Most of the action on the Oscar stage is choreographed and rehearsed. Backstage is another story. In the wings of the Kodak Theatre, stars grapple with nerves, have impromptu meetings with colleagues and make last-minute adjustments to their hair and makeup. Presenters and performers mingle with brand-new Oscar winners while dodging props and cameramen.
What you see on TV is Hollywood magic. Backstage is like a home movie, where everybody knows each other and they're all excited about putting on a show.
As Marion Cotillard stepped offstage with the best-actress Oscar for La Vie En Rose, Forest Whitaker enveloped her in a hug that lasted at least a minute.
Then they looked at each other and laughed.
"I'm shaking, like wow," the French actress trembled. Stopping by the backstage "thank you" cam, she expressed her gratitude in French and studied her Oscar.
"I'm shaking so much I think I can't talk," she said. Whitaker led her arm-in-arm behind the stage on the winner's walk.
"This is huge, this is huge," she gushed as backstage workers applauded.
At a stop for a makeup touch up she tried to breathe deeply. "This is crazy, this is totally crazy. Ooh la la la la! It's totally surreal," she said.
Tilda Swinton was so stunned by her win for supporting actress in "Michael Clayton" that she could only keep repeating "wow, wow" as she walked offstage.
Presenter Alan Arkin chased her with the winner's envelope. "Oh yes, this is the proof," Swinton said, leaving arm-in-arm with Arkin.
Jitters: Katherine Heigl wasn't kidding when she told the Oscar audience she was nervous.
Behind the scenes, a stagehand asked if she was OK. "I just need a cigarette," she said, bumming one from a security guard and heading out to a loading dock. Cameron Diaz also had a bad moment when she couldn't quite say the word "cinematography" on stage, and she was slow to recover from the flub afterward.
"I couldn't say my category," Diaz said to Amy Adams. "You did great," Adams reassured.
Later in the evening, Diaz confessed her mistake again to Jennifer Garner.
"It made you charming," Garner soothed. "It made you cuter, like the world didn't know you were cute."
No business like shoe business:
Adjusting her dress as she stepped into the theater wings and prepared to take the stage, Jennifer Garner confessed to the stage manager: "I'd like to take my shoes off."
"We could do it," he replied.
Instead, she looked skyward and said, "I didn't mean it, karmic dressing gods," and walked in a small circle.
"I'm just going to make sure I'm not going to fall," she explained.
Renee Zellweger had slung her silver Christian Louboutins over her shoulder when Johnny Depp ran into her.
"I like your shoes," Depp said.
"Thanks man," Zellweger replied. "I used to like the shoes." ___
Star Clusters: At times it seemed there were as many stars in the green room as in the audience.
Penelope Cruz sat by her sister, Monica, and fanned herself. They were joined by Miley Cyrus, Johnny Depp and companion Vanessa Paradis, and Forest Whitaker.
Marion Cotillard was about to join them when she learned she would have to smoke outside.
In a hallway, Patrick Dempsey and Grey's Anatomy co-star Katherine Heigl met up with Enchanted star Amy Adams, and all agreed that appearing at the Academy Awards is no easy task. "It's surreal," said Adams.
Later, she met her Charlie Wilson's War co-star Tom Hanks in the wings of the Kodak. Hanks complimented Adams on her outfit and her performance of Happy Working Song.
"I'm so relieved," she said.
Hanks said that as he watched her he thought, "Wow, they make her do it all by herself."
"No costume, no anything," she replied. "It's like, 'Sell it, girl."'
Celebrity Plumbing: The restroom just offstage was another Kodak Theatre hotspot.
Jessica Alba and Forest Whitaker waited in line, and Javier Bardem brought his Oscar inside with him.
First-time presenters Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill passed the crowd on the way to the stage, but Hill paused and thought better of it. They joined lineup.
TOM TOUCH-UP: Tom Hanks got a bit of powder from a makeup artist in the view of backstage photographers.
"Boys, get a picture of this. It's so masculine," he said, adding in nasally voice: "Oh look, Hanks is getting his face powdered at the Academy Awards. He stormed Normandy Beach in 'Saving Private Ryan."'
That's a wrap: When the curtain fell, host Jon Stewart and his writing staff gathered on stage.
"You did such an awesome job, great job, really, really nice job," Stewart said before posing with the crew.
Fourteen-time Oscar telecast producer Gil Cates joined them. "Guys I gotta hug all of you. I think I'm older than all of you put together," Cates said.
Stewart told reporters his recipe was getting "back to basics" "You let it come to you. You let it come. I think the crowd was ready to have fun," he said.
Ladies man: This backstage reporter was just trying to get out of Jack Nicholson's way, but ended up in his crosshairs. As he passed in a narrow corridor he brushed against her synthetic white fur coat.
"Nice jacket," he said half under his breath. As the reporter thanked him, photographers in the hallway aimed their cameras.
"Let's have a picture," said Nicholson.