Inside the Dolby Theatre as stars rehearse for the Oscars

Inside the show
Kerry Washington, who will be a presenter on Sunday, rehearses an Oscar handoff with stand-in Reginald Thornton.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Among the many rituals of Oscar week — the tuxedo fitting, the speech writing, the red carpet unfurling — perhaps the most coolly efficient is Oscar rehearsals.

That’s what the stars have been doing at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood since Wednesday, in preparation for Sunday’s Academy Awards.

Even as the Los Angeles Police Department shut down streets and deployed a bomb-defusing robot on a suspicious vehicle steps from the theater on Highland Avenue on Thursday afternoon (police determined there was no threat), the show-before-the show went on, with first-time Oscar host Neil Patrick Harris running through a musical number on the Dolby stage.

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Presenters including Scarlett Johansson, Kerry Washington, Miles Teller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Dakota Johnson made the pilgrimage to Hollywood & Highland to practice their teleprompter readings, walk in their Oscar night shoes and work out their trophy handling techniques. (If that all sounds easy to you, just ask Adele Dazeem about it.)

Musical performers Lady Gaga, Tegan and Sara and Tim McGraw also rehearsed for Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the camera crew for the ABC telecast and a group of rehearsal actors hired to deliver faux speeches and reaction faces.

The importance of a regimented practice schedule may not be self-evident, especially since some of last year’s most memorable moments — John Travolta mispronouncing the name of singer Idina Menzel, Bradley Cooper leaping out of his seat to help host Ellen DeGeneres take a selfie — unfolded spontaneously.

Zadan and Meron have said they’re hoping for more of those kinds of moments this year, but to enable them, they need a show that runs like a well-oiled machine.


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By the time practice ends Saturday evening, presenters and performers, including Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Channing Tatum, Chris Pratt, Kevin Hart, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy, Cate Blanchett and John Travolta, are expected to have passed through the Dolby.

Washington, who arrived Wednesday evening in blue jeans and flats with a pair of strappy heels for Sunday’s show in hand, followed stage manager Gary Natoli’s guidance to direct her eyes to a Steadicam operator.

“Oh, it’s to the Steadi? It’ll still feel like I’m projecting out, right?” Washington asked, sweeping her arms to indicate the audience inside the theater.

As a rehearsal actor delivered a very believable acceptance speech, he referenced Washington’s character from “Scandal,” earning a smile from the actress — “Wow, I just got kissed by Olivia Pope!” the rehearsal actor said.

Johansson, in black jeans and clogs with a punk-rock-style shaved haircut, delivered a long introduction in her signature husky voice, gesturing, à la Vanna White, toward stage left.

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“Wow, that was fantastic!” director Hamish Hamilton boomed over a PA system as Johansson nailed her delivery on the first try. “Thank you very much!”


“I guess I’ll go now,” Johansson said with a smile and a shrug. “Buh-bye.”

When Teller, also casually dressed in jeans and a sweater, took the microphone, the “Whiplash” star gazed out over the Dolby audience, where the seats held giant, cardboard placards with the stars’ faces on them. Looking out over cardboard Meryl Streep and Bradley Cooper, Teller exhaled. “I’m just soaking it all in, man,” he said.

As the celebrities breezed through, a team of stage managers served as talent traffic control, speaking into headsets. “And we’re walking” means, “I’m bringing that famous person you’re waiting for to the stage” and “She needs to start singing by 6:15" means, “Hurry up, Lady Gaga is here.”

In the stage right wings the six aspiring filmmakers known as Team Oscar practiced for one of Sunday’s crucial jobs, delivering the Oscar statuettes to the presenters. The group, ranging in age from 18 to 23, won their gigs by submitting 60-second videos to an academy contest.

Beside them, dancers in sweatpants trooped through the wings carrying props for Harris’ musical number, and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs waited to rehearse her Oscar night speech.

Behind the stage, workers in blue medical booties dusted the floor of the Architectural Digest greenroom, a “Mad Men"-esque lounge with a boomerang-shaped couch and a giant LED screen flashing views of L.A., where presenters will catch their breath and settle their nerves on Oscar night.

Next to the greenroom is a curtained area which on Oscar night will be devoted to “last looks”: a process of fixing lipstick, mending torn hems, straightening bow ties. A man emerged from behind the curtain carrying one high heel. “I got it!” he shouted, to no one in particular.

Outside the theater, drills hummed and skip-loaders beeped as construction crews assembled the red carpet along Hollywood Boulevard and placed giant gold Oscar statues in the atrium of the Dolby.


Despite the police activity unfolding outside the mall, most visitors seemed oblivious.

As a young woman lined up a selfie in front of the Louis Vuitton store, a security worker stepped in. “You want me to take a picture of you with Oscar?” the worker asked.


‘The Oscars’

Where: ABC

When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14-DLV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence)

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