Oscars 2023: Inside the Press Room with the History-Making Winners
Dressed in tuxedos and gowns while typing away on their computers, journalists from around the world occupy the tables at the Oscars’ interview room. The job entails watching the ceremony on screens while trying to listen to the winners who briefly materialize in front of us shortly after leaving the Dolby Theater stage, still basking in the glow of victory.
In this unseen land of primly dressed, over-caffeinated scribes, trays of plentiful, Academy-provided jumbo shrimp go a long way to keep people’s spirits up. Throughout the night, questions in English, Spanish, Irish, German, and Mandarin flew across the room from reporters fortunate enough to get picked based on an auction-like, card-raising system.
With seven awards, including Best Picture, going to “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” from directing duo Daniels, as well as several wins for German-language anti-war epic “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the 95th Academy Awards concluded a marathon season where comeback stories and overdue career recognition were the defining themes.
But certain as the triumph of the A24 multiverse movie may have seemed, if recent editions have taught us anything, it’s that the organization, via its thousands of members, can still throw a curve ball at the stats that pundits rely on for their predictions. In the end, the perennial favorite prevailed until the last envelope was opened.
The historic night for Asian and Asian-American artists came as the Academy’s public-facing ceremony appears increasingly burdened by the group’s desire for mass appeal while seeking to maintain at least a perceived veil of prestige to their choices. One could say they succeeded at that balancing act since “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” were among the nominees, but they also reinstated the crafts categories back into the telecast following public and member outcry about last year’s exclusion.
Early in the evening, Best Animated Feature winner Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson, who co-directed “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” reiterated their season-long message that “animation is not a genre” during their acceptance speech. Back in the interview room, in what would be my only lucky break of the evening, I got to ask del Toro about the significance of winning for his work in the medium of animation.
“It was very important for me to have the chance to say that … everything we do in animation is analog as complex or more complex than live action,” said the Mexican director.
Del Toro became the first person in history to win Oscars for Best Director, and Best Picture, which he earned for “The Shape of Water,” and Best Animated Feature. “It’s great to have picture, director, and animation because they define what I have loved all my life since I was a kid. I want one for makeup effects one day.”
As the only Latino winner of the night, several Spanish-language outlets asked del Toro about the future of animation in Latin America. The always eloquent artist mentioned the scholarships he finances for Mexican talent to study animation and that Annecy, the world’s preeminent animation festival, will dedicate this year’s edition to Mexico.
Our next visitor, Jamie Lee Curtis, who won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” dedicated the accolade to her late parents. The actress later told the press she doesn’t believe in an afterlife where our loved ones look down on us.
“We are them in our actions, and in our deeds, and in our ideas, and then we build our own and we give them to our children, and that’s how the world goes on,” said Curtis. “I am a product of them. And I know they would be incredibly proud of me, of course.”
In response to a question about the inclusion of women among the nominees at this year’s Oscars, Curtis also expressed her complicated feelings about gendered awards, noting that, as the mother of a trans daughter, she worries they can be exclusionary. Her other fear, however, is that perhaps fewer women would be recognized if that system goes away.
The team from the politically timely film “Navalny,” which received the award for Best Documentary Feature, added a solemn note with a reminder of the ongoing fights for freedom around the globe and the plights of political prisoners like Alexei Navalny.
“We made our film about the leader of the Russian opposition and his quest to install a Democratic tradition in Russia,” said director Daniel Roher. “But this film was not just for Russians. This film was for people all over the world who are living in a context where the tides of authoritarianism come in, come out, and come in, and come out.”
That statement came after an Iranian journalist from London-based Iran International spoke about the similar ways in which all dictatorships operate to oppress and control.
With nine nominations, “All Quiet on the Western Front” walked diligently into a win for Best International Feature Film. Holding Germany’s first trophy in the category since “The Lives of Others” in 2007, the “All Quiet” director, Edward Berger, shared his key impulse to approach the World War I story from the German perspective.
“We tried to make a film about our past, about our responsibility in Germany towards our history,” said Berger. “Our urge was to talk about our guilt and our shame that we’ve brought or the terror that the two wars have caused in the world.”
Thinking about the current armed conflicts that plague Europe, Berger shared he hopes that, because of the long-lasting impact of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, “at some point, we will stop making the same mistakes again and again in the future.”
Welcomed by a cheerful press room, the Best Original Song winners for “Naatu Naatu” from S. S. Rajamouli’s wild period epic “RRR,” M.M. Keeravaani and Chandrabose, spoke about Telugu, the South Indian language that track is in, which has a 56-letter alphabet. The linguistic vastness of the tongue lent itself to the needs of musical composition.
“We have a lot of words, lot of expressions, a lot of feeling in our language, very great language and very literary language,” explained Chandrabose. “If you write Telugu words, it sounds like music.” The musicians added a historic second win for Indian talent after Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga’s “The Elephant Whisperers” won for Documentary Short Subject. It’s the first time Indian productions took home Oscars in these categories.
Of the five first-time nominees for Actor in Lead Role, Brendan Fraser emerged as the chosen winner for his portrayal in Darren Aronofsky’s divisive drama “The Whale.” Still visibly affected after an emotional speech, the actor spoke softly in the interview room as he tried to articulate his feelings on the redemption arc the film gifted him.
“This has been incredibly rewarding and affirming, and it’s given me a lesson in humility and gratitude … I hope that I live up to this,” Fraser said.
Asked about his thoughts on the Academy recognizing his portrayal of a gay character, the actor responded: “Charlie is so much more than just a gay man. He’s a father, he’s an educator, he’s a truth seeker, and that he fell hopelessly, inconveniently in love with whomever is immaterial.”
Walking into a standing ovation, Michelle Yeoh, who made history as the first Asian woman and only the second woman of color to win the Oscar for Actress in Lead Role, impassionedly thanked the Academy for supporting “true representation” and elaborated on the ripples that she hopes this achievement will have for others.
“This is something that we have been working so hard towards for a very long time, and tonight we freaking broke that glass ceiling,” said Yeoh. “I Kung Fu’d it out and shattered it, and we need this because there are so many who felt unseen, unheard.”
After saying a few words in Mandarin for a Chinese outlet, Yeoh joked that although her Cantonese is not very good, most people in the press room wouldn’t notice the difference.
Expanding on her on-stage remarks about mothers in general, specifically about her mother watching from Malaysia, the actress said: “Mothers are very important to all of us because, without them, none of us would be sitting in this room to start off with. The most important thing is my mother has always instilled in me confidence, taught me about love. Taught me about kindness and compassion. I’m not very, very good at that at times.”
As if often happens with artists that win multiple statuettes, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, as well as producer Jonathan Wang, only came to see us backstage once, after “Everything Everywhere All at Once” had earned them Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, Best Directing, and Best Picture.
Keeping with the theme of acknowledging the sacrifices some mothers make for their children, Kwan shared the drastic measures his mom took for his educational benefit after realizing that a young Kwan’s writing was suffering rather than improving with time.
“She panicked, and she said, ‘Oh, no! My storyteller is dying in this school.’ And so, she actually pulled me out and became a home school teacher for, like, two or three years just to protect my creativity,” Kwan explained.
Wang, in turn, celebrated his Taiwanese father, who passed away before the film was completed and to whom it’s dedicated. “The joke about Raccacoonie is very much inspired by my dad,” said Wang. “He was a movie buff in the most Taiwanese dad way when he would always get movie titles wrong.”
Closing out the long day on a high note, an enthusiastic Ke Huy Quan, the winner for Actor in a Supporting Role in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” recalled thinking of changing his name to a more “American-sounding” one when he was desperate to find acting work. That low point made winning an Oscar with his real name especially significant.
“So when I decided to get back into acting, which was three years ago, the very first thing that I wanted to do was to go back to my birth-given name,” he said.
Quan revealed that several of his fellow “Goonies” cast members reached out to wish him well before the ceremony and that he and Steven Spielberg shared a warm embrace during one of the commercial breaks. “Ke, you are now an Oscar-winning actor,” Spielberg told him. Reeling from an almost-impossibly perfect night for the “Everything Everywhere” team, Quan confessed he is already thinking about the future, but with much higher hopes.
“I remember when I was struggling … I would call him, you know, once every three months, once every six months, and I would say, ‘Hey, is there anything out there for me?’ And the answer would always be the same: “Oh, I’m so sorry. There’s nothing out there, but I’ll continue to look,” said the actor. “So, hopefully, when I call my agent tomorrow, he will give me a different answer!”