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Oscars '98

As Good as It Gets for Winners

Backstage: First-time honorees and old pros show gratitude, surprise and humor behind the curtain.

March 24, 1998|AMY WALLACE and ROBERT WELKOS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

For Helen Hunt it was a day--and a night--when her blossoming movie career and blooming TV career came together. Earlier in the day she announced she'll return next season for another year of her hit NBC sitcom "Mad About You." In the evening, she won best actress honors for "As Good As It Gets." Backstage, Hunt said that her movie and TV career compliment each other, noting that she currently has three movies in development with Sony and also hopes to work with director James L. Brooks again.

"I feel very lucky that I get a chance to choose," she said, noting that in the past, TV actors were virtually "blacklisted" from being considered for an Oscar. "I think [the industry] is finally changing."

Hunt said her experience making "As Good as It Gets" with Brooks, Jack Nicholson and Greg Kinnear was "thrilling and fun and brutal and hard. The movie was in search of itself the whole time. Certainly it was a one-of-a-kind experience."

Asked to compare her Oscar with the Emmys she has won, Hunt joked: "Thinner? Without wings. I don't know how to compare them. They are two projects close to my heart."

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"What a rush!" "Titanic" director James Cameron said as he arrived backstage with producer Jon Landau. His wife, Linda Hamilton, helped him carry his three Oscars. "These are heavy, by the way," Cameron said.

Asked if he felt vindicated, Cameron said, "I feel happy. Vindicated has a negative context. There's nothing negative here. This is pure bliss."

Cameron stressed the collaborative nature of filmmaking and called the movie's 11-Oscar win "really the most fulfilling moment that an artist can have."

"I feel gratified that I went into this dark place, the bottom of the sea, and I experienced something and I was able to share that experience with my cast and my crew and with everybody who worked with me. And they all picked up the flag and ran with it till they dropped and they created a movie that somehow passed the emotional baton on to the audience."

*

Best actor winner Jack Nicholson, wearing his ever-present sunglasses, put a historical spin on his latest Oscar win--his third in as many decades.

"Well, welcome to the '90s. I like a career that covers three decades," he said. "I won one in the '70s, one in the '80s and now this is the '90s. One of the things I meant to say in my speech is, if you have young children, you always wish they'd get to see you do something big, so I knew they were sitting home having a ball. They don't know the difference between this and bowling but they know dad won."

Nicholson declined to say what movie project he plans to do next: "Peaks and valleys, you know. I'll put a real tanker out there next."

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Director Stanley Donen, who stole the show by performing a song and dance when he received his honorary Academy Award for lifetime achievement, said he had been "terrified" to follow host Billy Crystal on stage.

Donen, 73, who was the choreographer of "Anchors Aweigh" and directed Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain," Fred Astaire in "Funny Face" and Cary Grant in "Charade," said: "I never considered myself a performer."

Donen said the trick to making good movies is loving them.

"You have to love the people in them because without that you'll never get to the end of it," he said.

*

The winners in the supporting actor and supporting actress categories, Robin Williams and Kim Basinger, were each taking home statuettes for the first time--and both looked stunned when they arrived backstage. A giddy Williams, who won for his role as a therapist in "Good Will Hunting," came bounding to the microphone clutching what he called his "golden dude." Immediately, he engaged reporters in his trademark stream-of-consciousness humor, mocking them for holding up numbered cards to indicate they wanted to ask him questions. First, he impersonated an auctioneer, then a telethon host, then a valet.

"Two-hundred twenty-nine, your car is here!" he yelled.

Basinger, who won for her role as a prostitute in "L.A. Confidential," said winning was "indescribable." She said she had not even thought of the possibility of taking home a statuette.

"I tried not to ever go there," she said. "Even after I got a nomination, I didn't think of that. It's been such an amazing ride just being in 'L.A. Confidential' from the Cannes film festival on."

Basinger thanked director Curtis Hanson for creating the role and for choosing her to play it. "It was his support in me that made me come along for this ride," she said.

But it was Basinger's father--whom she thanked briefly on stage--who she credited for being her first acting coach when she was a child growing up in Athens, Ga.

"I used to spend many nights on the floor with my father watching old '40s and '30s and '50s movies and [he] would question me . . . about Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston and John Huston. So, by the time I actually left [home] at age 17, I had a pretty good background in film."

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Brian Helgeland, who won an Oscar for co-writing the best adapted screenplay for "L.A. Confidential" with Curtis Hanson, also wrote "The Postman," the Kevin Costner film that was a critical and box-office disaster. Asked how it was possible that one man could have written both films, Helgeland was wry.

"It's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," he said, adding that he plans to display his Oscar on the same shelf as his "Razzie," the award given out for the worst movie of the year. "They'll be both right next to each other."

*

Young, brash and now on top of the world after winning the Oscar for best original screenplay for "Good Will Hunting," Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wished their friends back in Boston well as they cherished the moment.

"This round's on Matt," Affleck said, noting that people back at a favorite hometown bar were hoisting glasses in their honor Monday night because of their victory.

"Yeah, this round's on me," added a smiling Damon. "Send me the bill."

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