Countdown to Oscar

February 22, 2008 6:12:43 PM PST
If there's anything Hollywood loves more than the spotlight, it's a glamorous party - and it doesn't get more glamorous than the Academy Awards. As celebrities flock to Los Angeles from all over the world, the city itself is abuzz with all things Oscar. The Kodak Theatre swarms with activity as stand-ins and stars rehearse for Sunday's big show. Camera-toting tourists and film fans fill the Hollywood & Highland complex that surrounds the theater. Stylists flit about town gathering pricey jewels to bedeck the necks, earlobes, wrists and lapels of their red-carpet clients.

It all feeds the magic of one of the world's grandest pageants, the Academy Awards.

TALKING OSCAR: The 80th annual Academy Awards show promises lots of surprises and less than 3½ hours running time, producer Gil Cates said Friday as he, director Louis J. Horvitz and film academy President Sid Ganis took questions from the press about Sunday's show.

Sitting beneath a clear plastic rain tent that shielded the red carpet and its occupants from drizzly skies, Cates promised a dry Oscar day.

"I'm confident the weather is going to be OK Sunday," he said, ignoring a current forecast to the contrary.

"If it rains, it'll be good for the flowers," added Ganis, who sat beside a bucket of yellow roses.

As the trio talked about the rain tent, red-carpet show host Regis Philbin popped in to say hello and to thank Cates for inviting him to "the biggest circus in town."

"I started the red carpet segment for KABC when I worked here in the '70s and it was a big hit," Philbin said. "We just took a camera down there and the red carpet was there, Army Archerd was in the stands calling out the names of the stars and one by one they came: Richard Burton, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly. ... It was the thrill of my life."

Viewers can also expect a thrill when they tune into the Academy Awards, Cates said, which will reflect Oscar's 80-year history.

Jack Nicholson and Keri Russell have been added to the roster of A-list presenters, he said, and the telecast will open with a 90-second film "that is arguably the most exciting piece of film that has ever opened an Oscar show."

Even though the year's nominated films haven't generated big business at the box office, the three Oscar honchos said they expect fans around the world will tune in to the program - especially since the Writers Guild of America strike caused the cancellation or retooling of other Hollywood kudo-fests.

"Not only have there not been any awards shows," said Ganis, "but I think there's a good solid buzz about the strike being over (and) everybody back to work."

--- IRISH ALLIANCE: After running through his lines on the Kodak Theatre stage Friday morning, Colin Farrell joined a handful of stand-ins and other Oscar workers to watch a rehearsal of "Falling Slowly," the nominated song from the Irish indie film "Once."

Wearing a torn T-shirt topped with a vest and blazer, his shaggy hair tucked under a gray fedora, the Irish actor tapped his toes as the film's stars, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, played their original ballad.

Hansard, cradling the same beat-up acoustic guitar featured in the film, sat on a stool in front of Irglova's grand piano. The two shared a smile as the full sound of the Oscar orchestra rose up behind them.

When the song ended, Farrell bounded onto the stage to greet Hansard with a hug. Academy Awards producer Gil Cates chatted with the two Dubliners, and Farrell joked that he would "do some accent work tonight" so his Irish lilt would be show-ready.

"By Sunday I'll have the accent down," he said.

STARS IN SNEAKERS: They'll don designer tuxedoes and gowns on Sunday, but stars dressed down for weekday rehearsals at the Kodak Theatre.

Denzel Washington wore sneakers, track pants and a backward ballcap as he ran through his lines Thursday afternoon. Veteran stage manager Dency Nelson guided him through the two-minute rehearsal before sending him on his way with a friendly "See you Sunday."

A ponytailed, makeup-free Hilary Swank embodied superstar casual chic in a silky white blouse, skinny black pants and towering high heels. She stepped on stage, read through her lines and quickly disappeared into the Kodak commotion.

OSCAR NOMINATIONS EQUALS PARTY TIME: Everyone loves recognition from their peers, and actors, directors and film execs are no exception. That's why for many in Hollywood, Oscar week is party week.

Paramount Vantage toasted its nominees - best-actor favorite Daniel Day-Lewis, "There Will Be Blood" writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and "Into the Wild" supporting actor Hal Holbrook, among others - with a private dinner-and-drinks soiree Thursday night at the week-old STK restaurant in West Hollywood.

John C. Reilly, Sissy Spacek, Maya Rudolph and celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins joined the nominated guests, nibbling on tuna tartare, mini steak sandwiches and oversized french fries.

Day-Lewis, wearing a tan leather jacket and a woven fedora, was all smiles as he shook hands with fans.

Fox Searchlight was set to fete its nominees - including "Juno" director Jason Reitman, screenwriter Diablo Cody and star Ellen Page - with a dinner Friday at the same new hotspot. The festivities continue Saturday with Jeffrey Katzenberg's annual "Night Before" party, which benefits the Motion Picture & Television Fund and typically draws an A-list crowd.

BRING ON THE BLING: The red carpet wouldn't be complete without oodles of jewels, and stars and stylists have their pick of the bling during Oscar time.

Costume designer and sometime stylist Sophie de Rakoff stopped by Neil Lane's jewelry showroom in Beverly Hills on Thursday afternoon to select diamonds for Maya Rudolph, who was set to accompany her longtime partner, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, to Sunday's ceremony.

"The jewelry is as important as the dress," said de Rakoff, who picked out three possible pairs of earrings and a set of stackable diamond bangles.

Rudolph will choose from 20-karat leaf-shaped dangles, 20-karat chandeliers and 15-karat teardrop-shaped earrings. Average price: $45,000 a pair.

In Hollywood's golden age, actresses wore their own jewelry to events, Lane said. But Rudolph, like most red-carpet beauties, is borrowing the pricey gems.

"A star could not buy enough jewelry to accessorize every red carpet she does," Lane said. "Now because everything is a fashion statement, everything is an accessory to be looked at. Every detail is looked at. If she wore that (piece) last time, she'd get ridiculed."

De Rakoff, whose costume-design credits include "Legally Blonde," "Sweet Home Alabama" and "All About the Benjamins," considers Lane her go-to diamond guy.

"In Hollywood," the jeweler said, "it's all about relationships."