Oscars '96 | EW.com


Oscars '96

Behind the scenes at the 1996 Academy Awards with Nicholas Cage, Kevin Spacey and more

Nicolas Cage danced. He can’t remember where and seems a bit hazy on when. But awaiting the awards in the wee hours of Monday, March 25, Cage cut a rug with his wife, Patricia Arquette. ”Silly dancing,” he called it, ”to ease the nerves.”

After dawn broke, other nominees found less unusual pursuits. Kevin Spacey had brunch with his mother, Kate Winslet studied a script, Mel Gibson visited his chiropractor, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon played ball with their children, Brad Pitt tended his garden with girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow, and Sean Penn tended to his off-and-now-on-again love Robin Wright, who was recovering from emergency surgery. And while the other attendees preened before bathroom mirrors and worried how the gusty March winds would rearrange their hair, Penn remained by Wright’s side and skipped the ceremonies altogether.

Jaded viewers might have assumed that he wouldn’t be missing much. Sarandon’s time — after four losses — appeared to have come, and it did. Cage looked like a shoo-in, and he was. Even Best Picture had all the excitement of a beige Armani sheath. No Schindler’s List to wrench the heart. No Forrest Gump to warm the heart. No Pulp Fiction to stop the heart. Just a charming pig, a freedom fighter, three astronauts, two English spinsters, and one posthumous postman.

But by the end of the night, low expectations had been replaced by something approaching exultation. Not only would producer Quincy Jones’ ceremonies turn out to be a hip rethinking of the telecast’s traditions, but they would be filled with enough old-fashioned human feeling to inspire some awe among the nominees, the live audience, and a billion viewers.

Of course, no one knew that as the stars emerged from the limousines, seeking the limelight and, as usual, plugging the designers who had graciously draped their forms. Before conducting her pre-show interviews, Oprah Winfrey stood on the edge of the red carpet being groomed by her omnipresent hairdresser, while other celebs paid their respects to veteran greeter Army Archerd, who made the evening’s first gaffe by calling actor Laurence Fishburne ”Larry.” ”Army,” Fishburne groused for the crowd to hear, ”if you call me Larry one more time, I’ll break both your legs.”

Jesse Jackson’s protest against the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its inattention to African-American talent never materialized in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. ”I told Jesse this was not the proper forum for what he’s trying to get accomplished,” Jones said. ”PEOPLE magazine is 35 years late. God bless ‘em, but it’s our jobs and lives at stake. We know very well what it is. We live it day by day.”

Inside the Pavilion, Whoopi Goldberg set the pace with a lightning-quick opening monologue, though the show, which came in at 3 hours and 35 minutes, was long enough to tax anyone’s patience. Even those rooting for friends and loved ones escaped to the lobby during commercial breaks. While ”seat fillers” replaced them in the audience, Pitt and Paltrow persuaded security guards to allow them to step outside and smoke cigarettes (and grab a quick kiss). Winslet hung out with her mother and Alicia Silverstone, watching the awards on the TV monitor.