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Inside the Oscars rehearsals and the wild cards still in play for tonight

Inside the Oscars rehearsals and the wild cards still in play for tonight
Pharrell Williams, left, and Michelle Yeoh walk onstage during Saturday rehearsals in the Dolby Theater as preparations continue for the 91st Oscars show Sunday. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Lady Gaga wasn’t on hand to practice her Oscars acceptance speech, but an eager stand-in was happy to oblige when her name was called during rehearsals for the biggest night in Hollywood.

“I’m this much closer to my EGOT,” channeled the lucky woman, delivering an uncannily enthusiastic mock speech a day before the 91st Academy Awards — the better to aide production crews in practicing every camera move, reaction shot, and transition for Sunday’s live telecast.

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Even the stand-ins have the breathlessness of awards season down pat. “It was a pleasure working with me!” she exclaimed to another actor, both clutching faux statuettes, before exiting stage right.

The statuettes weren’t real on Oscars rehearsal day, and neither were the “winners” whose names were pulled out of white rehearsal envelopes by real presenters including Awkwafina, Daniel Craig and Charlize Theron.

But with just 24 hours to go, any verisimilitude helps. As celebrity presenters arrive to learn their lines, hit their marks, and practice, practice, practice in front of a nearly-empty auditorium, only crew, a few journalists and stand-ins are allowed inside the Dolby Theatre, where seats marked with printed placards bear the faces and names of A-list attendees and nominees.

Serena Williams amid Oscar statues onstage in the Dolby Theater during Saturday rehearsals.
Serena Williams amid Oscar statues onstage in the Dolby Theater during Saturday rehearsals. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Exactly which categories they’ll present and what they’ll say is kept tightly under wraps from the public, per Academy rules.

Stephan James, star of “If Beale Street Could Talk,” was missing his presenting partner — “Eighth Grade’s” Elsie Fisher, who was attending Film Independent’s Spirit Awards in Santa Monica — as he breezed through, kicking off Saturday’s rehearsals.

The rehearsals are a casual affair, but some of the female presenters wear sky-high heels to help the cameras adjust for onscreen height. Angela Bassett paired hers with a blue tracksuit as she ran through a bilingual presentation with Javier Bardem, who grabbed the microphone stand like a rock star to demonstrate what he’ll not be doing during the show.

Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson appear during rehearsals Saturday.
Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson appear during rehearsals Saturday. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph powered their way to the front of the dazzling Oscars stage, bantering along the way. All three peered at their lines from a teleprompter as they delivered a lightning-quick bit, and Rudolph practiced opening an envelope: “And the Oscar goes to … Amy Poehler!”

Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson followed, joking and smiling after finishing a week of press for their upcoming superhero flick “Captain Marvel,” and former “Saturday Night Live” duo Mike Myers and Dana Carvey reunited to tease the throwback you can expect to see Sunday night (hint: it has to do with Wayne, Garth and their favorite headbanging tune).

Mike Myers and Dana Carvey rehearse for the 2019 Oscars.
Mike Myers and Dana Carvey rehearse for the 2019 Oscars. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Tennis pro Serena Williams arrived hand-in-hand with 17-month-old daughter Olympia to practice introducing best picture nominee “A Star Is Born,” twirling into the wings with a grin after running through it twice. It was Olympia who stole the show, clapping adorably for her mother as the auditorium cooed.

Also stopping by were Constance Wu, Tom Morello, Michelle Yeoh, Pharrell Williams, Kacey Musgraves and James McAvoy, who hyped up onlookers with co-presenter Danai Gurira and busted an energetic array of dance moves during his brief visit to the stage.

Crews switched through a variety of breathtaking sets by designer David Korins featuring ethereal lighting, thousands of red roses and dazzling Swarovski crystals.

Although Lady Gaga will sing it herself Sunday — along with Bradley Cooper, in a show that kicks off with a set by Queen — one presenter with powerful lungs mimicked the now-ubiquitous “Ahhh-aaahh” of Gaga’s signature “A Star Is Born” tune, sending the invocations of best song nominee “Shallow” ringing through the Dolby.

In a show that’s seen extraordinary public scrutiny and strife for Oscars producers Glenn Weiss and Donna Gigliotti, who are aiming for a brisk three-hour runtime, there might still be room for some surprises.

Stage manager Gary Natoli, right, assists Pharrell Williams and Michelle Yeoh as they walk offstage.
Stage manager Gary Natoli, right, assists Pharrell Williams and Michelle Yeoh as they walk offstage. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Joining comedic forces, Awkwafina and John Mulaney took an extra moment to coordinate their approach to the microphone from opposite ends of the stage. “What should we do?” she asked before settling on a mid-stage hug.

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Trevor Noah, in a pale pink hoodie and sweatpants, earned the biggest rehearsal laugh with a “Black Panther” joke that might have some viewers calling for him to host next year — if, that is, the Academy doesn’t start a new tradition with the hostless format.

And as presenter Queen Latifah ran through her script onstage, Keegan-Michael Key walked through the theater carrying a Tom Ford suit bag.

Minutes later, he could be seen strapping into a harness attached to cables hanging from the Dolby ceiling — which is when reporters were ushered out, left to learn what happens by tuning in Sunday night with the rest of the world.

This close to showtime, even some high-profile attendees of Sunday’s Oscars seemingly remain wild cards for producers; nominees Kendrick Lamar and SZA, who were reportedly unavailable to perform their Oscar nominated “Black Panther” song “All the Stars” on the telecast, nonetheless had seat placeholders saved for them in the audience at the Dolby during rehearsals — just in case?

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