Brad Pitt waxed poetic about his love for "12 Years a Slave" — but admitted he'd started his stellar day by having to "pick up dog poop ... in my bedroom." Cate Blanchett swore her Aussie pride, Lupita Nyong'o spoke of honoring the spirits of slaves, and Jared Leto offered opportunities to fondle his Oscar in a night that ping-ponged between euphoria and thoughtfulness backstage at the 86th Academy Awards.
It was a historic night for Oscar, with "12 Years a Slave" filmmaker Steve McQueen becoming the first black man to win best picture honors, "Gravity's" Alfonso Cuaron becoming the first Mexican to win best director, and best actress winner Cate Blanchett becoming Australia's first double Oscar winner in the acting categories.
McQueen, who literally jumped up and down on the Oscar stage when his film took the top prize, claimed to be "cool as a cucumber" by the time he made it to the press room, but was clearly still on the verge of another happy dance, explaining that sometimes physicality just takes control. Some 75 years after "Gone With the Wind" gave moviegoers a romanticized view of antebellum slavery, McQueen noted that his film's success shows "a progression. The background characters are now in the foreground. It's indicative of what is going on right now; people now want to look at that history and embrace it."
His fellow producer, Pitt, told us, "I love this movie. I love our film. ... This man in this inhumane situation trying to get back to his family ... It's important to understand our history — not for any kind of guilt, but to know who we were so we can better understand who we are ... and who we're going to be. It's a gentle reminder that we're all equal, that we all want the same dignity and humanity for our family, and that another's freedom is as important as our own."
The film team is particularly pleased that their movie has brought Solomon Northup's memoir back into the spotlight. The long out-of-print book is a best-seller now and destined to be in high schools across the country. It's noteworthy that the Academy was looking to update and diversify itself and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, its first black president, opened up the membership in hope of bringing in more diverse and younger members — which certainly did not hurt "12 Years a Slave's" chances this year.
"12 Years a Slave" also won best supporting actress honors for Lupita Nyong'o. Backstage, the It Girl of this awards season admitted she was "a little dazed. I can't believe this is in my hand. I can't believe this is real life. I'm really overwhelmed." Yet the stunning fashion world favorite was poised enough to talk about how moved she was by support in her native Kenya and around the world — including coming across an Instagram of hundreds of people holding a good luck sign. She had the presence of mind to touch again upon the fact that "12 Years a Slave" filmmaker Steve McQueen "honored people who really have been unsung for a really long time, doing this film. Their spirits have been honored."
And, asked by a Chinese reporter what had been the most encouraging thing that had been said to her along the way, Nyong'o was thoughtful enough to respond that those words were from people who had said "from their hearts, that the outcome doesn't matter. You've already won because the work has been done. Remembering that has kept me hopeful and positive and relaxed."
As for celebrating, she was going to head to the Board of Governor's Ball and "do all the things that are Oscar-related. It's my first time here. I feel like Willy Wonka in the chocolate factory."
So, apparently, did rock star-cum-Oscar-winner Jared Leto (best supporting actor, "Dallas Buyers Club"), He revved up the press room crowd early on by offering his Oscar to the media: "Anybody want to try it out for size?... Pass it around, but if you have swine flu, please don't touch," he joked. "I think this is a first — the first person to give their Oscar away for an orgy in the press room. ... Anybody else want to fondle?"
He also offered the chance to take a selfie with his statuette, but was told the Academy doesn't allow unauthorized pictures in the pressroom. He tweaked the Academy reps there, saying, "You guys want to get media — let the media do what they do!" Not surprisingly, he was answered with a huge round of cheers from the media. A few seconds later, sounding every bit the rock star, he rallied the crowd, "Who's your favorite Oscar winner tonight?!"
Leto certainly made clear, on this "Hero"-themed night, that his personal hero is is mother, who was a single teen when she gave birth to him and his brother, but managed to raise them and give them wings of imagination as well. Backstage, he reiterated that the best thing about winning was having his mother and brother there with him — "the two most important people in my life ... I'm really fortunate to be able to thank them in such a unique and grand way."
Leto was asked about the comments he made to encourage dreamers out there, especially in Ukraine and Venezuela. He pointed out that, "You have an opportunity, when you stand on stage — you can make it about yourself, or you can take the opporunity to shine a light. ... For me, these global issues impact us in a real way. We have a show in Ukraine in a couple of weeks," he said, referring to his 30 Seconds to Mars band's touring schedule. Leto says he and his band "feel at home all over the world. Social unrest affects us in a real way."
He was quick to acknowledge the work of fellow winners Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews, who did hair and makeup on "Dallas Buyers Club." Their win was seen over the monitor while Leto was in the room. Pointing out that they'd had an unbelievable budget of $250, he said, "They worked the hardest. They are the first to set. They show up at the crack-ass of dawn and leave at the crack-ass of dawn."
When Lee and Mathews came backstage, they said that they'd never met Jared until the Oscar Nominees' Luncheon a couple of weeks ago — they knew him as Rayon. He was in character as the AIDS-stricken transvestite when he came to them and remained in character.
Leto was asked whether it's better to be cheered onstage as a rock star, or to win an Oscar. His answer: "The good news is, I don't have to choose."
He left saying, "and thanks for getting my Oscar dirty with your fingerprints."
Leto's fellow "Dallas Buyers Club" winner, best actor Matthew McConaughey, said that despite being considered a lock by most Oscar prognoticators, "I did not expect it."
The actor who decided to put his all into promoting the small-budget feature when it was made — and has reaped amazing results — noted, "It's a bit of the end of a journey with this film, this script that came across my desk four years ago. ... No one wanted to make it for 20 years. It got turned down 137 times." Getting the movie mad was "a miracle in itself," he went on. Then it was received well at the Toronto Film Festival and gained momentum. It had "the gold standard of the light of excellence shined on it."
He again expressed his gratitude for his wife's support, and the fact that she's taken their children to all his film locations — "It's been harder for her than for me." Asked what he hoped his children would take from this Oscar experience, he recounted telling them, "'Remember when we were back in New Orleans ... the work that Dad did then, the work we all did? People are shining a light on it today. ... So what we're trying to give is a general lesson is if you do your best right now, it can have reciprocity later."
Regal-looking Cate Blanchett, best actress winner for "Blue Jasmine," said she "had the good fortune of being a princess this morning." She got a massage — "pummelled like Kobi beef" — and had the privilege of choosing between three dresses prepared for her by Mr. Armani, with whom she has "had a long and very, very creative relationship."
However, when a reporter began a question by stating that she's the first Australian actress to win two Oscars, she dropped the decorum to interrupt, "and don't you f#@!ing forget it!"
Blanchett had phoned home and found her youngest child had "stopped vomiting, so that's good."
Next, she anticipated going out dancing.