Billy Crystal? Film spoofs. Chris Rock? Jude jabs. David Letterman? Uma-Oprah. Which two words will define the hosting stint of Ellen DeGeneres, 49, who’s set to anchor the 79th Annual Academy Awards? What do we look like, Nostradamus? You’ll have to wait until the Big Night for that answer. But for those who want just a tease of what the dancing daytime-talk-show emcee and amiable comedian has in store for the telecast, read on.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Finish this sentence: As host I promise not to…
ELLEN DEGENERES: Suck?
What was your first reaction when you got the nod?
I’d been wanting to do this for a while, since I’d been hosting the Emmys and every other awards show. This was obviously something I had my eye on and was hoping they’d come to me. I’d actually turned down the Emmys a couple years in a row after [hosting the post-9/11 telecast] because I wanted to do the Oscars and then finally I was like [sigh], ”It’s not happening, so I’ll just host the Emmys again.” Then Katrina happened and I had another challenge on my hands. And I was [still] hoping they’d come to me and they did.
What have you learned from watching past hosts? Have you turned to them — or to other people — for advice?
I never have turned to anybody for advice and that’s not because I think I know it all. What works for one person is not going to work for another. It’s really about writing with a tone and a feeling that I want the night to have, and I want the night to start off in a certain mood. I want it to be fun and casual — at the same time it is a formal event. It could be uptight, it could be stiff, and that’s one thing I don’t want it to be. And I’m also trying to make it respectful and not turn it into an HBO special.
Fun and casual? So you’ll be wearing pajamas and get wheeled out on a sofa?
Like a lounge chair — the ones low to the ground — and an ice cooler and some Miller ponies. I want to do it old-school. And a boom box, because I like to dance, so I’ll definitely dance.
What qualifies you, Miss TV Star, to host the biggest night in film?
Ummm, well…it’s on TV, isn’t it? It can’t be that different.
How’s the planning going? Any hints about what we can expect?
I thought I wrote the monologue about a month ago and I was really excited that it was done. It just came to me and it was just brilliant and since then I’ve thrown that away. I’m sure I’ll do that five times before the actual night. We don’t want to play anybody off [during his/her acceptance speech]. We think people should be able to talk as long as they want. Hopefully, people throw their lists away and speak from the heart. We’re going to have a thank-you Oscar website where people can go backstage and thank whoever they want instead of doing it on the show. The more impulsive and spontaneous people are, the more comedy there’s going to be…. I don’t look at it as there are rules for anything. That’s why I’m not wearing a dress. I’m wearing a tux. I don’t care what I’m supposed to look like. And I want to do the same thing that I’ve done with other awards shows — I want to be in the audience a lot. I want to be in different places and show what really happens there.
You mentioned the dancing…
I was kidding.
But people expect you to dance.
Yes, they do, but I’m not dancing. It’ll be similar to what I do on my show just because it’s me, but I’m not going to be doing my show at the Oscars. And I’m not going to dance.
What awards would you nominate yourself for, based on your movie work?
Best Limited Actress? Least Amount of Film Work? Certainly Mr. Wrong was not fantastic, but a lot of actresses have had some bad movies and have had lots of other films come out after that, but for whatever reason that kind of stunted my growth as a film actor.
If you had to commit one gaffe on stage, which would it be: wardrobe malfunction, mispronunciation of name, slip on floor, or accidental racist rant?
Wow. If I wouldn’t hurt myself badly, I would fall down. If I could finish out the night — and I would, no matter how badly hurt I was, that’s the kind of host I am — I would fall.
Who is your favorite Oscar host?
When I was growing up, I remember watching Johnny Carson doing it. He had a classiness about him that I was drawn to. He just made you feel good watching him. And it had nothing to do with if he was the funniest. You were in good hands when he walked out.
What are your thoughts on the current crop of movies?
I loved Blood Diamond and The Departed. I haven’t seen Borat yet. I loved the way The Pursuit of Happyness was directed. It was really different than what I thought it would be. I just watched [the Sudanese refugee documentary] God Grew Tired of Us. Oh, my God, it’s incredible!
Which movies and actors are you rooting for this year?
I can’t say, because I have all of them on my show. I say that, and somebody’s on the next day, like, ”Well, I know she doesn’t like me.”
Who will win the all-important Sound Editing category?
Ummm…is John nominated? He’s good. I thought Tony’s work early on was good, but to me he’s kind of sleepwalking, and I shouldn’t say that but — watch, there’s a guy named Tony nominated. But I do really like — well, I call him Johnny, but I think he goes by John.
Are there any good-luck rituals you’ll do right before you walk out?
I like to rub mayonnaise on my thighs… It’s not so much a ritual — it’s just how I get pants on, now that I think about it.