Feature: Oscar nominees do lunch

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  March 10, 2003 at 8:12 PM
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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., March 10 (UPI) -- While publicists and studios waged campaigns on behalf of clients and stars, Oscar nominees shared pleasant chats over lunch Monday in Beverly Hills, Calif.

An estimated 100 nominees gathered at the Beverly Hilton Hotel for the traditional nominees luncheon -- a chance to swap awards season stories and enjoy what more than one nominee has described as "just the privilege" of having been nominated for Hollywood's top prize.

Christopher Walken -- who won the Screen Actors Guild Award Sunday for supporting actor for "Catch Me If You Can" -- described the acting community as tribal, almost primitive. He offered an interesting, if extreme, suggesting for the décor at next year's SAG Awards.

"They should build a bonfire and all dance around it," he told reporters at the Oscar nominees' luncheon.

Walken -- who won the Supporting Actor Oscar for "The Deer Hunter" in 1978 -- agreed with an observation that many critics have made about 2002, that there was an unusually generous allotment of first-rate acting performances.

"Every year is terrific," he said, "but this year was really strong."

Julianne Moore agreed with Walken about the quality of performances in 2002.

"The performances are just remarkable," she said, "astonishing."

Even though there were plenty of strong performances to choose from, academy voters rewarded Moore with two Oscar nominations. She is up for Best Actress for her performance as a 1950s housewife in "Far From Heaven," and for Supporting Actress for her work as a 1950s housewife in "The Hours."

Moore said that, believe it or not, there is a downside to getting two Oscar nominations in the same year.

"You can be a two-time loser," she said.

Nicolas Cage, on the other hand, got only one Best Actor nomination -- even though he played two characters, twin brothers, in "Adaptation." One was the angst-ridden, borderline antisocial Charlie Kaufman, who agonizes over a difficult screenwriting assignment. The other twin, Donald, was good-time Charlie, who writes a screenplay for a lark and has a success without even trying.

At the nominees' luncheon Monday, Cage was asked which one the nomination was for.

"When people say they like Donald more I get a little jealous," said Cage, "so I guess it's for Charlie."

Cage -- who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1995 for "Leaving Las Vegas" -- said playing twins was an acting challenge he's glad he took on, but not one he'll ever take on again.

"I just want to be one character per movie from now on," he said.

Oscars telecast producer Gilbert Cates attended the luncheon to speak with the nominees about acceptance speeches.

Winners are allotted 45 seconds at the microphone, and Cates said he hoped they would use it wisely, and maybe creatively.

"Doesn't it make your heart sink?" he said. "You see someone pull out a piece of paper and you want to blow your brains out."

However, Cates promised producers would not try to control what the winners say.

"It's their 45 seconds," he said. "And it's a free country."

Apart from the question of political speech on Oscar night, the question also came up Monday -- should the academy even go on with the show on March 23 if the United States is at war?

"Yeah, I think they should still hold the ceremony," said Supporting Actor nominee Ed Harris ("The Hours").

"I hope so," said Supporting Actress nominee Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Chicago"). "The movie industry has been going steadfast through all the difficulties in the last century. Not that people should forget, but it's a great escape and it's important to keep that morale up."

Best Actor nominee Daniel Day-Lewis ("Gangs of New York") said it would be a difficult balancing act for Hollywood to celebrate itself against a backdrop of war.

"If we do choose to celebrate, we've got to do that in a way that is respectful," he said. "It would be unseemly for us to dance up the red carpet while people are dying."

Day-Lewis -- who won for Best Actor for "My Left Foot" in 1989 -- said he wasn't sure it could be done properly.

Best Actress nominee Nicole Kidman ("The Hours") said she was of two minds on the question.

"You need to continue on," she said, "but it would feel very strange to show up. As everyone is saying, we wait and we see."

Queen Latifah, up for Best Supporting Actress for "Chicago," is the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. She said U.S. servicemen and women who have to say goodbye to their families and travel to the Middle East are more important than the Oscars.

"America is America and it takes precedence over everything," she said. "(But) we don't want to sit there and cry all day. Maybe (going on with the show) might be the break that people need."

As a rule, though, the luncheon is conventionally a time for nominees to share some fellowship, meet and greet and -- in the case of newcomers to the routine -- maybe get some advice from veterans on handling the roller coaster ride that comes with being nominated.

Salma Hayek, a first-time nominee for "Frida," said her boyfriend -- Oscar-nominated actor Ed Norton -- didn't have much advise for her.

"I don't know what advice there is," she said. "Just to get on the ride and go. And go, 'Whooo!' on the good parts."

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