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Carrie Bell
January 13, 2012 AT 04:04 PM EST

With the exception of some commercial break schmoozing, Leonardo DiCaprio helping Martin Scorsese off the stage, and Brad Pitt’s constant hobbling out a side door for a smoke, not much went uncaptured by VH1 cameras at last night’s 17th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards in Hollywood. But before the show on the very crowded gray carpet, it was a different story. Here’s some of the more candid conversations and confessions EW had last night with this year’s crop of awards season stars:

• Bret McKenzie was given his award for Best Song (for The Muppets’ ditty “Life’s a Happy Song”) and a reality check on the arrivals line. “They presented the award over there in the corner and the reporter who was making the presentation looked at the three of us and was like, ‘Okay, which one of you is Bret?’ ” McKenzie admitted exclusively to EW. Muppets lead Jason Segal was still flabbergasted. “That really did happen. I was so legitimately shocked at the question that I couldn’t even respond. Isn’t it kind of your job to know who Bret is? You are about to give him an award. It wasn’t like he was caught by surprise.” McKenzie shrugged, “I had to be witness to myself. We won but the guy had no idea who we were. That doesn’t happen to George Clooney. That definitely brought us back down to earth.”

• Best Actor winner George Clooney, who was wearing matching Armani with girlfriend Stacy Keibler, shook off any notion that it was weird to be consistently competing this season against his longtime pal Brad Pitt. “It’s not a competition. He’s my buddy. I’m just happy for him. He was so good in two movies this year. He deserves the accolades.” He further proved his point by taking a side trip to hug Pitt before accepting his award on stage.

• Best Supporting Actress nominee Jessica Chastain copped to being extra nervous because this was the first televised trophy-fest she’d ever attended. “There are cameras in there so if we make a mistake, it’s on camera. [I keep telling myself] make sure the dress is in place, don’t pick my nose, don’t fall down. Not that I would pick my nose, Mom, Grandma. I would never do that. No, I’m perfect.”

• Best Actor nominee Jean Dujardin is thrilled about all the attention his “very small movie” The Artist is getting, but is under no illusion that this is a vacation. “No, it is a long, long business trip,” he said. When asked if he’s come up with a strategy for surviving the season, like drinking lots of water or packing a few protein bars in his pocket, he laughed a hearty laugh and joked “No, I’m French. I will drink a lot of red wine and I will smoke a lot. I will try to find time for sleep, but I think my strategy will be to have fun. This may be the one time I get to come to the party so I want to enjoy it.”

• A couple of CCMAs ago, Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock tied in the Best Actress category and celebrated by making out on stage. Hosts Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel knew which nominees they were targeting for lip-lock in hopes of trending the next morning. Huebel said, “The horse from War Horse, although he’s already left a big pile of manure on the carpet. What a jerk. Can’t take him anywhere.” Scheer set his sights on a different species. “I want to make out with Rango. He’s got that lizard tongue, son.”

• The talent of The Help added a few more notches to their belt (Best Actress for Viola Davis, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer, and Best Acting Ensemble). Producer Brunson Green said the whole gang will probably “need to sleep for several days after this marathon week of five or six shows,” but as for now, “me and the girls are on a sort of adrenaline rush. Frances McDormand calls [awards season] the Convention. At this point, it’s still day 1 of the Convention. We’re still having fun. We’re still excited to get the free mousepad.”

Descendants double nominee Shailene Woodley is enjoying playing dress-up, but it’s not on her mind 24/7. “It’s fun, very surreal. But it’s not something I think about all week. I wake up in the morning and people come help me put makeup on, do my hair, give me a dress to wear and then tell me where to show up.”

The film’s director, Alexander Payne, takes an even less organized approach. “Twenty minutes before I was going to get picked up, I pulled a suit I paid $25 for at a vintage store 15 years ago out of the closest and said, ‘This might work.’ The invitation said black tie so I made sure my tie was black.”

• Elizabeth Olsen, a Best Actress nominee for Martha Marcy May Marlene, chose her short yellow Emilio Pucci frock because it matched the sunny weather. “I am anti-winter. I’m happy to be out here. I didn’t even want to be in New York this winter because last year was so bad, so I’m more than happy to be out in L.A. for awards season.” She swears she will head back to NYC in the near future to complete the final two classes she needs to graduate. “I will probably do a summer session. I’m so close. It would be silly not to get the degree now.”

• Even though Bridesmaids won Best Comedy, director Paul Feig suffered from some feelings of inadequacy. “I keep waiting for them to throw us out. Like some guard’s going to say, ‘He’s not supposed to be in here with Spielberg and Scorsese.’ I’m such a fan of these people. I just looked over and there was Clooney. I went weak in the knees.”

Feig also admitted that he’d love to work with some of these “serious” folks but is too shy to network. “I never have the nerve to. I’m always convinced that if I go up to one of my heroes, they’ll be like, ‘Get away from me. Why are you talking to me?’ I don’t want to have my heart crushed. Judd Apatow, on the other hand, is hilarious because he will go up to and talk to anybody. Suddenly he’s hanging out with them the rest of the night. But I am always convinced it’s not going to work out for me. So once again, I’ll be avoiding lots of famous people tonight.”

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