Whoopi and the Oscars: The Sequel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whoopi, Oscar. Oscar, Whoopi.

After David Letterman's disappointing outing as host last year, Oscar-winning actress ("Ghost") Whoopi Goldberg is returning to the podium for her second stint as emcee of the 68th annual Academy Awards tonight. Her good friend Quincy Jones, who co-produced Goldberg's first film, "The Color Purple," is producing this year's show.

Goldberg received mixed reviews from critics for her first time at bat two years ago. She also made her displeasure known during that telecast over a satirical Times Calendar piece that offered various comparisons between her and four-time former host Billy Crystal.

Though the Academy Awards are being hosted and produced by African Americans, there is one only black nominated this year. After a recent People magazine expose lamenting the lack of representation of minorities in Hollywood, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has announced he will be staging a grass-roots protest aimed at the Oscars. Goldberg, who was interviewed before Jackson's announcement, had no comment on the protest at press time.

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Question: What did you think of Letterman's hosting job last year?

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Answer: I didn't even see it because I was in transit from one job to another. . . . You don't want to sit in judgment because you know how hard it is.

Q: What was your reaction when Quincy Jones called you this year?

A: I started laughing and said, "Do they know you are asking me?" I just figured I had been either not out there enough or too out there. If you read the newspaper accounts, you are either, like, horribly, horribly bad or the best thing since sliced bread. My friends like what I did. Billy and Robin [Williams] liked what I did and that was important to me and being able to see Steven [Spielberg] get his due, you know, was pretty groovy. So that was all a positive experience. As you know I had a little altercation with your paper, which I could have done without. [She laughs.]

I thought if he felt that strongly about it, it was a good idea. Also, I feel like I am a little bit vindicated for whatever reason. I don't know if my ego is just very big, how I feel about not being asked [last year]. I was so full of work last year that it didn't have a lot of time to sink in.

It's a tough room because nobody is there to see you. It's like opening for the biggest rock 'n' roll band in the world. People don't care. They don't want to see you, they want to see the band. That is kind of what you have to know going in.

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of hosting the show?

A: The hardest thing about it is the hype before. You can only hype the movies so much because nobody knows who's going to win, so the focus then falls on the host: "What are you going to wear?" "Are you going to be irreverent?" "Why did they choose you, you're not that funny?"

Get away from me. Let me go do what my job is, which is to kick off the show that is about whether people's names are in an envelope or not. Beethoven the dog could be the host and the expectations will be the same.

Q: Will you do anything differently this time around?

A: I will try to get to it a little bit quicker, but there's not much you can do because you got to open the show and you have to make the introductions. So you got to be as witty as you can in a moment's notice or deal with something that's happened and, if you're fast enough, to comment on it and move on.

Q: Have you been told to shy away from political humor?

A: No. Actually, no one has said much of anything about what I shouldn't do. As is my way, it will all, I believe, flow together. There are movie things you can't avoid that are too much fun not to talk about. There are political things, and if you can tie them together and make them one sort of sweeping statement and get off the stage. . . .

Q: It's a real crapshoot this year because there are no real front-runners for best picture.

A: It's exciting. The idea that there are these five very, very different movies nominated, the expectation is even higher. So there will be a lot of energy, as they say here in L.A., in that room.

I hope that the people who win are ecstatic and I hope the people who don't, try again. It's never a slam if you don't win because I always say to people the idea that you are one of five in any year makes you part of a very elite club. From now until the end of your life, you are an "Academy Award nominee" or "Academy Award winner." Not everybody can have that. It's a title. So it's a no-lose situation. It's the greatest.

Q: This year, there's an African American host and producer of the Oscars. But there's only one African American Oscar nominee. What were your feelings about the recent People magazine article?

A: Yeah, I saw it. I guess my response is "And . . . ?" I have known this a long time and sort of having being called by them "the poster child of nontraditional casting," which I didn't know how to take. . . . I don't know what that means. We have always known that there are not a lot of us being seen on the big screen or the little screen. Look at the top five shows. We are not in "Friends." There are no Asian [regulars] in "Friends." There are no Puerto Ricans in "Friends." There are no black people on "Frasier." There are no black people on "Seinfeld."

Segregation, the slow segregation of the entertainment industry is only sort of re-dawning itself. People are starting to see it again. For a long time we were everywhere. But slowly, you don't see anybody. I don't know what that means. I don't know if the marketplace is demanding a throwback to another time or rather, people are just sticking to what they know.

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