Backstage at the Oscars

Do you really end up having a laugh with George Clooney? Or becoming best friends with Jennifer Lawrence in the ladies’ loos? Markéta Irglová and other Irish nominees give us the lowdown on being at the Academy Awards


On February 22nd the Academy Awards take place at the Dolby Theatre, in Hollywood. Everyone knows it’s the biggest night in the cinema calendar, but most of us only gawk from afar. What’s it like to be there? Do you really end up having a laugh with George Clooney over margaritas at Chateau Marmont, or becoming best friends with Jennifer Lawrence in the ladies’ loos? We caught up with some Irish (and honorary Irish) Oscar attendees to find out what a night at the Oscars is actually like.

Tim Fleming, a cinematographer, found himself at the Oscars in 2010 for The Door, which was nominated for Best Live Action Short Film. “It was great fun,” Fleming says. “It isn’t the party that we would know, that everyone was on the lash. But that year there were a few Irish nominations, so there was a bit of that going on.”

Fleming and six of his colleagues got a stretch limo to the venue, where their first encounter was with the annual protesters enraged by the sacrilege of the entertainment industry. “You get to the barricades and you’ve got these guys with posters saying, ‘You’re all going to hell.’ We were just like, ‘this is f***ing gas, man.’ ”

The next step was security. Fleming was anticipating a waltz down the red carpet with the rest of the A-listers, but here comes the Academy Awards’ dirty secret. “There’s a secondary red carpet. And, on that, you’re looking at the extraordinary red carpet. Once you get through, then it’s a little anticlimactic, because you’re in the venue . . . The only other thing I really remember – apart from the fact that we didn’t win – was the announcement ‘10 seconds to the world’ before it started, and I thought, That’s a bit crazy. And then it’s the show that everyone sees.”

Is there any socialising – having deep conversations with Harvey Weinstein, perhaps, or popping out for a cigarette with Johnny Depp? “I am a very compliant human,” Fleming says. “I was very happy to just sit there and watch it all. You can go out and get yourself another drink, but you know the way it is there: two drinks and you’re an alco. The boring part is the time before it. The show was great, real fun; there was a lot of banter off-camera. LA is carnage, mayhem at Oscar time. Everyone presumes you’re somebody even when you’re not.”

“What am I going to wear?”

Susie Cullen, a production designer, didn’t think she was going to the Oscars until the director of The Door, Juanita Wilson, suggested it, a couple of weeks before at the Iftas. “I didn’t even give it a second thought,” she says. “Then on Monday the phone rang, and it was the office of Octagon” – the film’s production company – “looking for my passport details. I just thought, Oh. What am I going to wear? Oh no.”

On Oscar day Cullen and her colleagues had brunch in Hollywood, but when they got back to their hotel they realised they were running late. “We hadn’t made appointments to get our hair done or anything, so suddenly it was a bit of a rush to wash the hair and blow-dry it and get into the gúna.”

When they arrived at the venue in their limo, paparazzi rushed towards their car. “The door opened, and all their lenses dropped in a disappointed fashion – ‘Oh, look: it’s a bunch of nobodies.’

“I was getting texts from friends, going ‘Find Ryan Seacrest, ’ so we just hung out around the red carpet, and that was good fun,” says Cullen. “I was on the red carpet, and I got a phone call from my brother, who was talking about his caravan in Galway, and I was like, ‘Eh, can’t really talk now . . .’ ”

The chucking-out part, as Cullen refers to the end of the night, was reminiscent of an average nightclub closing. “You went back down the red carpet, but it was all changed to hot chocolate and coffee wagons, and then you had to give the number of your limo. So whoever had won Best Supporting Actress for The Help” – Octavia Spencer – “was sitting behind me with her statue in one hand and her shoes in the other, on the phone. Colin Firth was wandering around, waiting for his limo like waiting for a taxi. Morgan Freeman was knocking around. I found that bit very funny. Loads of people had their shoes in their hands. So you go from the sparkle and the glamour to just waiting for a cab, basically.”

High octane

For Markéta Irglová, who with Glen Hansard won the Oscar for Best Song in 2008, the preshow antics were much higher octane than the show itself. “It is very hectic,” she says. “The journalists and TV presenters are quite hungry to get interviews, especially with the biggest stars of the night, and as they talk to you their attention is split between you and everything that’s happening around you, in order not to miss anything.

“You walk down the carpet in a line, waiting for whoever is in front of you to finish one interview, for you to start yours, then moving on to the next. It took us about an hour I think, maybe more.

“When we got to the theatre I was taken aback with how relaxed it felt. Yes, it was a formal event, and everything was perfectly arranged, and everyone was perfectly prepared, but the energy in the place was one of celebration. It occurred to me then that this was probably the most exciting event of the year for all the people in the movie industry, even the most famous of celebrities, and there was a sense of excitement, even giddiness in all the attendees.”

Irglová says that as well as a sense of competition at the ceremony there is a sense of camaraderie, with nominees rooting for each other. She remembers being congratulated by the team from Disney, whom Irglová and Hansard, with their song Falling Slowly, were up against. “It felt like they really meant it rather than resented us for taking the award from them.”

One of the most extraordinary aspects of those Academy Awards was when Irglová was brought back on stage for a lovely addendum to Hansard’s speech. She said, “No matter how far out your dreams are, it’s possible. And, you know, fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. This song was written from the perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all no matter how different we are.”

Irglová remembers the moment. “We were joined by Jon Stewart, side of stage, who amused himself witnessing Glen and I talking about our little statues. He explained that he would go on stage after the commercials were over and invite me to finish my speech, then he would himself walk off to give me the stage. Then suddenly I found my feet carrying me to the microphone, having no idea what I would say . . .

“Yet, feeling the way I felt, I was nothing but grateful to get an opportunity to speak and communicate my feelings to the world. I longed to say something which would make the people who had showered us, our music and the movie Once with love and support from the beginning, and other artists who might be in a similar position of trying to break through, to feel included in this moment, to feel it was their victory as well as ours, and to send the people in the audience, as well as those in their homes watching the show, some positive energy.”

So the Oscars: bring snacks, remember the moment, and have fun. “It was absolutely fantastic,” Fleming says. “I still have the ticket somewhere. I must remember to do something with the bloody thing.”

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