When Neil Patrick Harris rose to a podium at the Beverly Hilton on Monday afternoon, the Oscar host promised the assembled group of Academy Award nominees, including Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey, Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Common, that at this year’s show, “everything will be hilarious.”
After a beat, Harris tried the line again. And then, pulling from his pocket a retro-style hypnosis spiral, he repeated it a third time, with an expletive for added emphasis.
On the occasion of the motion picture academy’s annual Oscar nominees luncheon, Harris took the opportunity to get the room on his side before everybody meets again in less than three weeks in front of just under a billion viewers around the world.
Attended this year by more than 150 of the 195 nominees, from little-known short-film makers to A-list stars, the luncheon was a multipurpose Hollywood event. The nominees get to bask and kibitz with academy members and colleagues without the pressure of waiting for a name to be called (or not). And for the Oscar telecast’s producers, it was a chance to enlist the group as co-conspirators in executing an entertaining, well-paced show.
Academy members will cast their votes for the Oscars between Feb. 6-17. The 87th Academy Awards will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 22.
“Last year, we didn’t have to play anybody off,” said Craig Zadan, who is producing the show for a third year in a row with partner Neil Meron.
Zadan reminded nominees that they would have just 45 seconds to accept their awards and that they should designate a speaker for groups of winners, two rules that drew some heckling and cries of “no!” from the audience.
“Don’t wing it,” Zadan warned.
When it comes to speeches, however, nominees all have their own approach. Speaking to journalists before the luncheon, lead actor nominee Michael Keaton said he would try to follow his son’s advice: “Dad, remember, you get kind of tangential. Keep it kind of focused.”
“It’s nice to be older, because you don’t care about a lot of things,” said the “Birdman” star. “You know… I’m going to say what I want to say and how I feel.”
The nominee luncheon was a capstone for many on the long, often surreal awards trail.
Laura Poitras, director of “Citizenfour,” a documentary about National Security agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden, noted that she had been sharing ballroom space with “Boyhood’s” filmmakers for months and that she had forged a friendship with that film’s supporting actress nominee, Patricia Arquette.
“They’re both movies that involved a great deal of risk,” Poitras said of the ties that bind “Citizenfour” and “Boyhood.”
Supporting actor nominee Robert Duvall seemed certain that he wouldn’t win the second Oscar of his career for his performance in “The Judge.” But the legendary 84-year-old actor had attained another goal this awards season — fitting in his suit for the first time in five years.
“I’ve been working out to keep up with the young actors,” Duvall said.
Eddie Redmayne, at 33 one of the younger nominees, seemed to be soaking up the awards experience.
When the lead actor nominee traveled recently with his Golden Globe for “The Theory of Everything,” airport security screeners zoomed in on the trophy in his bag.
“I was really hoping they would make me take it out,” Redmayne said. “And they did. That was a very special moment.”
Redmayne said he’d resolved to stay in the moment, however.
“It’s bad luck if you start overpreparing,” he said. “I never dream too far in the future.”