On the Oscar red carpet, especially in the moments when the parade of publicists, costume designers, documentarians and above-the-marquee movie stars is just getting underway, a palpable sense of Academy Awards hope remains in the air.
No nominees have lost their Oscar races yet, so everyone is still legitimately a winner. The Oscar host hasn’t told any questionable jokes yet, so there is still a possibility that this year’s telecast will be deemed entertaining by the masses. Reporters haven’t started to have full-blown panic attacks about the fact that their cellphone batteries are dying, making it impossible to Twitpic photos of Viola Davis’s sparkly drop earrings. And there is still a chance — a chance — that George Clooney will come by and say he has 15 minutes to just “hang out” and that he’ll also be holding a sign that says “Free hugs.” (Those signs would be so much less annoying in Clooney hands.)
But eventually the red carpet proceedings race to their inevitable conclusion. And along the way, things get messy, chaotic and, occasionally, a tad divisive.
“Did you just call me Octavia Spencer?” Sherri Shepherd asks a fellow journalist attempting to call her over for an interview. Yes, that journalist (who happens to be a white man) did and is immediately sheepishly apologetic.
Shepherd laughs it off, but not without landing a zinger first: “Just don’t call Octavia Viola.”
Look, it’s Oscar Sunday, that annual occasion when hardworking media professionals stand on a big rug the color of ripe tomatoes and throw softball questions at very attractive people who tacitly agree to hit sound bite home runs. Sometimes we can’t always get the ball over the plate. But we have to keep throwing. So here’s a nice, easy pitch.
“What does it feel like to be at the Oscars for the first time, Beau Willimon, co-writer of the Oscar-nominated screenplay ‘The Ides of March’?”
“You start rolling out the cliches, but they’re all true,” he says. “It’s surreal. It’s a dream come true. It’s all of those things. . . . It’s hard to describe, and I’m in the business of trying to describe things.”
Well, let’s let Melissa McCarthy give it a shot.
“It’s bigger, and better, and more exciting,” she says, her voice still a tad raw from a recent bout with laryngitis. “I expected a lot, and this is better than I could have imagined.”
The fans in the nearby bleachers — home of constant “woo-ing” and celebrity worship — are even more besotted with this whole scene than McCarthy; at one point, a 20-something woman excitedly fans herself because, apparently, she can see Zachary Quinto from a great distance.
Many of the swoon-inducers don’t make it to our awkwardly positioned island — just before the entrance to the theater — located next to the red carpet’s mainland. Quinto never heads this way. Penelope Cruz, the real Octavia Spencer, Gwyneth Paltrow — they all bypass quickly as publicists whisk them away. (The ability to whisk? An absolute job requirement for every publicist.) Even Jason Segel hollers an apology because he has to run inside and can’t stop long enough to make a Muppet face.
But Gore Verbinski, director of “Rango,” has a free minute.
What’s the biggest misconception about what you do, Mr. Verbinski?
“That’s a really great question,” he says. (That’s because it came from a reader — thanks, changling!)
“There are just misconceptions daily,” he continues, noting how irritated he was when he recently heard someone call “Rango” a motion-capture film. (It is not.) “Everything you read in the press is a misconception, basically.”
Oh, the press. Really, we can be pretty lunkheaded, can’t we? Which brings us to another divisive red carpet moment, when a nearby broadcast reporter asks Michelle Williams what it feels like to be at the Oscars for the first time.
Before the polite Williams can open her mouth to speak, her friend and constant awards season companion, Busy Philipps, jumps in. “Uh, she’s been nominated two times before,” she says with sass. “Just FYI.”
Apparently Philipps has her BFF’s back. She’s apparently still got a bit of Kim Kelly from “Freaks and Geeks” in her, too. Just FYI.
This being the red carpet, where no question is off limits, there is room for candor.
Viola Davis offers a dose of that when she’s asked whether she feels more comfortable at the Oscars during her second time as a nominee.
“It’s higher stakes,” she says, “but I also have higher confidence and higher boldness.”
Janet McTeer — also a second-time nominee, her first nod having come for “Tumbleweeds” back in 2000 — says the whole red carpet intensity hasn’t changed much since the last time she was here. Does anything feel different?
“Only the size of my bottom?” she offers.
Some Oscar contenders are even honest about their dishonesty. Thomas Langmann, the producer of “The Artist” who would find himself giving an acceptance speech for best picture just a few hours later, is asked whether he paid attention to all the pre-Oscar ceremony predictions.
“I would lie if I said I didn’t,” he deadpans. “So I will lie. I did not.”
And pretty soon, this whole red carpet thing is shutting down. But not before Clooney gets tantalizingly close. He’s not stopping to take questions, because he’s busy talking with Gary Oldman. And he’s speaking just loudly enough for us to overhear.
He says he’s working on a script and has been writing a character while looking at a picture of Oldman. He wants his fellow best actor nominee to play the part.
“I’ll send it to you,” he says.
We hear no more, and we don’t know what the movie is about. But as exhausted as we are after hours of standing and shouting on this red carpet, we feel certain of one thing: Given Oldman’s participation in “The Dark Knight Rises” and a certain superhero movie from Clooney’s past, that evolving screenplay probably does not involve Batman.