On a typically balmy Los Angeles morning, a number of 2013 Oscar nominees attended the Academy Awards' annual luncheon at the Beverly Hilton hotel. One after another, stars such as Hugh Jackman, Jessica Chastain and Robert De Niro took the podium to reflect on their nominations and run the gauntlet of reporter questions before the big day on February 24.
Due to time constraints, press were limited to three questions per nominee, which still allowed time for some occasionally awkward, occasionally redundant queries to be directed at this year's crop of Oscar hopefuls.
Ben Affleck, whose film "Argo" is nominated for Best Picture (while he was controversially snubbed for Best Director), was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the assembled journalists.
Affleck was effusive in his praise of the films and auteurs who filled out the Best Director and Best Picture categories. "I'd love to work with David O'Russell; I'd love to work with Steven Spielberg; I'd love to work with Ang Lee; I would love to work with Kathryn Bigelow ... I don't know what it says about me that I haven't worked with these people as an actor," he said with a laugh. "Part of me, when I get around these people, I feel like I should be doing an audition or something. It's really exciting. There's a lot of people who were part of this process who didn't get nominated for Best Picture that I still want to work with that I think are amazing; Paul Thomas Anderson is one example. So this is an incredibly rich, robust group of filmmakers, and I'm just happy to be rubbing elbows with them."
When one reporter asked whether the actor-director thought the directing category should be expanded to match the number of Best Picture nominees, Affleck demurred: "I leave those sorts of calculations to the folks in the press and the pundits and the Oscarologists.... I don't get into worrying about who got what or didn't get what. I've had many, many, many, many, many years watching from home."
During her interview, "Zero Dark Thirty" star Jessica Chastain admitted that "most little girls dream about their wedding dresses, but I always dreamed about my Oscar dress." She said she intended to harken back to the glamour of old Hollywood with her gown, but hadn't made the final decision on an outfit for the ceremony yet.
Chastain also spoke about the difficulties women face in any predominantly male profession, both from her own perspective and that of her character in "ZDT."
"My advice to any woman in a field that has been in the past that was dominated by men, by numbers and by seniority, would be to look at the great examples set by women like Kathryn Bigelow and Maya, the woman I play in this film and, instead of complaining about the numbers not matching -- and of course that's an important issue -- but I've found that if you do really good work, it'll rise to the top," she said. "And Kathryn Bigelow never talks about the glass ceiling in Hollywood for female directors. She shows up on set, she's an expert at her work, and at the end of the day that's what you know her for. You don't think, 'She's a brilliant filmmaker and she's a woman, can you believe it?' I just think she's a brilliant filmmaker."
"Les Misérables" star Anne Hathaway said she had yet to make a choice about her Oscar dress because, "it was the Super Bowl, I couldn't think about dresses with all that fried food around."
Asked whether she still had trouble getting directors to consider her for roles after the success of "Les Misérables," Hathaway said, "I don't know how to say this without sounding so obnoxious, but I've been hanging out with Steven Spielberg lately, so it doesn't feel like it at the moment."
Bradley Cooper similarly felt like his role in "Silver Linings Playbook" could be a game-changer for him. "I know that I wasn't up here for 'Hangover,'" he said. In terms of preparation for his role as a man with bipolar disorder, Cooper said it was a combination of hanging out with David O. Russell's son, who reportedly suffers from the condition, as well as "a couple of close friends of mine who are diagnosed bipolar that, unbeknownst to them, I studied."
Naomi Watts, nominated for her leading role in "The Impossible," reflected on the number of Australian nominees this year. "It's a great year for Australia ... I've only seen Jacki [Weaver] once but I've seen a bit of Hugh [Jackman]," she said. "It is exciting when you see fellow actors achieving this kind of recognition and you can kind of pinch each other and say, 'Is this really happening?'"
After the reporters asked her to pronounce her name, "Beasts of the Southern Wild" star Quvenzhané Wallis discussed how she feels about being the youngest Best Actress nominee in Oscar history. "I'm happy and excited, but it's something that you never think would happen at your age," she said.
Elegant in white, Jennifer Lawrence joked that she was intending to wear sweatpants to this year's ceremony. "Last time was comfort, this year I'm like, 'Eh, suck it up, wear a corset,'" she said, recalling last year's show when she ate a Philly cheesesteak sandwich to calm her nerves beforehand. "It didn't work, because I had to double my spanx."
Supporting actress Amy Adams was effervescent during her interview, joking with reporters, "You just interrupted my flirting with Bradley Cooper and Christoph Waltz. They're both pretty open -- I think it's going to be a good lunch for me." Adams' few moments at the podium were repeatedly interrupted as technical difficulties caused the background music to play loudly over her answers. In keeping with the tone of the interview, the four-time nominee admitted, "I'm always saying, 'I wanna have fun.' This year, I'm having fun. Four times is awesome and I want to enjoy it -- I am enjoying it."
Christoph Waltz, nominated for Best Supporting Actor in "Django Unchained," said, "I owe Quentin [Tarantino] more than I would like to admit," but told journalists that "an Oscar nomination for me is also a reason for nervous anticipation, so I don't really consider nervous anticipation a reason to celebrate ... We don't talk much about it at home."
Best Actor nominee Hugh Jackman spent most of his interview praising "Les Misérables" director Tom Hooper for his artistic choices on the film, after admitting how "stalkerish" he was about pursuing the iconic role of Jean Valjean. "I think what Tom did was take risks, he found a way to find the thing that people loved in the stage show, but brave enough to turn it into a film," he said. "His choice to sing it live was really bold ... He made it very theatrical but he gave the audience a seat they could never get in the theater."
Two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro assured reporters that it's "still a big deal" to be nominated and said that the biggest appeal of "Silver Linings Playbook" was the opportunity to work with David O. Russell. Asked how he approaches working with younger actors, he said, "I'll never volunteer [advice], but if they ask me, I'm always very happy to give it."
Denzel Washington, nominated for his role in "Flight," fondly recalled one of his earliest Oscar experiences, when his daughter drew him a picture of an Oscar with a note that read, "You my Oscar anyway, plus, I don't like Kevin Space," saying, "it's right next to the other [awards]." Washington added that, while he doesn't tend to measure the industry in terms of race, "There's always room for improvement, for women, for African-American women in particular." He then asked, "[Has] anybody else that looks like me come in to talk to you guys?" Reporters informed him that Quvenzhané Wallis was the only other black nominee to come to the interview room, and he joked that he would ask her to put him in her next movie.
Tim Burton, whose "Frankenweenie" is up for Best Animated Feature, arrived with a broken arm after falling on the streets of London. "I'm not going for the sympathy vote," he promised.
Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, the Oscar telecast's producers, were also on hand to discuss their plans for the show.
"We feel that there's more interest this year than there has been in previous years," Zadan said, pointing out that most of the nominated films have seen big box office returns in comparison with previous years, which should drive up audience engagement. "I think it's been a great year for movies."
As for how host Seth MacFarlane will perform, the duo were confident in the multi-hyphenate's ability to entertain -- respectfully. "We're working together on the show. He's one of the few hosts who's been at every production meeting," Zadan said. "As he's writing it, we're part of the process ... we've been collaborating with him on that. We're not going to be surprised by anything [he does]."
"Seth is Seth and we love him and we welcome his brand," Meron added.
The 85th Academy Awards Ceremony airs live on February 24 at 7 p.m. EST on ABC.