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Paul Vercammen: The Academy Awards

Paul Vercammen  

Paul Vercammen is a Los Angeles-based contributing reporter for Showbiz Reports Today reporting backstage from the 73rd annual Academy Awards.

CNN Moderator: How was Steve Martin's job received?

Paul Vercammen: The journalists backstage here can be the most acerbic and tough critics. I'm guessing that there are 150 of them in here. Martin started slowly; the Afghanistan joke didn't go over that well. But then he just broke off zinger after zinger. These critics were suddenly laughing out loud, having a great time! The biggest laughs came when he made the joke about Russell Crowe hitting on Ellen Burstyn. They all howled when Martin introduced Charlton Heston and he said that Heston thinks he was in Gladiator, and when they cut to Crowe, they laughed harder. I even heard members of the international press corps saying that they liked Steve Martin better than Billy Crystal.

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    He just seems to be trying to facilitate the show, and get from event to event, song to song, clip to clip. He doesn't seem to be wasting a lot of time with a lot of extraneous ad-libbing. He tucks a little joke in, and moves on.

    CNN Moderator: There is one international film nominated for best picture and nominated actors and directors hailing from the UK, France, New Zealand and Spain. Why are this year's Academy Awards so Internationally minded?

    Paul Vercammen: Pictures in general, little by little, have been branching out in recent years, especially here in the States with more and more Cineplexes. Moviegoers have become more sophisticated. People saw "Crouching Tiger" on the big screen, and read the subtitles. It didn't seem to take away the enjoyment. They were as thrilled with the visual effects as they would in any language. Researchers said that the younger generation was fine with the subtitles, but their parents and grandparents weren't! But moviegoers want the best product possible, and if they're from overseas, so be it!

    CNN Moderator: Marcia Gay Harden beat out the favored Kate Hudson for Best Supporting Actress. What is was her reaction?

    Paul Vercammen: Marcia Gay Harden came back, and she was visibly emotional, happy and almost shaking with surprise and nervousness. When they said her name, she said that all she remembers is being crushed by Ed Harris' hug. He was her director in the movie, and she played his wife in the movie. So really, it was if they were linked for more than a year. She said she was thrilled, of course, and she recounted how Harris was just a tough and raw director, and she credited him for helping her with that performance. In a very sweet moment, she started laughing because she said, "What do I know, I'm just a stage actress from New York!" She was once nominated for a Tony award for "Angels in America," but she's now successfully bridged the worlds of film and live theater.

    The pundits predict that Kate Hudson would win. They love the idea of the de facto princess of the town. Think about the daughters of Hollywood royalty who have won; Mira Sorvino, Angelina Jolie, etc.

    There was a huge gasp for Marcia Gay Harden. That was a big surprise! We should note that in the acting community, she is very respected. She's an actressís actress. She has a lot of friends and fans, so perhaps, this isn't such a surprise. Just like your high school elections for president, this is a time when it's a popularity contest. And someone who has earned respect, who isn't a headache on set and whose work is admired, they'll pile up a lot of votes.

    It also means that they gave "Pollock" a very serious look. Sometimes, the difficulty with a smaller film like this is that it's not in everyone's Cineplex. So, the Academy Award voters have to, at some point, go to a screening, or watch it on videotape. If nothing else, Harden's win suggests that "Pollock" was given a fair shake.

    Question from chat room: Was Benicio Del Toro the favorite to win best supporting actor, or was it a surprise?

    Paul Vercammen: He was the clear-cut favorite all along. It was such a big role that the screen actor's guild gave him a best actor's nomination. Don't forget, those screen actors also are voting members of the academy. That was a good clue. So, he came in as a heavy favorite. That was a highly praised, treasured role. I think there's a real feeling in town that he got his just desserts.

    When Benicio Del Toro finished his session with the media he had us all laughing. He explained why he thanked the people of Nogales, on both sides of the border there. He said that the townspeople were so beautiful and so humble, that they really helped him enhance the performance and get into his character. He also explained how he had a dialect coach and how he traveled to Tijuana to work on his accent. Del Toro has repeatedly said that he didn't want his accent to sound Caribbean and that he wanted it to be a Mexican accent. When he was in Tijuana, he worked extra hard on picking up the right slang.

    A woman asked him how it felt to get so much attention and how it felt to be a sex symbol. He got everyone chuckling by turning and saying "How do I look?" He said that it's just something that goes with the territory. He was also asked what was the toughest scene, and he recalled a moment where he's driving a car in Nogales in near-tears and not saying anything. There were no extras, just Benicio, and the director, who also filmed the movie as director of photography. That was very difficult.

    He was also asked what he thought the movie said about the drug war. He said that education is critical, and that from the first grade on, kids need to be aware and parents need to understand because someday those first graders will be grandparents. He wanted everyone to know that there are people like his character in Mexico just trying their best to do the right thing.

    Question from chat room: What has been the reaction to the Academy's actions trying to limit speech times by offering the High Definition television for the shortest speech?

    Paul Vercammen: I think relief. There have been times when the awards dragged on so long, you'd think someone's trying to kill a bill in the U.S. Congress, a filibuster! So, I think there's a feeling that the curtailing of the speeches is a good thing. When Benicio finished up, it was said that his speech was short, sweet, and classy.

    Question from chat room: Paul, how have you found the atmosphere this year as opposed to previous years?

    Paul Vercammen: Well, one difference is with Steve Martin. His humor was very inside Hollywood and poked a lot of fun at the industry itself. So far, it's been more a show of quick one-liners than when, let's say, Billy Crystal does it where he has a lot of "theatrical" dramatic, big, pre-scripted performances. With Billy Crystal and Steve Martin, I think the reaction has been like chocolate cake and cheesecake. They're both good desserts! It's a matter of preference.

    Question from chat room: Was there one song, among those nominated, that seemed to be a favorite?

    Paul Vercammen: Any time you have somebody like Bob Dylan who, don't forget, is a peer to many of the voting members of the Academy -- picture someone 55 who maybe grew up listening to Dylan -- he'll have an inside track. Curtis Hanson, the director of Wonder Boys, says Dylan came onboard after he told Hanson that he was a big fan of his movie, "LA Confidential." Hanson showed Dylan three hours of raw film, and Dylan watched with great intent, and took notes and asked questions about why he did certain things. Then, after Dylan went on the road with Paul Simon, one day, a package appeared. It was from Bob Dylan. Hanson, the director, opens this gift, and there it was, this song, "Things Have Changed." Hanson was astounded by how well Dylan's fluid, yet emotionally raw song captured the spirit of Wonder Boys.

    Question from chat room: What are some of tonight's "gifts" to the winners and the presenters?

    Paul Vercammen: These people get all these wonderful awards, but what they want more than anything is a chocolate Oscar. It stands on a pedestal, and is made by Wolfgang Puck. It's a tiny little statue with gold speckly stuff on it. It's on a pedestal, and some take great pleasure in that first bite, which snaps his head off, between their front teeth. It's so popular, that Wolfgang Puck has to go out of his way to make sure there's enough of them. I guess the psychology is that everyone can say, "I got my Oscar!"

    CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Paul Vercammen.

    Paul Vercammen joined the chat room via telephone from California and CNN.com provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Sunday, March 25, 2001.


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