Academy Award nominees may spend much of their time in the days leading up to Oscar night nibbling their nails, but on Monday, they got to take a break and nibble on salmon pinwheels, lobster medallion, beef tenderloin, sea bass, and ice cream truffles at the annual nominees' luncheon at the Beverly Hilton. For an afternoon, the casually dressed stars got to set the competition aside and engage in mutual admiration, complimenting each other's work and posing for the annual ''class photo.''
Showing that the stars can be as starstruck as the rest of us, even if they've won Oscars before, Benicio del Toro told reporters: ''I'm here to collect autographs.'' Ben Kingsley told USA Today: ''When you see all those black sedans start to park, you've got to feel excited.'' ''I just met Charlize Theron and I was like, Oh, my God,'' said 13-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes to Reuters. The ''Whale Rider'' star told USA Today she was overwhelmed at getting to meet Theron, Clint Eastwood, and fellow New Zealander Peter Jackson. The ''Return of the King'' director was excited himself over meeting an icon, Julie Andrews (whose husband, director Blake Edwards, is getting an honorary Oscar this year). ''I said hi to Mary Poppins,'' Jackson said. ''Our kids are going to be impressed.'' And Hollywood royalty Sofia Coppola said: ''I'm very excited, I just met Elvis Costello. He's my hero.''
The luncheon's decorum may have offered a preview of sorts of the Feb. 29 Oscar ceremony, which ABC plans to broadcast with a five-second tape delay for the first time in order to forestall any Janet-and-Justin-type embarrassments. Telecast producer Joe Roth hinted that there will be a class photo moment backstage at the end of the show, Reuters reports. Frequent awards no-show Sean Penn surprised some luncheon guests merely by showing up. (His date for the afternoon: his mother, actress Eileen Ryan.) And Penn's fellow ''Mystic River'' nominee Tim Robbins suggested that, should he win, he wasn't planning to court controversy by injecting politics into his acceptance speech. ''I've presented the ESPYs, the Tonys,'' he told The Hollywood Reporter, but still, ''every time I go to a podium, people think I'm going to say something.''