BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — The security guard wrangling an unwieldy backup at the metal detectors has a bold proposal: “Does anyone want to skip the red carpet?”
“Hugh! Hugh! STOP!” the people with the flashbulbs scream, with such fervency you’d think they were trying to stop him from stepping in front of a bus. Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell hustle past so quickly they nearly collide with Cardi B, who has wrapped her face in red chiffon. “Someone hide me,” says Melanie Lynskey, clinging to a friend’s arm, perhaps feeling a bit too exposed after a confident show of decolletage for the photographers.
Like the Oscars this year, there was something warmer and lower key than usual about this starriest of after-parties. Sure, there was Kate Hudson clearing a wide berth with her gigantic ruffled fuchsia sleeves, and Tracee Ellis Ross looking like she just stepped off the Titanic in a saucerlike white Balmain hat that she never took off, no matter how many faces it nearly hit. But mostly everyone was stuffing their faces with In-N-Out burgers. There was 73-year-old Bill Nighy, on his knees as if paying fealty to Steven Spielberg, who sat on a bench next to Tony Kushner and tore into some meat and cheese. Oh wait, Michelle Williams is trying to get our attention! — ah, no, she’s just pointing out to her husband where the waiter is who has the cheeseburgers.
Unexpected pairings abound. Laverne Cox in a skintight black gown towers at least a foot above a very chummy Andrew Garfield, in an oversized crayon-red jacket that makes him look even more shrunken, and they have so much to talk about.
“I don’t think Andrew would mind me saying this, but he’s obsessed with ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race,’ and that’s what we first bonded over,” Cox says. She’s been feeling a little weird at this, her first Hollywood party since the pandemic, and Garfield was a friendly face.
“I haven’t gotten covid yet, so I’m freaking out a little,” Cox says. “Tonight’s probably my night.”
We need some fresh air, but are blocked by a giant orange, embroidered train that we trace back to Sharon Stone, who is giving Usher a big hug and talking about how it’s been so long. This absolutely makes sense because all famous people are friends with each other; it’s a known fact. Over on a bench, Patricia Clarkson has planted roots and not moved all night, letting everyone come to her — a true aspirational queen.
Ava DuVernay is a director who cannot stop working, not even at a party, so she is organizing a group photo of all the Black people here, dispatching friends to beckon them to the portrait studio. Jeremy Pope is rounding up Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors on the patio. “I’m the best AD you’ll ever find! I got this!” says Tiffany Haddish, who has chopped her tresses and squinched them into silent-movie-star finger waves. Kerry Washington, Teyana Taylor, Tessa Thompson, you’re in this, too. Queen Latifah and Shonda Rhimes get recruited away from a confab so intense we fantasized they might be planning a TV show together. The exodus is near-total as some 20 Black luminaries disappear from the party and behind a curtain near the entrance. Donald Glover races down the hall, then Idris Elba, responding to DuVernay’s bat signal. She’s trying to re-create a 2018 portrait that went viral, but the result is that she seems to have sucked all the people of color out of the soiree — or created a very convenient way for them to all abscond to the shindig Jay-Z and Beyoncé are throwing at Chateau Marmont — because once they disappear behind that curtain, very few return to the party.
The POC quotient doesn’t kick up again until the “Everything Everywhere All At Once” gang shows up with all their Oscars. The Daniels have so many that Daniel Kwan’s mom, June, his wife, Kirsten Lepore, and actor Harry Shum Jr. have been designated to carry one each.
“It’s very heavy,” says June, who’s been on a mission to figure out why people like her son’s movie so much. “If you read the commentary, it makes a lot of sense,” she says. “I just think it’s a young person’s movie.”
Kwan quickly tells us the story of his jacket, which has “Punk” embroidered on the back. It’s an homage to the cardigan Michelle Yeoh wears in the scene where she takes a google-y eyed baseball bat to her laundromat’s window. The cardigan was a random Chinatown find, but the jacket is custom made from an Asian-American-run apparel company in Los Angeles called Goodfight. “They reached out even before we were nominated and said, ‘Hey we want to make … you a suit,’” Kwan says. “They didn’t even know we were going to the Oscars. They were just hedging their bets.”
Michael B. Jordan (still here!) runs over to heartily congratulate every member of Kwan’s family, then takes a selfie with Kwan’s mom. But across the room, another set of flash bulbs explodes. Michelle Yeoh has entered the party like a gravitational force. Heads turn to see what’s going on, and then more heads turn to see why those heads are turning, and suddenly even the In-N-Out cater waiters are flocking to her corner. Before long Ke Huy Quan plops down by her side, but within half a minute, he’s up on his feet and jumping up and down because … he just spotted Jimmy Kimmel? Sir, you just won an Oscar. Quan’s whole family swarms, like it’s 1964 and Kimmel is a Beatle. Everyone gets a selfie with him. Why? “Because I love him,” Quan says. “When our movie came out he was the first person to let me on his show. I’ll never forget him for as long as I live.” And how does the newly minted Oscar winner feel now?
“I’ll see what happens when I wake up tomorrow,” he says. “Maybe it was all a dream.”
Brendan Fraser walks in and is beset by fans. He looks like he might cry, again, this time as a weary dad stuck out on the town way past his bedtime because his teenage sons still haven’t gotten their fill. And there’s one they want to meet more than all the rest. Fraser waves his Oscar at Billie Eilish, who has exchanged the approximately four black camping tents she wore on the red carpet for a simple black suit. No response. Fraser inches closer and closer until he’s waving the Oscar right in front of her nose. Eilish finally notices, and jumps back, laughing, then runs forward and hugs Fraser and his whole family.
“It’s good to feel useful as a dad,” the best actor winner says. It’s surreal to be at a party like this. “The last time I was at the Oscars was 2005.” So could he see himself coming to lots more of these in the future? “For now I’m good.”
Over there, off to the side, Simona Tabasco — Lucia from “The White Lotus” — is frantically speaking Italian into her phone. “Dové?” she says, scanning the room. “Dové?!” (translation: “Where? Where?!”) Finally, she finds her people, rushing into the arms of her co-stars from the show, Beatrice Grannò and Adam DiMarco.
Noah Centineo, sporting a mustache, shoots us finger guns and dances his way over to us to the beat of Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out” before realizing he doesn’t know us and just as smoothly smiles and waves and dances away.
This is a great night for weirdos, says John Waters, who would know. The Baltimore cult-film director is a voting member of the Academy and the PGA and the WGA. “I vote for all of them, even the Razzie awards,” he says, referring to the prizes given out for the worst movies of the year. He’s delighted that something as original and inventive as EEAAO has found so many fans. So he voted for it? Waters demurs.
“I never tell because there’s movies I like and movies I hate, and I sit next to the people at dinner parties. I learned that a long time ago,” he says. But you may have noticed that absolutely nothing that was nominated for an Oscar made it onto the top 10 movies of the year he published in Artforum — except for best foreign film nominee “EO,” a Polish movie set from the perspective of a donkey. “That’s the movie I was rooting for. It’s the movie of the year,” Waters says. “The donkeys are incredible, and also Isabelle Huppert is in it, the best actress in the world.”
The night is winding down, and the star power is draining from the room. There are other, ever more exclusive parties to hit — Madonna’s, Jay-Z’s — and soon there are more Oscars at the party than actual famous people. Alan Cumming is one of the last celebs standing, hanging out under a heat lamp in a shiny silver suit. “It’s nuts,” he says of the party. “I’m such a geezer and I wander around and there’s just all these people and I don’t know who they are, but they know me,” he says. “They’re all very famous and they all think I’m great because they saw me in ‘Spy Kids’ when they were children. And it’s an interesting thing where I’m a part of their lives and now they’re grown-ups.”
Who exactly are the people who know him? “Everyone here,” he says, and turns to the nearest younger-looking person next to him. “Spy Kids?” he asks a redheaded Megan Fox.
“I’m 36!” says Fox, laughing. “I’m not a baby. Alan, I know who you are!” (Note to self: look up Megan Fox’s skin-care routine.)
Determined, he tries again, this time with singer Dove Cameron, 27, and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” actress Lana Condor, 25.
“Spy Kids?” he asks.
“Yes! Yes!” they respond.
Our feet hurt too much to stay one minute longer. We file out past the booth that’s giving away free Rothy’s flats, and walk five blocks to get an Uber that doesn’t cost $75, and head to bed.