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Fly on the Oscar wall

Diaz antsy? O'Toole in the pantry? Eastwood sharing tidbits? Out of lens range, they can be just like us.

February 27, 2007|Richard Rushfield | Times Staff Writer

IN the ground floor lobby of the Kodak Theatre, less than an hour before the Academy Awards are set to begin, a crowd mills and buzzes around a stationary center -- Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, with their respective posses, are separately holding court.

To a knot of young women, Diaz performs a fairly biting parody of herself, talking at a thousand words a second, gesticulating wildly. "I gotta get the ... out of this dress, that's all I know." Meanwhile, DiCaprio, clearly the cool, quiet BMOC, nods and grimaces as people whisper in his ear.

Diaz goes on to talk about her use of electric lighting and conservation thereof. "I don't turn the lights on unless I'm in the room," she says. "And even then, I turn them all the way down. It's sexy!"

Over the PA system, a 10-minute warning is called and the crowd surges up toward the balconies even as comedian Sacha Baron Cohen fights against the ascending tide to get down the stairs -- presumably heading to the good seats.

Inside the well-chilled theater, with three minutes to go, the crowd on the ground floor is still milling freely -- Diaz is working the aisles. Producer Laura Ziskin comes on stage to rally the rich and fabulous into a high-energy frenzy, screaming out "Are you ready to party?" She is met with only moderate success, even with a DJ spinning music and a dancer shimmying through the crowd during the breaks. Even worse, after being charged up by live dancing to "Sex Machine," it is all the more painful when the show comes to a crashing halt for every technical award and acceptance speech -- and for the first two hours, there are a lot of these.

After Alan Arkin's acceptance speech, it's time to head to the bar. On the way down, a lone Jackie Earle Haley, having just lost out to Arkin for the supporting actor award, is climbing the stairs. Where could he be going? Has he now been relegated to the cheap seats?

The best action at the Oscar's usually happens at the tiny George Eastman Room bar. Crowding around the TV there, we strain to hear former Vice President Al Gore and DiCaprio. Clint Eastwood enters carrying a plastic container of Kodak Theatre sushi. The crowd parts to give him a space at the bar. When "Happy Feet" wins, the unflappable Eastwood seems momentarily aroused. "George Miller, he's a great director," he says. "He's also a physician." "Really?" I ask. Eastwood nods.

The wait staff tells of Peter O'Toole wandering into the kitchen. When one of the waiters asked, "Can I help you?" he replied, "Oh, I'm just looking around" and proceeded to inspect the contents of the pantry.

At another break, Baron Cohen makes plans with his parents to rendezvous after the show. Jennifer Hudson wanders through with director Bill Condon and is immediately set upon by a string of reporters who emerge from the corners of the room.

In the bar, Cate Blanchett, Peter Sarsgaard, Maggie Gyllenhaal and, briefly, Baron Cohen are huddled in conversation. I am distressed, downright heartbroken, to hear in 20 minutes these respected thespians say not one thing remotely interesting. They discuss how to use their BlackBerrys, jet lag, pictures of kids. Celebrities, apparently, really are just like us.


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