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LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Friday, April 1, 2016
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Peggy Siegal reports behind-the-scenes on Hollywood’s biggest night: the Oscars

After a year of global trekking to discover, nurture, nudge, prognosticate and congratulate all Oscar-worthy films, come April I am left with the position of Monday morning quarterback. I began chasing talent at the Cannes Film Festival in May and ended with gaining entrance to Guy Oseary’s exclusive post-Oscar party on the floor of Alicia Vikander’s SUV in February.

This is a tale of stamina, substance and insight into a contentious awards season and the tightest race in recent memory.

With the Academy membership of 6,291 consisting of 91 percent whites, 76 percent males and 3 percent African Americans, the battle cry for diversity exploded on January 14 (Oscar nominations day) and hung over the race like an embarrassing black cloud. Swift promises were made to include members that reflect the population as the studios scrambled to media-train every contender to deal with #OscarsSoWhite.

Before we get into the party hopping, here is a quick recap of some of the winners we cheered for.

Warner Bros. Pictures’ Mad Max: Fury Road premiered at Cannes to a rapturous ovation for a visually spectacular joy ride of road rage that went on to win six technical Oscars, the most of Oscar night.

A24’s winner Amy, about Amy Winehouse, also premiered at Cannes. Pigheaded, I insisted to superstitious director Asif Kapadia, “Everybody cries. You just won the Oscar.” Since his previous documentary, Senna, failed to even get shortlisted, Asif spent months cringing every time he saw me.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant debuted at Thanksgiving and Leonardo DiCaprio was instantly anointed Best Actor on his fifth acting nomination. By New Year’s I was able to tell Leo at Larry Gagosian’s St. Barts house, “It’s time. It’s your time. You win this year.” As a campaigning aid, I taught Leo the vote-getting handshake. I grabbed his hand and elbow, looked deep into his eyes and whispered, “Thank you for seeing my film,” squeezing his hand and elbow simultaneously. It’s the double squeeze that sends chills.

Not to digress, but I tried this handshake on a high-ranking government official at a Christmas lunch. He said, “Who taught you the double squeeze?” So, I know it works.

Paramount’s December entry, The Big Short, the comedic explanation of the 2008 mortgage meltdown, scrambled to catch up. Writer/director Adam McKay approached every Academy outing as a madcap tenured professor from SNL University. After winning the Producer’s Guild top prize, this Plan B and Brad Pitt–produced film shot up to “dark horse/could be spoiler” contender for a three-way Oscar race for Best Picture.

In Telluride, Brie Larson’s gut-wrenching performance as an abuse victim imprisoned in A24’s Room, directed by Lenny Abrahamson, shrieked Oscar. In real life, this natural beauty charmed the pants off every voter on a road show enlivened by a nine-year-old version of Bob Hope, her costar Jacob Tremblay, who was also escorted by his hot cop dad, Jason.

In Venice, Focus Features premiered Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, where ex-ballerina and Swedish stunner Alicia Vikander went toe to toe with last year’s Oscar sensation Eddie Redmayne in 20 dresses.

Disney brought Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies to the New York Film Festival with three-time Tony winner Mark Rylance playing a Soviet spy. Rylance gave a brilliant performance that positioned him to win Best Supporting Actor. Then Creed opened in November with Sylvester Stallone as the beloved Rocky Balboa, 39 years later.

After Sly received a standing ovation at the Golden Globes, I told him, “Sly, you won the Oscar. Don’t screw it up. You won.” His euphoria brought him to the Oscar red carpet, where Mark Rylance and Steven Spielberg congratulated him on his impending win. Then Mark won. This upset proved you can win an Oscar, performing Nice Fish onstage in a Brooklyn theater and never use the double squeeze handshake.

We move on to mentions of the Oscar Week celebrations.

Tuesday, February 23

I checked into the Sunset Tower Hotel, owned by Jeff Klein and home to Mark Ruffalo, Paul Dano, Emma Stone and Reese Witherspoon for the week.

On my way to a meeting for Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender’s new film, The Light Between Oceans, I ran into Steven Spielberg. He told me he had read my recent New York Times Sunday Style profile. He “heard my voice and loved it.” Knees knocking, I emailed Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., to share the close encounter.

Wednesday, February 24

Lifelong feminist Diane von Furstenberg and Universal Pictures’ chairman Donna Langley hosted the third annual Women’s Oscar Lunch. Thirty-three of the 51 female nominees showed up. Twenty-four percent of the Academy is women. Diane said: “There have to be more stories about women . . . told by women . . . and now Donna will make sure with her big studio that you are green lighted. Lots of green lights.”

Media king Graydon Carter hosted an intimate dinner at the Chateau Marmont for Open Road’s Spotlight and the Boston Globe’s reporters. Jane Sarkin, Brian d’Arcy James and I arrived so early we sat on the empty pool patio, begging Brian to sing. Apparently, he only sings when he gets paid loads of money, like inside a Broadway theater. Graydon welcomed cowriter-director Tom McCarthy, cowriter Josh Singer, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber, who anxiously analyzed their neck-and-neck race with The Revenant for Best Picture.

I went to see Russell Simmons at his inaugural All Def Movie Awards, the #OscarsSoWhite corrective, hosted by Oscar host Chris Rock’s brother and look-alike, Tony Rock, at a dive called Lure in deepest Hollywood. This event honored actors of color and invented a new definition for diversity. There was none. I was one of three white chicks and the only one with concealed cleavage and butt crack on the black carpet.

Thursday, February 25

I headed to an NPR radio interview in the morning. I am still astonished people listen to my predictions.

I later stopped by the Gagosian Gallery as crowds of kids in hip black clothes jockeyed for position to study huge laser-printed canvases that depicted quintessential Angeleno settings, sourced on the Internet by artist Alex Israel. The show was sold out as major collectors snapped up billionaire-affordable art like movie posters. Dinner, hosted by Larry Gagosian, was served at Mr. Chow to Eva and Michael Chow, Elton John, Robbie Robertson, Adrien Brody, Jean Pigozzi, Diana Picasso, Andre Balazs, Richard Prince and collectors Eli Broad, Dasha Zhukova, Maria and Bill Bell Jr., and Nicolas Berggruen, new father of twins.

I dashed to Malibu to Ron Meyer’s party for Graydon Carter in a clear tent overlooking the Pacific. I was lucky to be invited as the only token publicist (yes, a nod to diversity). I can tell you nothing except the obvious. Barbra Streisand, Tom Hanks, Martin Short, Sly Stallone, Les Moonves, Louise Grunwald and André Bishop were just a few floating past the endless delicious Nobu food stations.

Friday, February 26th

The Film Is Great reception at Fig & Olive was hosted by Eddie Redmayne, OBE, and British Consul General Chris O’Connor. Endearing funnyman James Corden was emcee. Eddie arrived with his mother, Patricia, who looks exactly like him in The Danish Girl, and wife, Hannah, who was five months pregnant. When asked the sex of the child, both parents announced, “Gender fluid.“

Dimitri Dimitrov, maître d’ of the Sunset Tower Hotel, gently guided me into his oh-so-hot restaurant, where I fawned over Nick Pileggi, Meg Ryan, Martin Short, Jared Leto and director Michael Mann. Also dining were Jennifer Aniston, Sandra Bullock, Jason Bateman and Jennifer Lawrence (complete with a hovering bodyguard).

Off to the United Talent Agency party hosted by Jim Berkus at his Spanish hacienda in Beverly Hills. I ended up at the kitchen table chatting with Ethan Coen and his costume designer girlfriend, Peggy Schmitzer, about how much I loved Hail, Caesar! Additional guests included Sandy Gallin, Jerry Bruckheimer, Jennifer Lopez, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow.

The last stop of this grueling schedule was the CAA party. Much like the Vanity Fair Oscar shebang, organizers staggered arrival times for the less important guests. I fell into the last category of “she gets the make-believe invite” with an arrival time of 11:30 p.m. Any normal person knew this 11:30 p.m. arrival was synonymous with socializing with the clean-up crew.

I stayed much later than expected at the UTA party, making me right on time for CAA. Then, since the road is impossibly narrow, only the powerful can bring their chauffeured car to the house. Entering the tent was like swimming against the current. Once inside I pretended I had been there all night and chatted up the three people I knew: Bennett Miller, Jared Leto and artist/director Harmony Korine. Harmony asked me for a ride home, and since I was too mortified to tell him I had just arrived, I said sure.

Saturday, February 27

Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg hosted their annual lunch for Graydon Carter. Barry commandeered the day by greeting family friends of 30 years while barefoot in shorts, marching over Moroccan rugs and pillows and through picnic tables adorned with bright zinnias.

The lunching titans included Norman Lear, Mike Ovitz, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jim Gianopulos, Paul Allen and Oprah Winfrey. Simon Curtis fell into conversation with David O. Russell, and shortly after we were sharing a picnic table with David, Bradley Cooper, Julianne Moore and Bart Freundlich. At the next table was Bette Midler, Fran Lebowitz, Rupert Murdoch and fiancée (now wife) Jerry Hall, blinding us with her ring. Jason Blum brought baby Roxy, who crawled under Barry’s feet.

Next stop was the Giorgio Armani cocktail party for Leo at the Rodeo Drive store. Invitations stipulated no press, no cameras, no questions and no selfies. Leo was ushered through the back door by large bodyguards. I chatted up Leo’s mom, Irmelin Indenbirken, only to find out she didn’t have a matching handbag for Oscar night, so I sent the store manager scurrying for a complementary purse. At one point diminutive Irmelin toyed with the idea of wearing a tuxedo to the Oscars until I convinced her that being photographed next to her tall, handsome son in matching outfits was not the way to go.

I went on to Charles Finch and Chanel’s dinner at Madeo. Every girl was more beautiful than the next. This was one of the chicest dinners. Girl gazing consisted of Dakota Fanning, Dree Hemingway, Kristen Stewart, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and the nubile cast of Mustang.

Sunday, February 28

Two hotel housekeepers poured me into my pink taffeta gown complete with a pink fox stole, sent by Monse designer Fernando Garcia, former assistant to Oscar de la Renta.

I did the red carpet shuffle past security, inches away from Alicia Vikander’s family, posed as a relative and made my way to the interview area saved for nominees and loved ones. I found the most flattering ABC camera angle to afford my friends a clean background shot and kissed anyone for an hour.

Chris Rock’s searingly funny opening monologue did exactly what comics are supposed to do: wrap the truth in irresistible jokes, making fun of everybody. So how did Spotlight triumph in the end? The film conveyed the most social significance and the most satisfying emotional experience. Story and sentiment won Best Picture.

The Vanity Fair Oscar party has long been recognized as the toughest ticket in town, where a swirling hurricane of fame erupted, showering the exalted with attention. Every winner and nominee comes to show off their Oscar or drink away their bruised egos. Where else do icons Lady Gaga and Elton John hold court on a couch and uncoupling couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner closely converse? Meanwhile, Don Rickles was still insulting everyone from a wheelchair.

At 1:00 a.m. Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender invited me to the second toughest ticket, Guy Oseary’s dancing ’til dawn party. If you are not on the original guest list you can arrive in an Oscar winner’s car. Friends of Alicia and Michael needed three SUVs. One block before Checkpoint Charlie we condensed into two vans, forcing myself and others to crouch on the floor, unseen. As we arrived at the security check flashlights scanned the interior, and our muffled giggles went unheard. I was terrified of being spotted by Guy Oseary, who ejected me two years ago for the sin of being a publicist. I hid on the dark dance floor in iridescent pink until 4:00 a.m., surrounded by Oscar winners from the closing credits—a perfect end to a hotly contested Academy season.

 


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