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Backstage at the Oscars: What you didn’t see on TV

Bong Joon Ho, whose film "Parasite" took home Oscars for best picture, international film, director and original screenplay, backstage with Spike Lee.
Bong Joon Ho, whose film “Parasite” took home Oscars for best picture, international film, director and original screenplay, backstage with Spike Lee.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

The Times is backstage at the Oscars, catching winners moments after their acceptance speeches and capturing the behind-the-scenes chatter as celebrity presenters prepare to walk on. Here’s a live diary of the night:

8:38 p.m. “Crazy!” “Parasite” writer and director Bong Joon Ho is surrounded by his cast, which is shouting with excitement after its historic best picture win. “Crazy! It’s ... crazy!” he says, dropping an English expletive with total fluency. Bong starts looking for his wife, who was still sitting in the audience. He brings her onstage, and she is sobbing. They embrace as she dabs her face with a tissue, covering her mouth in disbelief. A minder approaches Bong’s translator, asking where his four trophies are for the photo ops. “They’re in our row! Row G, right?” he says, gesturing with hope that someone will retrieve his Oscar haul.

8:22 p.m. “I’m shaking so much.” Renée Zellweger is surrounded by a pool of photographers after winning best actress for “Judy.” She strikes a pose, holding the Oscar up in the air. “Thank you!” she says. “If only I could stand up straight, I’m shaking so much. Oh my word.” Her publicists, waiting in the hall, start welling up when Zellweger finally approaches them. “How did I do? Did I forget you?”

Joaquin Phoenix exits the stage after accepting his Oscar.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

8:13 p.m. An emotional Joaquin. A Times photographer looks on as “Joker” star and lead actor winner Joaquin Phoenix breaks down in tears, and Oscars staff help him find a moment of quiet before he faces the media onslaught backstage. Phoenix emerges with tears still in his eyes, and Jane Fonda lovingly places a hand on his cheek. The actor looks down at the trophy. “Now, whose is this?” he says, observing his Oscar as if he might have to give it back. “Uh, yours!” a stagehand says, laughing in disbelief.

7:58 p.m. I remember you! Olivia Colman is eager to greet Bong after his best director win. Quickly after she offers her congratulations, he registers who she is and seems just as excited to greet her. “Hi! We met at Sundance!” he says with a smile.

7:46 p.m. A speechless Spike. Billie Eilish is backstage, running her nails over her hair as she readies to perform. Spike Lee, also in the wings before presenting, is staring at her, wordlessly, as if in awe.

7:21 p.m. A guarded Elton. Waiting to go onstage, Elton John is given one of the few folding chairs and immediately begins doing vocal warm-ups from his seat. A crew of hulking bodyguards follows him out to the precipice of the stage — a first for any celeb here this evening.

James Corden and Rebel Wilson prepare to go onstage in a self-deprecating "Cats" bit.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

7 p.m. Better than “Cats.” “This is ridiculous,” James Corden says, showing off his full-body cat suit to Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig in the hallway. “Um, the hat makes it,” Rudolph says with a giggle. The late-night host and his “Cats” costar Rebel Wilson walk toward the stage, stopping to pose with super-serious faces next to a display of Oscars. The show’s two producers ask if they can snap a photo with the two actors. “Of course,” Corden responds. “But watch out, you’ll need a lint roller afterwards.”

6:36 p.m. Eminem. “Eighteen years ago, he won the Oscar and he wasn’t here, so we brought him back,” telecast coproducer Stephanie Allain says. Dawn Hudson, the academy’s chief executive, offers hugs. “Oh my God. I just can’t believe we did it. This energy in this room is like THIS,” Hudson says. Adds the show’s co-producer Lynette Howell Taylor: “Best-kept secret.”

6:29 p.m. A canned response. “Can I have some water?” Oscar Isaac asks a stagehand, looking perplexed as she hands him a can. “This is water. And this year we have it in cans.”

Laura Dern, supporting actress winner for “Marriage Story,” in the Photo Room at the Academy Awards.
Laura Dern, supporting actress winner for “Marriage Story,” in the photo room at the Academy Awards.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

6:25 p.m. Dern and the thank-you cam. Laura Dern is besieged by hugging publicists after winning her supporting actress Oscar for “Marriage Story.” Steered toward the thank-you cam, where winners are meant to record messages for those they forgot to mention onstage, she is bewildered: “Do people see these?” Dern asks. “I don’t even remember who I didn’t thank.”

5:55 p.m. Charlize’s advice. “It’s a long night, huh? Pace yourself,” Charlize Theron advises her mother as they wait for the restroom together.

5:53 p.m. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pumped. “This race is wide open. Everyone has won something,” Miranda says to Anthony Ramos as they wander toward the green room.

5:52 p.m. Shia, Maya, Kristen. “Do good, girls!” Shia LaBeouf says to Rudolph and Wiig as they are about to head onstage. A publicist adds an encouraging “Go get ’em,” to which Rudolph rolls her eyes and says in jest, “Oh, we wiiiill.”

Taika Waititi clutches his adapted screenplay Oscar for “Jojo Rabbit.”
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

5:49 p.m. Taika’s big win. “I’m so happy for you!” Natalie Portman exclaims, hugging her upcoming “Thor” director Taika Waititi (winner for adapted screenplay for “Jojo Rabbit”) as they all bound offstage. She embraces him as Timothée Chalamet pats the screenwriter heartily on the back, starting his own chant. “Oscar win-ner! Oscar win-ner!”

5:33 p.m. Elsas the world over. As an international array of Elsas come offstage after singing best song nominee “Into the Unknown” from “Frozen II,” Academy Awards telecast coproducer Lynette Howell Taylor breathlessly congratulates them. “You were so good!” she says. “You were so GOOD!”

Maya Rudolph, left, and Kristen Wiig backstage at the Dolby Theatre.
Maya Rudolph, left, and Kristen Wiig backstage at the Dolby Theatre.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

5:23 p.m. Maya gets the party started. Rudolph is carrying a small empty bottle of tequila as she walks backstage, searching for a trash bin. “Tossy! Go bye-bye!” she says, throwing the trash away.

5:20 p.m. Timothée and Chris make a date. Chris Rock exited the stage after his comedy bit and encountered Timothée Chalamet. “Murdered it, murdered it,” Chalamet says, embracing Rock in a huge hug in the backstage hallway. “Where are you headed later?” Rock asks the young actor, checking on his party schedule. “Let’s do dinner.”

5 p.m. The preshow jitters. Steve Martin, who is to open the show with a comedy bit with Rock, is pacing back and forth with his hands crossed. He fixes his bowtie in a makeup mirror adjacent to the stage. “Do you have a script, by chance?” he asks the show producers. “I forgot to bring it out. As long as I have my opening line, I’m fine.”

A comedy bit from Steve Martin and Chris Rock opened the Academy Awards.
A comedy bit from previous Oscar hosts Steve Martin and Chris Rock opened the Academy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)


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