Calender Goes to the Oscars : Backstage : As 'Gump' Might Have Said, Oscars Happen

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Backstage at the Shrine Auditorium Monday night, it wasn't difficult to note the difference between this year's best actor winner and last year's honoree.

In 1994, Tom Hanks had won for his poignant portrayal of an AIDS victim in "Philadelphia." His moving acceptance speech helped establish the mood as he met the press.

This year, following his second consecutive best actor Academy Award, Hanks was more lighthearted--an appropriate spirit for the actor who played "Forrest Gump."

"It's an odd feeling, beyond comprehension. . . . I'll be playing handball with Spencer Tracy tomorrow afternoon and will ask him how he handled the pressure," quipped the actor, referring to the only actor to accomplish consecutive wins in the category.

Unlike last year, when his role in "Philadelphia" spoke to all gay men dying of complications from AIDS, Hanks said his character in "Gump" doesn't represent a specific constituency.

"I'm not going to get involved in cheesy proselytizing, standing up and telling people to respect their mom or not to tell lies," he said. "Billions of people around the globe have seen the movie, turning it into a bizarre juggernaut . . . and each has his or her own interpretation, which I don't want to discount."

Getting up to accept an award a second time doesn't make it any easier, Hanks admitted. "I never get through these moments without my lower lip quivering," he said. "It's a personal moment played out in front of 3 billion people."

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Robert Zemeckis, whose "Forrest Gump" was the big winner of the night, provided a realistic glimpse of the creative process. "Making movies is time consuming . . . like watching paint dry," he said. "Though Gump was difficult to make logistically, it was the most joyous experience I've had."

What might Gump say about the fabulous success of the movie? "Miracles happen every day," the director said after a pause. "Some people don't think so . . . but they do."

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Elton John and Tim Rice, co-winners for the best original song, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" from Disney's "The Lion King," maintained that the leap from their past work to an animated feature was smaller than one would suppose.

"I like to think that I'm a quiet, little closet rocker," said Rice, who made his name as the lyricist for Andrew Lloyd Webber before hooking up with rock 'n' roller John.

" 'Jesus Christ Superstar' was a bit of a rocker in its day. My heart is in rock and roll more than the theater . . . though the cinema is my favorite of all."

John explained that, as a musician, he writes for all groups of people. "I now get accosted at airports by 6-year-olds," he said. "And my back catalogue sales are better than ever now that 'Lion King' is a huge hit."

Did John think that the best one of the three nominated songs won out? "It was the biggest hit," he replied. "We would have been knocked sideways if 'Hakuna Mattata' got it."

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Jessica Lange, winner of the best actress award for her work in "Blue Sky," said the role was more satisfying than her Academy Award winning performance in "Tootsie."

"Tootsie was a wonderful character, but at the same time it didn't demand as much of me in the part."

Still, Lange admitted, the business can be a rough one. "When I first started working, I worried about being taken seriously. Then, when I started being taken seriously, I started worrying about my looks. So it's always a struggle."

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Best supporting actress Dianne Wiest, who won for her work in Woody Allen's "Bullets Over Broadway," was asked if she would turn this Oscar--and the one she won previously for the director's "Hannah and Her Sisters"--into bookends. "I'm going to make them into earrings," quipped the actress.

Commenting on the difference between winning an Independent Spirit Award given out by the Independent Feature Project on Saturday and the Oscar Monday night, she said: "The Spirit Awards are great fun but this (statuette) has a gravity, a sense of occasion. When I hold it up, I have a better chance of my kids listening to me."

Confirming reports that she was ready to give up playing the diva deluxe after viewing some early footage, Wiest credited Allen with turning the performance around. "Woody guessed that it had to do with my voice, that I couldn't do that outrageous woman. If I lowered it, he suggested, I could be as obnoxious as anyone else."

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Best supporting actor winner Martin Landau, who played the role of screen horror legend Bela Lugosi in the quirky "Ed Wood," said the award was "an homage and a love letter to that actor and all actors who have fallen through the cracks."

The actor said he had recently opened a fortune cookie forecasting that he'd receive a high prize or award, and many considered him this year's Oscar front-runner. But his failure to walk away with an Oscar for "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Tucker" made him realistic.

"I've been here twice before and there are no guarantees," Landau said. "Many people saw 'Forrest Gump' and 'Pulp Fiction' and my question was how many academy members saw 'Ed Wood.' We're talking about a motion picture that didn't gross even $6 million domestically. They said I was a shoo-in for the other movies and I left (empty-handed)."

The veteran actor credited director Tim Burton with knowing he could play the part even before Landau did. " 'If anyone understands this character,' (Burton) said, 'you do.' "

"It was a complicated difficult role . . . a Hungarian morphine addict, 74 years old, with mood swings--and Bela Lugosi on top of it all," the actor recalled. "In a way, the film is more current now than it would have been 20 years ago since young people can go into cassette stores and watch his movies on cable."

Jack Nicholson, a former acting student of Landau's, sent him champagne earlier Monday. Asked about his mentor's on-stage acceptance Monday, he flashed the trademark Nicholson smile: "It was the shortest speech he ever gave."

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Decked out in a gown consisting of 254 American Express Gold Cards--all in her own name (and purportedly valid)--Lizzy Gardiner, co-winner with Tim Chappel of the costume design award for "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," was asked what she was wearing under the outfit.

"A smile . . . and a lot of credit," cracked Chappel. "We were going to make it out of seafood but it wouldn't last the night."

Did the outrageousness of the movie, about two transsexuals and a cross-dresser on the Australian Outback, give them an edge over competitors working on more conventional fare? "The premise of the film was to go for it . . . so we did," Chappel said.

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Producer-composer Quincy Jones, winner of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, maintained that this honor was much more meaningful than the seven Oscar nominations he has received over the years.

"I'd much rather get an Oscar for what I am than for what I do," said Jones, who noted that his social commitment goes back to 1954--long before the global media event, "We Are the World."

Any advice to the younger generation?

"I'd tell them to think about getting better before getting over--going after success, money, fame," he said. "Do it for love first . . . get paid later."

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