"Twice," says Milos Forman, who just won his second Academy Award for directing, this time for "Amadeus," "feels much better than none, a little better than one, and not as good as three."
He grins contentedly. His voice is a wonderfully deep vibrato of words -- the accent is Czech, the sentiment typically American. The man who dreamed of making it in Hollywood, who at one time couldn't pay his rent at the Chelsea Hotel in New York, who won an Oscar for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and also directed "Hair" and "Ragtime," has the satisfaction of knowing that he made it in Hollywood -- twice.
"When you make it once, people appreciate it, but it's still sort of in the back of their minds that maybe it was an accident," Forman says. "But the second time they think maybe it's not. And the third time, they're really convinced."
There is nothing unapproachable about the Czech-born Forman, 53, who is currently a Hot Property. He is in town to see the exhibition of paintings at Henri Gallery by Theodor Pistek, who won an Oscar for his costumes for "Amadeus." "I came to give him moral support," Forman says.
Last night Meda and Jan Mladek hosted a party for Forman and Pistek at their Georgetown home. Meda Mladek had met Forman in Europe years ago. "You see, when Czechs meet, they become friends," she said. "I am helping Czechoslovakian artists. Of course, Milos doesn't need it."
The 50 or so guests who gathered to honor the two Czech-born artists (Pistek still lives in Prague) included politicians, journalists, members of the art community and friends of Forman. Joe Califano was among them. "Joe Califano was one of the people who tried to help me get citizenship," said Forman.
There was also Forman's longtime friend from New York, Czech e'migre' and former tennis champion Jitka Volavka. They met at a party in the late '60s in New York. She was teaching tennis at a club; he was a filmmaker. "Milos didn't have much money," she said. "He asked me what I did. And he asked if I could teach him tennis. So after the boss was gone at my club, I'd call him and say, 'Come on over. You don't have to pay.' Milos used to say, 'Wait, when I become famous and rich I'm not going to talk to you.' But of course, he does."
"I think it's fabulous," Zbigniew Brzezinski said last night about Forman's winning the Oscar. "It shows that East Europeans are naturally talented -- more than others."
"No, no," corrected Forman. "Central Europeans."
"And preferably Slavic," added Brzezinski.
To cap the cozy dinner, a waiter came in with a white-iced chocolate cake with one big candle in the middle and little cardboard costumed figures from the movie in a circle around it. The cake was as much for the Mladeks as it was for the two Oscar winners. They announced they were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary last night.
"Under these circumstances," said Forman when he was toasted, "I feel like a loser. I was married twice, divorced once and separated. So I drink to the newlyweds."
After the cake, Meda Mladek declared it was open season on Forman and that people could ask him anything. Someone asked why all the Oscar winners from "Amadeus" thanked him in their speeches on Oscar night.
"The film community in one film is like a little country," said Forman, "and everybody praises the president."
Why did he choose to make "Amadeus"? "It's a wonderful story," he said, "and I think there's a little bit of Mozart in all of us -- and quite a bit of Salieri in all of us." This brought laughter and applause from the dinner guests.
Forman is affable and funny, smoking a big cigar, sitting in his Watergate Hotel suite in the afternoon and watching a tennis match between Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl. (He is rooting for countryman Lendl, "of course.")
"Well, I don't want to sound modest," he says about the Oscar, "but you don't want to win to have a big mansion. I still have a little farmhouse in Connecticut, a small apartment in New York." (The apartment is a two-bedroom one on Central Park South. The little farmhouse, according to one visitor who was there, has a huge fireplace, a lake and a tennis court.)
"It's to be accepted as an American director," he continues. "That's the vanity behind it. And accepted not only for yourself, but also to have the film accepted. That's what I was lucky to get."
It's been 17 years and several films since Forman first arrived in the United States to make his first American film, "Taking Off" -- which didn't.
"Everyone said, 'It's great to see America through the eyes of a foreigner.' Well, I didn't want to be seen as a professional foreigner," Forman scoffs. "I wanted to be accepted as a colleague. One of the group."
But he can't explain either his metamorphosis into Hollywood director ("I thought I was doing an American film then") or that of "Amadeus" into a popular film.
"If I knew, I would be much richer than I am," Forman says.
Nominated for 11 Oscars, "Amadeus" garnered eight. Forman and his "Amadeus" colleagues reveled in their victory last Monday night.
"Tuesday, I was recovering from a hangover," he says ruefully. "It was a long night." After the Academy's ball and a sprinkling of parties around town, the "Amadeus" group repaired to the bar at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel until 4 in the morning.
"We had so many of us," Forman says affectionately. "I stayed with our gang. It took a long time to console those who didn't win. Well, they're such a great group, if they didn't win, they felt like they had shamed us."
Most notable among the "Amadeus" nonwins was Tom Hulce, who played Mozart. "Tom is a very intelligent guy," Forman says. "He took it very classy." He lost the Best Actor award to his costar, F. Murray Abraham, who played Salieri, Mozart's jealous rival.
"I think they're both very talented men who both gave charming and very sophisticated performances," Forman says. "The final voting is always emotional. Abraham's slight advantage over Tom Hulce was that Mozart as a personality has your sympathy from the beginning -- because of that music. People's surprise is Salieri, who's supposed to be a villain. You begin to like him, side with him, even sympathize with his dilemma. The character ends up working on you a little, emotionally."
He agrees that there is something to the much publicized wisecrack that the Hollywood community can identify with the jealous Salieri, tortured over his own mediocrity. "Subconsciously, I think, partly, yes," Forman says. "The feelings that Salieri is going through are the feelings everyone experiences from time to time. He's a villain out of very noble feelings. It's not a petty jealousy. It's a grand jealousy."
Forman says he personally identifies with both Mozart and Salieri. "I feel like a balanced combination of both," Forman says. "That's what surprised me about the play. You usually identify with one antagonist or another. But this time, I identified with both."
Forman also has the highest praise for Jeffrey Jones, the actor who played Emperor Franz Joseph II. "I've seen every scene 100 times," Forman says. "I must tell you that his performance is flawless. There is no scene where it doesn't work. There is no moment when he would be less than right on."
The Oscar bestows its blessings in two ways, says Forman -- one concrete, the other highly interpretive.
"One half of it is that it's a very important thing for the film," Forman explains. "It creates interest among people who wouldn't normally go and see it . . . That's a wonderful aspect of the awards. The other half is that there's no way to measure what's better or worse in the art world. You can't take it too seriously. How can you say 'Soldier's Story' is better or worse than 'Passage to India'? Both are excellent films. One has to take it as a game. And I love games."
His games: Tennis, golf, skiing.
"I don't like the games where you are at the mercy of luck -- gambling, poker," Forman says. "I like games where everything is in your power."
When Forman came to the United States in 1968, with the permission of the Czech government, he had already made two successful movies -- "Loves of a Blonde" and "The Firemen's Ball."
"In 1971 I just didn't go back," Forman says, confirming that he was called a defector. "That's what they call it. Men should be able to work and live wherever they want." Twice married in Czechoslovakia, he is divorced from his first wife, long separated from his second and has grown twin sons. He is now an American citizen.
Forman says he's working on nothing right now. "I'm trying to find something that one is willing to put three or four years of your life into. 'Amadeus' took four. I'm reading scripts; I'm reading books."
He might even take a vacation. He's not wanting for money. "I'm not as rich as these guys," he says, pointing to the blank television set where a few minutes ago Connors and Lendl had been. "But I'm not complaining."
He counts many directors among his favorites: "The first big thrill I got was when I saw all of the big silent comedies -- Charlie Chaplin. John Ford had some great films I love. Then the French, Rene' Cle'ment . . . Then the Italians, Vittorio de Sica . . . I like very much the work of Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, Benton . . .
"I have a few films I saw more than 10 times. One is 'Miracle in Milan,' by de Sica. A Swedish film by director Arne Mattsson , 'Only One Summer.' Chaplin's 'City Lights.' I saw that 15 times."
Forman has no favorites among his own films. "One of the curses of working on a film is that you never see it as an audience does," Forman says. "You always know what's coming next."