted ever since the movie premiered last May at the Cannes Film Festival.

But when he came off stage after a characteristically modest speech, the Austrian actor, who before was little known outside of Germany, had an uncertain look on his face.

Carrying his Oscar, he walked with presenter Cruz, who won last year for Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Both of their wins have parallels. Cruz’s film also premiered at Cannes, but she was far more used to the role of “celebrity.”

As she walked him backstage, Bardem came over to meet them, and Cruz said to the new Oscar winner, “Are you nervous?”

Waltz pursed his lips, thinking for a moment before answering. “Yes,” he declared finally.

For another winner, it’s also been a whirlwind few years.

Ryan Bingham, who won an Oscar — with T Bone Burnett— for The Weary Kind, the theme from Crazy Heart, said backstage, “Me and my band were living out of our Suburban four years ago.” Director Scott Cooper “gave me a copy of the script and said, ‘If you’re inspired to write anything, let me know.’

“And here we are.”

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