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Backstage at the Oscars: Gaga's tears, Spike's posse and Melissa's crazy bunny dress

Backstage at the Oscars: Gaga's tears, Spike's posse and Melissa's crazy bunny dress
Lady Gaga backstage after "Shallow" won the Academy Award for best song. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Times had a backstage pass at the Academy Awards, a crossroads of A-listers as Hollywood celebrated the year’s best in movies. We collected dispatches from the stage all night, reporting what you didn’t see on TV.

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As Adam Lambert and Queen opened the telecast, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler headed to the wings to present the first award. Rudolph sang and danced along as "We Are the Champions" rang out, and eventually the script on the backstage TelePrompTer offered Fey's opening remarks: “Good evening, and welcome to the one-millionth Academy Awards.”

And with all that, the night was off and running. Here’s our diary of what happened behind the scenes, the 91st Academy Awards in rewind.

Maya Rudolph, from left, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler backstage during the Academy Awards.
Maya Rudolph, from left, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler backstage during the Academy Awards. (Matt Petit / AFP / Getty Images)

8:17 p.m.

The Oscars promptly wrapped, only 17 minutes over the three-hour target. As “Green Book” cast and filmmakers made their way backstage to celebrate, star Mahershala Ali walked arm in arm with director Peter Farrelly.

Actress Linda Cardellini beamed as the group headed to the photo area, and, en route, a passing Gillian Welch extended quick congrats to co-writer Nick Vallelonga.

Producer Octavia Spencer marveled, “This is crazy and exciting.” But she had another urgent matter, one overheard frequently backstage at the Oscars: “I've got to go get my purse!”

8:04 p.m.

“Who has this woman by the hand?” asked Frances McDormand after presenting the lead actress award with Sam Rockwell to Olivia Colman of “The Favourite.” McDormand appointed herself the winner’s de facto handler as soon as they exited the stage.

McDormand was in this surreal position herself last year, after all, winning for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Wearing a mauve gown and sensibly flat green sandals, McDormand waited for a stunned and glowing Colman to depart the stage holding her Oscar. McDormand then promptly grabbed the long, flowing sash of Colman's dress bow and held it to prevent it from dragging.

Rockwell, meanwhile, was about to be ushered back to the theater when he made one final request: “Can I get a tequila first?”

Photojournalist Al Seib has been covering the Oscars for 33 years.  Watch L.A. Times Today on Spectrum News 1, Monday-Friday at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.

8:04 p.m.

“Who has this woman by the hand?” asked Frances McDormand after presenting the lead actress award with Sam Rockwell to Olivia Colman of “The Favourite.” McDormand appointed herself the winner’s de facto handler as soon as they exited the stage.

McDormand was in this surreal position herself last year, after all, winning for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

Wearing a mauve gown and sensibly flat green sandals, McDormand waited for a stunned and glowing Colman to depart the stage holding her Oscar. McDormand then promptly grabbed the long, flowing sash of Colman's dress bow and held it to prevent it from dragging.

Rockwell, meanwhile, was about to be ushered back to the theater when he made one final request: “Can I get a tequila first?”

Frances McDormand lends lead actress winner Olivia Colman a hand as they walk offstage with Sam Rockwell.
Frances McDormand lends lead actress winner Olivia Colman a hand as they walk offstage with Sam Rockwell. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

7:25 p.m.

Lady Gaga stepped off the stage after winning her first Oscar for “Shallow” with her eyes still wet with tears.

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A helper dabbed them away with tissues as a flurry of flashbulbs tracked her and her co-winners.

“I need a drink!” she said to the champagne-less room.

“She's so Audrey Hepburn,” whispered one admirer as Gaga glided away.

7:17 p.m.

When Spike Lee won his Academy Award for adapted screenplay, the backstage winners’ area came alive.

Holding his Oscar in one hand and the pages of his speech notes in the other, the “BlacKkKlansman” filmmaker was all smiles, posing for photographers before turning his head to shout: “Sam! Where are you?”

He pulled in presenter Samuel L. Jackson for a celebratory pic. Jackson, in turn, brought his “Captain Marvel” costar and co-presenter Brie Larson with him.

Lee strode ahead, and Larson called out to screenwriters David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott (who shared the Oscar with Lee and Charlie Wachtel).

“Congrats, guys, you're going to end in your own trip tonight,” said Larson, who won lead actress for the 2015 film “Room.”

“Take your time, and enjoy the moment. It won't make sense for a long time.”

Spike Lee after winning the adapted screenplay Oscar. Co-writer Charlie Wachtel is at right.
Spike Lee after winning the adapted screenplay Oscar. Co-writer Charlie Wachtel is at right. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

7 p.m.

Midshow, the line stretched for the two lone restrooms backstage as all that champagne caught up with people. While one starlet bravely went in solo to navigate her architectural gown sans help, an A-list couple claimed the second one — together.

Barbra Streisand, in sparkling black sequins, strolled coolly out of the celebs-only green room, sneaking out a canapé in a napkin and munching on it as she walked back toward the theater.

As the opening notes of “Shallow” cued Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga to take the stage to perform their hit from “A Star Is Born,” others crowded around screens.

Sarah Paulson and Paul Rudd paused to listen, while on-deck presenters Kiki Layne and Krysten Ritter stood in front of the main monitors, glued to the screens.

"I'm gonna cry!" one crew member exclaimed, and she wasn't alone. As Gaga and Cooper serenaded each across a piano, the two performers made the backstage population weepy.

6:31 p.m.

As the elated team behind “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” crew made its way backstage toting the statuette for animated feature, star Shameik Moore hugged his directors and shook hands with presenter Pharrell Williams, who offered encouraging words.

Someone extended a shiny Oscar statuette toward “Spider-Verse” producer Amy Pascal, who nodded, “I know! It's so cute!”

A bedazzled, suit-sporting Awkwafina along with co-presenter John Mulaney hugged “Spider-Verse” co-director Peter Ramsey as producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller beamed.

5:45 p.m.

Winning the cinematography award for “Roma,” Alfonso Cuarón made his heartfelt thanks onstage — “Thank you Mexico, and thank you, my family” — then walked offstage beaming.

“Que bonita” (“How beautiful”) Cuarón exclaimed, hugging presenters Angela Bassett and Javier Bardem. As the three made their way toward a hallway, Bardem turned to Bassett: “Angela, it's been a pleasure.”

Alfonso Cuaron with Angela Bassett.
Alfonso Cuaron with Angela Bassett. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

5:40 p.m.

Cheers rang out backstage for “Black Panther” production designer Hannah Beachler, who joined costume designer Ruth Carter in making history, taking home the Marvel blockbuster's second Oscar of the night.

After delivering a moving speech onstage, Beachler raised her Oscar in triumph as she made her way behind the curtain, pumping it in the air.

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Meanwhile, after completing presenter duties with Chris Evans, Jennifer Lopez was the first savvy celeb to sneak out a snack plate as they headed back to their seats inside the snack-less Dolby. Said JLo: “Just a little bit!”

"Black Panther" production designer Hannah Beachler, the first African American woman to win in her category, holds her statuette aloft as J. Lo looks on.
"Black Panther" production designer Hannah Beachler, the first African American woman to win in her category, holds her statuette aloft as J. Lo looks on. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

About 5:30 p.m.

"We did it!" said Carter, red envelope in hand from her win for costume design. Turning to the backstage thank-you cam, she added something she didn't have a chance to say onstage.

“To young people, I hope Black Panther and this statue inspires you to see in yourself something bigger,” she said.

A stagehand affixed a golden microphone to a stand, preparing it for Jennifer Hudson. She waited backstage and as two helpers held the train of her black evening cape — the stunner that would envelop the Oscars stage minutes later.

5:19 p.m.

Best documentary presenter Jason Momoa exited the stage screaming in excitement for the “Free Solo” documentary feature winners, excitedly Momoa-bombing directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai-Vasarhelyi as they tearily addressed the backstage thank-you cam.

Momoa was so amped for the documentarians, he stuck around backstage to take photos and selfies with the filmmakers as they raised their trophies in triumph.

5:09 p.m.

As best supporting actress was being announced, a stagehand entered the wings, clearing a path: "Train coming!"

With a sly grin on her face, costume design co-presenter Melissa McCarthy swept in wearing a “The Favourite”-themed gown featuring stuffed bunnies, followed by seven helpers carrying the train of her dress.

After winning best supporting actress, Regina King made her way backstage. "Oh lord ... I'm taking this in," she said, clutching her Oscar.

Melissa McCarthy gets prepped for her entrance in a royal gown adorned with plush rabbits and hand puppets.
Melissa McCarthy gets prepped for her entrance in a royal gown adorned with plush rabbits and hand puppets. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

5:04 p.m.

After performing their "Bohemian Rhapsody" set, Lambert and Queen came offstage with huge grins, passing the one person here wearing a Very Serious Expression: the accountant standing stage right with stack of red envelopes in hand, tasked with making sure there's no repeat of the 2017 “La La Land”-”Moonlight” mistake.

Adam Lambert opens the Academy Awards on Sundayin the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.
Adam Lambert opens the Academy Awards on Sundayin the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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