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Calendar Goes to the Oscars

Sometimes, It's Just a Matter of Being Patient

Backstage: The winners' Oscars are the same for 'Sling Blade' (written in two weeks), 'English Patient' (two years) and the 20-years-in-the-making 'Kings.'

March 25, 1997|CLAUDIA PUIG and ELAINE DUTKA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Back stage at the Oscars, the press kept a tally along with the rest of Hollywood of the number of wins for "The English Patient." Director Anthony Minghella, who won best director, acknowledging the sweep, said it would be "grumpy" of him to complain about losing the best adapted screenplay award to Billy Bob Thornton for "Sling Blade" since "English Patient" won nine Academy Awards.

"It was awful to hear that Billy Bob wrote his screenplay in two weeks," Minghella said. "It took me two years."

In the creative process, Minghella said, "English Patient" producer Saul Zaentz was the optimist to his pessimist. "I despaired not only that the movie would never get made, but since I'd only made two tiny films beforehand, that I'd get fired when I directed it.

"It was such a struggle--so little money, so many locations and it was a large complex, ambitious film. I thought no one was waiting for us at the end of the tunnel."

Zaentz denied that hiring Minghella was a leap of faith.

" 'Truly, Madly, Deeply' showed that he had a wonderful sense of structure, actors, writing and humor. . . . He had it all," Zaentz said.

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Best actor Geoffrey Rush, ("Shine") spoke out about the criticism leveled at David Helfgott's concert tour and liberties taken with his life story.

"Some of the comments were extremely unfair," Rush said. "Music critics hear things through sophisticated ears and David was offering something different from what they wanted to hear. His performance was not about musical virtuosity but about pouring out his life into the keyboard."

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When Joel and Ethan Coen, who won for best original screenplay for "Fargo," were their typical cryptic and elliptical selves with reporters backstage, best actress winner Frances McDormand (and Joel Coen's wife) joined the brothers, interjecting: "Don't try to get a straight answer out of these guys," she said. "I've been trying for 15 years."

She said she thinks her character of pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson struck a chord with viewers and academy members because, "She's good at the job and has a life as well."

The Coen brothers chose Minnesota as the film's locale because they grew up there and it is a culture they're fond of.

"I think there's something exotic about it even for Americans because it's not a common dialect like the Southern one that's heard a lot in films and plays," McDormand said.

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Cuba Gooding Jr., who would have been a front-runner for exuberant acceptance speech, said his buoyant string of thank yous was a subtle jab at what he considered a premature send-off.

"That music came in quick," Gooding said backstage.

His enthusiasm remained at high throttle when discussing his role in "Jerry Maguire."

"It was difficult because of the physicality of the role and the makeup of the character, the flamboyance of him," Gooding said.

Commenting on joining the limited ranks of African Americans who have won Oscars, Gooding said: "I want to say, 'Hi, Denzel. It feels good, brother.' My goodness, 'Hi, Sidney.' Hopefully, I'll be there some day."

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Muhammad Ali drew a standing ovation from both the audience of reporters backstage when he appeared with Leon Gast, who won for best documentary for "When We Were Kings." The documentary was more than 20 years in the making, but Gast said he is happy now for the long delay.

"I'm very happy we didn't complete it in 1976 because this would have been a very different film," said Gast. "It took 20 years for the legend, the legacy of Muhammad Ali to become what it is today."

Gast ultimately credited Ali and an even higher power with the success of the documentary: "With two men as deeply religious as Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, we have a lot of help from up there."

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Billy Bob Thornton, who won for best adapted screenplay, said he was particularly proud of winning for his solo writing effort.

"I'll probably be sticking in the same vein," said Thornton. "I'll never be writing any science-fiction pictures."

He lauded the independent filmmaking process, saying it allowed for more in-depth depictions of the South. "Commercial movies seem to only want to make movies about lynchings in the South and that's not all that's down there," Thornton said.

He said he intended to display his Oscar in a hard-to-get-to spot. "I'll be putting it where my 2- and 3-year-old can't get to it because, boy, will they get to it," Thornton said.

Asked how he maintained the hillbilly in him, the Malvern, Ark., native said: "Being a hillbilly is not something you maintain. It's something you can't help."

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Juliette Binoche, who won for best supporting actress, also said she was happy to be a representative among Oscar winners. She was the second French actress ever to win an Oscar, the other being Simone Signoret, who won for best actress in 1959 for "Room at the Top."

"Simone Signoret means a lot to me since she was one of the greatest actors ever," Binoche said. "I feel like she's a sister now."

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