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Clooney ribs Cheney at Oscar lunch

Nominated actor jokes that the vice president invited him to go hunting
/ Source: Reuters

George Clooney, tongue firmly in cheek, said he wanted Vice President Dick Cheney to be his date at the Oscars. And Felicity Huffman said she was happy just to be going as a nominee and not a seat filler or part of the catering team.

“I turn to my husband [actor William H. Macy] several times a day and say, ‘Hey, I  forgot to tell you something. I am going to the Academy Awards,” Huffman, nominated for playing a man on the verge of becoming a woman in “Transamerica,” confided to reporters Monday.

The occasion was the 25th annual luncheon for Oscar contenders — the one day on the Hollywood calendar when an actor who commands $20 million a picture is equal to a sound mixer who earns nowhere near that amount.

All they need to attend, and break bread with each other, is one hard-to-get ticket — a nomination.

“This is fun. ... This is the golden time,” said Clooney, who is nominated in three categories: best supporting actor in “Syriana,” best director for “Good Night, and Good Luck” and best original screenplay for co-writing the drama about newsman Edward R. Murrow’s 1950s confrontation with Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Known as one of Hollywood’s most stalwart liberals, Clooney drew a laugh at a pre-lunch press conference when he said, “I am bringing Dick Cheney as my date. He was so nice. He called me and invited me to go hunting.”

The hunting reference was to Cheney’s accidental shooting of a companion during a quail-hunting party over the weekend.

On a serious note, Clooney added, “I don’t really feel like I am going to win. I just like the idea of showing up.”

A total of 116 nominees showed up for lunch with another four stranded by a snowstorm in New York that closed that city’s airports.

They feasted on “surf and turf,” sea bass and fillet, traded gossip and posed for a group photograph in which Joaquin Phoenix, nominated for best actor playing singer Johnny Cash in ”Walk The Line,” almost stumbled into a giant Oscar statue when it came his turn to accept a nomination certificate and Oscar shirt.

Attendees, including such Hollywood luminaries as Clooney, director Steven Spielberg and past Oscar Winner Charlize Theron, listened intently as Academy Awards telecast producer Gil Cates delivered his traditional warning to winners to keep their speeches short and sweet.

“Who says an acceptance speech should be about gratitude,” he growled, warning people to thank as few as possible.

He also served notice: “You pull out a piece of paper and the next thing you will hear is a very large orchestra.”

The Oscars, which this year will be presented March 5, are traditionally a long-winded affair, known for rambling thank-yous and the occasional speech notable for its brevity.

One of the most famous in the latter category was when Alfred Hitchcock ambled onto the stage to accept a special honorary Oscar — he never won for one of his films — and said said a simple “Thank you,” before departing.