Photo Credit: Aaron Poole / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Up until the Best Picture incident—where La La Land was announced winner instead of Moonlight—the 2017 Oscars were going on (and on) per usual. Host Jimmy Kimmel managed to entertain the typically stoic press corps during his monologue, getting the most laughs with his Meryl Streep bit, as he described her “uninspiring and overrated performances,” and this throwaway line: “Nice dress by the way… is that an Ivanka?” (We’re getting a little tired, though, of the longstanding Matt Damon-Kimmel “feud” that ran through the entire show.)
The rest of the ceremony ran as expected for three hours, with both boring and touching speeches given from the Dolby Theater stage. But in the pressroom—where the winners could relax a little and answer questions at their leisure—we heard and learned a few things that the television audience didn’t see.
Here are a few of the most memorable moments and quotes from backstage that may have been overshadowed by #envelopegate mess.
Davis had a great answer for the reporter who asked what her TV character (the brilliant but dangerously unbalanced Annalise Keating from How to Get Away with Murder) would say about her Oscar win. “Oh, she would most definitely say, ‘I deserve this.’ And then she would have some vodka. And in that, we are very similar.”
When asked to reflect on her win, Davis was still a little shell-shocked. “I feel good. You know, it’s not my style to just kind of wake up and go, ‘Oh, I’m an Oscar winner. Oh, my gosh, let me go for a run,’” she said. “I’ll have some mac and cheese, and I’ll go back to washing my daughter’s hair tomorrow night.” She tearfully continued: “I grew up in apartments that were condemned and rat-infested, and I just always sort of wanted to be somebody. And I just wanted to be good at something. And so this is sort of like the miracle of God, of dreaming big and just hoping that it sticks and it lands, and it did. Who knew? So I’m overwhelmed. Yeah.”
Stone may not have been the favorite for Best Actress, but she certainly won over the room when she handled (in)delicate questions with aplomb. We heard a couple of gasps when someone asked her if she felt that she owed Emma Watson a drink or dinner for turning down the role. Stone answered, “Oh, my God, you know what? She’s doing great. She’s the coolest. She’s Belle. I mean I think it’s all good. I think she’s amazing.” When asked what it felt like to be part of a Best Picture winner for 2 minutes and 30 seconds (the reporter had timed it), she said, “Is that the craziest Oscar moment of all time? Cool. We made history tonight. Craziest moment. And again, I don’t even know what to say…This has all just felt like another planet. But again, God I love Moonlight. I’m so excited. So, it’s an incredible outcome, but a very strange happening for Oscar history.”
Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight, faced a keyed-up press corps and tried to answer the WTF happened question as best he could. At that time, he hadn’t been given an explanation of the snafu, but he was positively sanguine. “Things just happen, you know? But I will say I saw two cards… And Warren refused to show the card [he was given] to anybody before he showed it to me. And so he did… and I felt better about what had happened. I will say to all you people, please write this down: The folks from La La Land were so gracious. I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that. We spent a lot of time together over the last six months, and I can’t imagine being in their position and having to do that. I wasn’t speechless because we won. I was speechless because it was so gracious of them to do that.”
Paste asked Jenkins and team if they had prepared speeches, and what they would have said if not for the onstage mixup. He responded, “I absolutely wanted to thank A24 [the studio] a 1,000 times because, when I first set out to make this film with Adele [Romanski], there was a budget that we had, and you guys know what the budget is now. It’s 1.5 million. The budget we were offered before that was much much smaller. And without us asking, they increased that budget because they believed in the project. They never told us to alter anything in that process. So my whole acceptance speech was going to be in thanks to them, because it’s amazing to be Barry Jenkins right now, but it was not a year and a half ago—a guy who made a movie for $13,000 and hadn’t made a movie in seven years at that point. So I was going to give as much love to them as I possibly could with my time on the mic. And it’s unfortunate that things happened the way they did. But hot damn, we won Best Picture.
Overheard at our press table: “He’s like the Susan Lucci of Sound Mixing.” Kevin O’Connell had been nominated for 21 Oscars and finally won for sound mixing Hacksaw Ridge (along with Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace). His first nomination was for 1984’s Terms of Endearment. O’Connell was asked which of his nominated films was the most difficult to mix. “I would have to say, I’m going to go back to 1986, with Top Gun,” O’Connell said. “It was an incredible amount of work, it was a huge undertaking, and we didn’t have automation which we have now that helps us do our job. So I think Top Gun was by and large the most difficult film I might have worked on.”
Delivering Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s fiery and poignant acceptance speech for best Foreign Language Film for The Salesman were Iranian-Americans Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, and Firouz Naderi, a former NASA scientist. Farhadi had boycotted the ceremony in opposition to the Trump Administration’s travel ban. The duo came backstage to explain why they think Farhadi chose them to accept his Oscar. “You know, there are quite a number of prominent Iranian-Americans here that he could have asked, actors, actresses,” said Naderi. “I think the reason that he chose the two of us, she is an astronaut. She has gone to the space station. I work for NASA. I have managed NASA’s Mars program and Solar System. I think the reason is that if you go away from the Earth and look back at the Earth, you don’t see any of the borders, any of the lines. You just see one whole beautiful Earth, and I think the reason that he selected the two of us was to basically convey that message.”
With its win, O.J.: Made in America became the longest film to ever win an Oscar, at 7 hours and 47 minutes. One reporter backstage asked director Ezra Edelman about the most difficult interviews to get and conduct for the film. “Honestly, we interviewed 72 people. Many of them were tough,” Edelman said. “This was a story that a lot of people didn’t want to revisit. They hadn’t talked about it in 20 years. There are many people that wouldn’t speak to us; I think that the members of the prosecution and of the jury were the hardest. The prosecution, I think, got burned by the media. They were also on the wrong side of the case in terms of winning or losing, and they had been reluctant to talk about this. So, that three of the four main lawyers trusted us enough to participate in the film meant a great deal, and as the jurors themselves. The jurors have been persecuted over the years for their role in this case, and many people feel that they somehow didn’t fulfill their duty—and that Carrie and Yolanda, two of the 12 agreed to talk to us, was very courageous.”
A reporter pointed out that a Harry Potter movie has never won an Oscar, and this fact floored Colleen Atwood, who won the Oscar for Costume Design for Fantastic Beasts. “That’s shocking because there’s so much incredible kind of artistry in the Harry Potter movies,” she said. When asked how this film and her work broke the spell, she surmised, “I think maybe the fact that this movie, J.K. Rowling’s creation, is set in the 1920s, which kind of keyed off a different sort of visual sense might be the kind of obvious thing, but I can’t believe it never won [for those creations] of Stuart Craig’s in the Harry Potter movies.”
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram