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Stars become fans backstage at the Oscars

Reese Witherspoon takes a break to hear Dolly Parton sing
/ Source: The Associated Press

Backstage at the Oscars the glamour and glitz is stripped away and the human side of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars is revealed.

Prior to going before an audience of their peers — and hundreds of millions of television viewers — polished professionals look more like anxious children getting ready for a school play, nervously pacing, mouthing lines and inhaling deeply before heading into the bright lights.

Charlize Theron, no stranger to the Oscars stage, looked relieved after presenting for best documentary. Backstage, she confided to Morgan Freeman, “I was so nervous out there. Oh my God.”

Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep needed reassurance after their comedic performance, asking longtime Oscar writer Bruce Vilanch whether they were funny. Vilanch told them they were.

“Thank God I couldn’t see anything out there,” Streep said.

After winning best supporting actress for “The Constant Gardener,” Rachel Weisz, seven months pregnant, looked dazed as she came off the stage, exclaiming to no one in particular: “I’m so tripped out right now. I’m sorry, I’m not normal.”

Actor Ben Stiller arrives on stage to make the presentation for achievement in visual effects during the 78th Academy Awards Sunday, March 5, 2006, in Los Angeles.Mark J. Terrill / AP

Ben Stiller, clad in a neon green one-piece outfit, was a bundle of nervous energy before going on stage. He bounced up and down like a boxer heading to the ring for a championship fight.

Painstakingly choreographed on stage, the backstage scene at the Oscars is controlled chaos. Everyone — and nearly everything — moves. Actresses draped in diamonds walk by as tuxedoed men move enormous props into place. Trophy presenters come on and off stage, taking the Oscars from a white-gloved man (in a tuxedo, of course) who removes them from a three-tiered shelf as the winners are announced.

There are poignant scenes — like composer Gustavo Santaolalla crying onto Selma Hayek’s shoulder after winning best musical score for “Brokeback Mountain.”

And scenes bordering on the ridiculous — such as stage and film star Lauren Bacall asking whether she could take a penguin plush toy back to her seat. (The winning crew from best documentary “March of the Penguins” gave one to her.)

Big omission for best picture winnerWhen “Crash” was the surprise winner of best picture, the backstage crew let out an audible “Wow.” As they walked off the stage, producer Cathy Schulman exclaimed to director Paul Haggis, “I forgot to thank you!”

Haggis patted presenter Jack Nicholson on the shoulder, exulting “That was a good one, Jack.”

The rap group Three 6 Mafia gave the Oscar’s first performance by a hip-hop group, then won best song for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” Afterward, they bounded off stage, whooping and hollering. Observed presenter Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, “The Oscars will never be the same.”

Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks, a presenter at this year’s show, showed even he sometimes muffs his entrance. He prematurely started for the stage, prompting stage manager Dency Nelson to stop him with a gentle, “I’ll let you know when.”

The star power backstage at the Oscars can be overwhelming — even for the stars.

Reese Witherspoon, winner of best actress for her role as country singer June Carter in “Walk the Line,” was headed to the green room after making a presentation when she heard fellow Tennessean Dolly Parton begin her performance.

She rushed to a backstage monitor. A stage manager told Witherspoon she could watch from the wings. “Oh, really?” Witherspoon exclaimed excitedly, then moved to get a better view.

Witherspoon and other Oscar winners take the “winner’s walk” after getting their trophies. They exit stage left, then behind the curtains walk the width of the stage, past a table of drinks and into a velvet-lined elevator that takes them down to meet the press.

Nicole Kidman flagged down best supporting actor winner George Clooney as he was making the walk. “You have to take that,” she said, handing him the torn winner’s envelope that contained his name.