Halle Berry backstage at the 83rd Academy Awards. Once backstage, the stars… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
In an era of ever-present cameras, including some newly installed backstage this year at the Kodak Theatre, there is still one moment when stars remain breathtakingly unguarded: taking their first steps holding an Academy Award.
"Where do I go? Is there any water?" were the first things Natalie Portman said after accepting her lead actress Oscar. Portman then downed a water bottle and stood giggling in the wings, staring at a monitor during Sandra Bullock's presentation of the lead actor Oscar until someone brought a chair.
"Have they told you that all the Oscar winners are coming on stage at the end of the show?" stage manager Valdez Flagg asked Portman.
"No, but I can do that," Portman said.
She was soon joined by lead actor winner Colin Firth. "You've got two hearts beating in there right now," Firth said, regarding Portman's pregnancy.
Best picture presenter Steven Spielberg joined them. "I'm kvelling. You know who's kvelling right now? George," Spielberg said, referring to Portman's "Star Wars" director George Lucas.
Earlier winners came offstage eager to get back to the theater audience to see the winners in categories in which their colleagues were nominated.
"Is there any other 'Fighter' stuff coming?" supporting actor winner Christian Bale asked the page assigned to escort him first to have archival photos taken and then give an interview to Gayle King of "Oprah." "I don't want to miss that."
"I don't want to miss Colin Firth," director Tom Hooper said when asked to head backstage after collecting his Oscar for directing. "It's really important to me. I don't want to go backstage and miss it."
"Wow, wow," said Annette Bening as she watched Hooper win on the monitor before stepping onstage to present the Governors' Award winners.
One of them, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, waited with her. "I tied it myself," he declared when complimented on his bowtie. "If all the guys who tied it themselves tonight stood up, there wouldn't be that many."
Although many stars had a phalanx of handlers backstage, 94-year-old Kirk Douglas maneuvered through the backstage maze largely independently. "Just tell me where to go and I'll go there," Douglas said to a production staffer, stopping briefly to have his collar straightened.
"Do you have any bananas on you?" Russell Brand asked stage manager Flagg as he waited outside the green room with his co-presenter, Helen Mirren, who appears with him in the upcoming remake of "Arthur."
"Are you cramping? Do you need potassium?" Mirren asked.
Within seconds, Flagg returned with bananas for them. "I'm beginning to believe in this industry," Brand said. Mirren, who ate only half of hers, was looking for a place to stash the rest. "I'm not going on stage with a banana in my hand," she said.
To those who looked for it, there was evidence of the backstage area's newly public status. Tape that read "online camera zone" marked off a high-traffic spot between the green room and stage right, where winners and presenters made their entrance, and an unobtrusive sign on the wall warned, "You're on Camera. Oscar.com cameras are recording on and around these premises."
"They're everywhere. I don't know if I like that," Scarlett Johansson said when informed by a publicist that she was stepping into a streaming camera zone.
By the end of the Oscar night, the winners, at least, were game for just about anything.
"Are we going to do a chorus number?" Bale asked when told he and the other winners would be going on stage with the PS 22 Chorus for the show's finale.
"I didn't learn any dance steps," said Melissa Leo.
But there was no time to learn as the aisle suddenly filled with dozens of trophy holders.
"OK, winners," the stage manager said, "We're going upstage. Here we go!"