Could a young Miss pull a major upset at Sunday's Oscars? What's the biggest obstacle facing Eddie Murphy? And is there anything holding back the crown from Helen Mirren? Who better to answer these questions than Robert Osborne, the host of Turner Classic Movies' "31 Days of Oscars" showcase (airing through Mar. 3) who is also the author of the (massive) 75 Years of the Oscar, and the Academy's very own official red-carpet celebrity greeter? TVGuide.com welcomed the "golden" opportunity to pick the expert's brain.
TVGuide.com: First of all, thank you for the hernia your book gave me....
Robert Osborne: Oh, good, yes. You have to take into consideration that now you can drop your gym membership. You don't have to lift the weights anymore.
TVGuide.com: I was checking Amazon.com to see if there is a special shipping rate for it.
Osborne: Well, you know, I'm working right now on the 80th edition, which is coming out in September 2008. That's going to be even heavier, so get those muscles ready! What I'm happy about with this book is that it was always easy to find out who won the Oscars, but never so easy to find out who was nominated, which gives you an indication of what a [given] film year was like. It's good to be watching Turner Classic Movies, where these films are being shown again, [and be able to] say, "Sunset Blvd., what was that up for?" and then look it up, see what the competition was.
TVGuide.com: In your opinion, what have been the biggest slights in Oscar history?
Osborne: The biggest overall slight was Cary Grant never winning, and only being nominated a couple of times. I thought he did great, great work, always. I wasn't a fan of his [when I was] growing up, but as an adult looking back, you think, "My god, not only was this guy great-looking, but he moved wonderfully and could do adventure epics, Hitchcock, comedies.... " And he did it all so effortlessly. But I think that's what did him in, that he was never bad. It's much easier to win an Oscar if you sometimes do work where you're not very good, because it makes the good stuff look better.
TVGuide.com: What's the other perceived upset that often comes up — Rocky winning best picture over All the President's Men?
Osborne: At the time, it wasn't an upset. Rocky was kind of figured to win. I would say the biggest upsets have been things that go back a ways, like when Rosalind Russell was up for Mourning Becomes Electra. All the charts and polls — which were conducted officially at that time — said she was a shoo-in for best actress, so they planned a big party at Ciro's nightclub in her honor, had a big banner out front saying, "Congratulations, Roz!" Well, she got up out of her seat and was actually adjusting her dress to walk down the aisle, and the winner was announced as Loretta Young, which was totally unexpected by everybody. They had to take the banner down and take the cakes away.... Rosalind happened to be Loretta Young's best friend at that point. I'm not sure they were afterwards. [Chuckles] That was such a devastating upset that from then on, the Academy requested their members not give any indication of how they voted.
TVGuide.com: Turning to this year, what records or milestones are in play?
Osborne: No picture is going to win more awards than anyone else, because there's nothing nominated for more than the 11 Oscars won by Ben Hur or Titanic....
TVGuide.com: Could Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin be the youngest to win supporting actress? Anna Paquin was about 12 when she won [for The Piano], and Abigail is 10.
Osborne: I think she would be, yeah, but I think Jennifer Hudson's got a lock on that category. If there's any upset this year, it would be any of the four [favorite acting nominees] not winning.
TVGuide.com: I was going to say, is there any way that Helen Mirren (The Queen) won't win?
Osborne: I don't think so. I think Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) might be upset by Peter O'Toole (Venus), but there doesn't seem to be the buzz that I anticipated for O'Toole, who has his eighth nomination and has never won a competitive Oscar before. The only upset that could happen would be, like, Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) winning over Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls). Eddie Murphy is great in the part, but he's not terribly well liked in Hollywood, and that could work against him. But he's so good in it, and he has charmingly re-entered the fold.... What's not to like about him now? The big question mark of course is best picture, because that could go in any direction at all.
TVGuide.com: Isn't one knock againt this year's contest the perception that a best-director win for The Departed's Martin Scorsese would be more of a "Thanks for a great career"?
Osborne: If he had gotten it for Gangs of New York or The Aviator, it definitely would have been him winning for just that reason, which is why I didn't want him to win [those years]. I would have tried to get on the stage and snatch it away from him. But if he wins this year, he really deserves it. That's a fabulously directed film with him at the top of his game. Sure, he may get some votes over Clint Eastwood from the standpoint that, although Clint Eastwood did this incredible one-two punch [with Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima], what Scorsese did with his film was great within itself. It wouldn't be just a sentimental award.
You've got some great films up for best picture, and it could be this year that it's one of those "pay off" things — The Departed they'd pay off with Scorsese [winning best director], The Queen they'd pay off with Helen Mirren [as best actress], etc, and that's where Letters from Iwo Jima could get in there. The one that could slip in if Letters from Iwo Jima doesn't [win] is Little Miss Sunshine, which is one everybody seems to love. That would be one of the few films that won for best picture without the director being nominated.
TVGuide.com: In reality, how does winning an Oscar impact an actor's career? Better scripts, better money...?
Osborne: I think that you get better scripts right away, but that doesn't always last very long, as we can see with so many careers that haven't gone anywhere after winning an Oscar. There are only so many really good scripts, and those go right now to Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and a few others, but it means maybe if you fit some of those parts, you may get a crack at it that you wouldn't otherwise. The best thing an Oscar win does is get bookings for films that wouldn't get booked if they weren't nominated or winners. Babel will get out there wider, and The Queen....
TVGuide.com: What is the biggest myth or misunderstanding about the Academy Awards?
Osborne: That they're a frivolous affair, that they're all about clothes and all of that. I don't know how designers managed to take over the Oscars, but they certainly have on the red carpet. I think people would be surprised by how serious people who work in the industry are and how seriously they take their vote. I know people who won't vote because they haven't seen all the films, and people who won't vote in a certain category.... Most of the people I know make a big effort to see all the nominees.
TVGuide.com: Has history shown us that a supporting win can elevate an actor into lead territory?
Osborne: Absolutely. What [winning for From Here to Eternity in 1953] did for Frank Sinatra was to make him a major star. His career was totally in the toilet, and that made him famous again. And, of course, a supporting award for Kevin Spacey [in The Usual Suspects] put him in a higher category. Judi Dench is a great actress but could have spent her whole life just playing secondary parts; an Oscar makes her a player, so when something like Notes on a Scandal comes along, she's the first one somebody thinks about.
TVGuide.com: Did any of the new inclusions in TCM's "31 Days of Oscar" have you particularly excited?
Osborne: We're showing American Beauty, which we've never shown before. There's a wonderful movie from 1929 called Alibi. The Talented Mr. Ripley, Jerry Maguire, Four Weddings and a Funeral.... Some of these films have stood the test of time enough that they're taking on classic status, and it's fun to see them again. And it's wonderful to have those movies mixed in with The African Queen and Casablanca, I think.
TVGuide.com: What demands does your role as the Academy's official red-carpet celebrity greeter put on you?
Osborne: Just to put on a tuxedo and have a good time as I announce the arrivals to the people in the bleachers.
TVGuide.com: Despite your years in the business, does anyone still render you agog, speechless?
Osborne: Well, I was knocked out last year by how beautiful Jennifer Lopez was. I had no idea she was that pretty. The other great beauties for me were Keira Knightley and Uma Thurman, who is a goddess walking.
TVGuide.com: Who's in line as successor, should you be fallen by scandal?
Osborne: We're thinking about you, as a matter of fact. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Lastly, what are your three best bets for people to use in their office Oscar pools?
Osborne: Lead actress, supporting actress and supporting actor: Mirren, Hudson and Murphy.
For much, much more on this year's awards, check out TVGuide.com's in-depth Oscars package. The 79th Annual Academy Awards air Sunday starting at 8 pm/ET, on ABC.
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